No 243 - August 2002

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'Dearest Munx': The Love Letters of Christina Stead by Margaret Harris; Neal Blewett on Bob Carr's Thoughtlines; Tony Birch on Stan Grant's The Tears of Strangers; Peter Bishop's 'Author! Author!'; John Hirst on Rosemary Neill's White Out


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Now showing 1 - 20 of 38
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    Twenty Years On, July Bestsellers, September Highlights.
    (Australian Book Review, 2002-08)
    This items contains miscellaneous items including July 2002 bestsellers.
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    Mixed Results in the South Seas. "Quiros", by John Toohey. [review]
    (Australian Book Review, 2002-08) Rivers, Bronwyn
    John Toohey’s "Quiros" is set during the seventeenth-century search for the Great South Land. Toohey negotiates the pitfalls of his genre with mixed success. The situation he explores is intriguing: men grouped in a confined place on a dangerous voyage to an uncertain destination. He sets up the various psychological dramas in a promising fashion, and gives his story the immediacy of a first-person narrator. However, various interesting possibilities are not fully explored. Perhaps the problem is a sense of uncertainty about the novel’s precise generic location, whether it is primarily a psychological drama or an adventure tale.
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    The Importance of Being Edited. "Szabad", by Alan Duff and "Featherstone", by Kirsty Gunn. [review]
    (Australian Book Review, 2002-08) Loney, Alan
    Kirsty Gunn’s "Featherstone" is a writerly book, with a style and tone carefully attuned to letting a mystery tale unfold very differently in different lives over the course of a single weekend. It is complex and intimate in its descriptions, and shows wonderful cunning in hingeing the story on an ‘event’ that may or may not have happened. "Szabad", on the other hand, tells a monochromatic and brutal story that is not complex, is intimate only about the adolescent narrator, and is almost painfully journalistic.
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    Missing the Zeitgeist. "Alanna", by Alan Saunders. [review]
    (Australian Book Review, 2002-08) Gerster, Robin
    As a satire of the pretension, gullibility and downright silliness of contemporary Australian cultural politics, "Alanna" is highly diverting entertainment. But its textual ‘playfulness’ is, frankly, a bit passé. Good satire posits, either overtly or covertly, an alternative ethical system. I couldn’t detect one here; ultimately, the novel runs the risk of being viewed as just as vacuous as the world it scrutinises and represents. The gung-ho theorist Karl opines at one point that ‘the free play of intertextual multivocalities effectively de-centres the discursive practice through which polymorphous identity is mediated’. This is the hideous jargon of an artistic environment that has lost its intellectual as well as aesthetic way. Pity is, it’s the kind of language that a novel such as "Alanna" encourages as well as lampoons.
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    The Purposefulness of the Creatures. "Confessing a Murder", by Nicholas Drayson. [review]
    (Australian Book Review, 2002-08) McGirr, Michael
    "Confessing a Murder" is written in the narrator’s old age. It is the journal of a man who is now the sole inhabitant of a small island somewhere in the Java Sea. He addresses a diary to Charles Darwin, whom he calls ‘Bobby’ and for whom he still holds something like romantic feelings. One of the delights of "Confessing a Murder" is its detailed descriptions of an imagined environment. It includes a lizard with uncanny powers of disguise, frogs that breed by seeming to digest their partners, crabs that work together to fell trees and so on. In this case, the angel is in the detail. Drayson elaborates his world with such small, delicate strokes that its existence becomes not just credible but seductive. You start wanting to go there. But it remains an enchanted island, off limits.
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    The Trouble with Banality. "Hardly Beach Weather", by Bernard Cohen. [review]
    (Australian Book Review, 2002-08) Matthews, David
    Of all the talked-about new voices in Australian fiction of the early 1990s, Bernard Cohen’s is one of relatively few that has been regularly heard since. A decade after "Tourism", he’s back with his fourth book and the improbable but apt position of writer-in-residence at Sir John Soane’s Museum in Bloomsbury. Despite the London residence, it’s such American postmodernists as Donald Barthelme or Robert Coover who seem to have influenced Cohen’s writing, which nevertheless is in a distinctly Australian vernacular mode. There is the same interest in the fragment, the narrative shard, and, conversely, a lack of concern about wholeness and traditional completion and, frequently, a preoccupation with fables and archetypal story forms.
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    Tracing English. "Calques", by Javant Biarujia. [review]
    (Australian Book Review, 2002-08) Edwards, Chris
    This book collects Javant Biarujia’s ‘calques’, forty-four poems and prose pieces that copy, trace and otherwise interpret bits and pieces of Raymond Queneau’s "L’Instant Fatal", Paul Eluard’s "Capitale de la Douleur" and Jacques Derrida’s "Éperons: Les Styles de Nietzsche". Biarujia treats each in a seperate section — ‘Q.’, ‘E.’ and ‘D.’ — and each section has a distinct ambience and focus. But the influences circulate: "Calques" is full of pataphysics, game-playing, surrealism, anti-colonialism, mimicry and collage. Quite a few of the poems offer alternative versions of the French, and all can be read as ‘interpretations’, but they also generate strange new worlds and exceptional lingos of their own.
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    The New Aesthetics. [poem]
    (Australian Book Review, 2002-08) Jones, Jill
    This item is a poem by Jill Jones.
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    Modernist Embraces. "Cut Lunch", by Chris Andrews and "Collage", by Peter Lloyd and "Itinerant Blues", by Samuel Wagan Watson. [review]
    (Australian Book Review, 2002-08) Ryan, Gig
    Samuel Wagan Watson and Peter Lloyd enjoy the contrast between citified sophistication and the detritus that accompanies it. There is plenty of energy in Watson’s work. Generally, the tone is more assured than in his first book. Peter Lloyd’s "Collages" is influenced by the Beat poets in its mix of Eastern and Western philosophies, and also employs many invented compound and hyphenated words. Chris Andrews’s "Cut Lunch" is full of dailiness and the casual habits of life.
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    A Dodgy Business. "The Autonomy of Literature", by Richard Lansdown. [review]
    (Australian Book Review, 2002-08) Wiltshire, John
    At one point in "The Autonomy of Literature", Richard Lansdown remarks that he hopes his does not belong to the ‘poisonous’ genre of anti-theory books. He doesn’t justify this striking epithet, but the remark at least indicates where his book’s loyalties are pitched. This is not, despite appearances, an anti-literary theory book but a work of literary theory that seriously engages with some current intellectual approaches to literature, many of them emanating from other disciplines in the Humanities. In fact, the book’s subject is the very nature of what we call ‘literature’. Its object is to bring home to the reader just how elusive and unique it is, how impossible to capture in the terminological and ideological net thrown over it by philosophers, psychologists and historians. To this end, his discussion of theory is constantly supplemented by discussions of particular literary texts, some brief, some considerably extended. Lansdown’s argument, then, is that ‘literature’ is a discrete phenomenon that cannot be subsumed or treated as if it were philosophy or history, and that a good deal of contemporary discussion does just that: collapses the category of literature into something else — into sociology or rhetoric or, in the case of Freud, dream-work.
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    Where's the Chest Hair? "When the Scorpion Stings: The History of the 3rd Cavalry Regiment, Vietnam, 1965-1972", by Paul Anderson and "Vietnam Shots: A Photographic Account of Australians at War", by Gary McKay and Elizabeth Stewart. [review]
    (Australian Book Review, 2002-08) Pierce, Peter
    The late Paul Anderson’s "When the Scorpion Stings" and Gary McKay and Elizabeth Stewart’s "Vietnam Shots" are disparate offerings in the terrain that they seek to cover, but each is a solid contribution to an understanding of ‘Australia’s longest war’. Represented for a short period as a shameful interlude in the nation’s history, one better forgotten, the Vietnam War was enfolded within the Anzac legend within fifteen years of the withdrawal of Australian troops. Against this shifting background, Anderson has sought to redress what he considers to be the neglect of the wartime contributions of one element of the Australian armed forces in Vietnam. Gary McKay was a conscript who became a platoon commander during the war and an historian after it. Elizabeth Stewart worked on the "Official History of Australia’s Involvement in Southeast Asian Conflicts". The photographs in "Vietnam Shots" have been selected from the extensive collection at the Australian War Memorial and supplemented from other sources.
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    A Formidable History. "Images of Australia: A History of Australian Children's Literature" by Maurice Saxby. [review]
    (Australian Book Review, 2002-08) Macintyre, Pam
    Although he attributes it to Walter McVitty’s "Innocence and Experience" (1981) and Brenda Niall’s "Australia through the Looking Glass" (1984), there is no doubt that Maurice Saxby’s pioneering "A History of Australian Children’s Literature" (1969, 1971), along with Marcie Muir’s "Bibliography of Australian Children’s Books" (1970, 1976), established the canon of Australian children’s literature. "Images of Australia", along with his "The Proof of the Puddin’: Australian Children’s Literature 1970–1990" (1993) and "Offered to Children: A History of Australian Children’s Literature 1841–1941" (1998), completes Saxby’s rewriting of these histories and is, without doubt, the finest volume. Saxby meticulously documents the development of a literature whose study now flourishes in academic institutions. Such documentation allows other writers, such as Clare Bradford in her excellent "Reading Race" (2001), to take up particular aspects. It is no overstatement to say that there isn’t a current researcher in the field who doesn’t owe a debt to Saxby.
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    Pompey at Half Mast. "Pompey Elliott", by Ross McMullin. [review]
    (Australian Book Review, 2002-08) Fuller, Peter
    Ross McMullin argues rightly that an Australian who achieved so much ‘deserves to be better remembered’. His vivid, thorough biography is the first full account of Elliott’s life — surprising, given Pompey’s eminence, popularity and personality. McMullin takes the opportunity to reappraise events and people, to weigh Elliott’s career and to seek an answer to the question that consumed him: given his achievements, was he treated unjustly? McMullin thinks so, and blames Birdwood and his right-hand man, Brudenell White. Not all readers will be convinced, however much they admire the heroic figure McMullin creates.
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    Medley and Hotchpotch. "Christina Stead: Satirist", by Anne Pender. [review]
    (Australian Book Review, 2002-08) Gribble, Jennifer
    Pender’s is the first study to focus on Stead the satirist (though the claim that ‘critics have chosen to ignore the satire in her fiction’ overstates the case considerably). She locates Stead within a tradition that begins with Horace and Juvenal, and is still current in the postmodernists Pynchon and Rushdie. Pender reads her as part of a general emergence of parodic satire between the wars, in company with Huxley, Waugh and Orwell, and, during the cold war, with Lillian Hellman and Arthur Miller.
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    "Dearest Munx": The Love Letters of Christina Stead.
    (Australian Book Review, 2002-08) Harris, Margaret
    Along with other manuscripts, the 284 letters exchanged between Christina Stead (1902–83) and her husband, William Blake, (141 from her, 143 from him) passed into the keeping of Ron Geering, Stead’s literary executor, at her death in 1983, and were subsequently deposited in the National Library of Australia (as the Manuscript Librarian, Graeme Powell, engagingly explained in ABR, June/July 2002). For a combination of reasons, including his sense of propriety and an ambiguous instruction from Christina about destroying the letters, Geering put an embargo on them until 2001, although he showed them to both her biographers, Chris Williams and Hazel Rowley, and Rowley quoted fragments appropriate to her purposes. Having the letters of the great Australian novelist and her husband in circulation could offer readers and critics many opportunities; we should cautiously interpret them, however, because they extend and refine interpretations rather than subject them to complete revision. That said, they are extraordinary opportunities.
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    Retiring Beasts. "A Field Guide to the Mammals of Australia", by Peter Menkhorst and Frank Knight. [review]
    (Australian Book Review, 2007-07-31T07:03:42Z) Drayson, Nicholas
    How do you tell a kangaroo from a wallaby, a seal from a sea lion? If you know the answer to those questions, then how do you tell a mountain pygmy possum from an eastern pygmy possum, or a hairy-footed dunnart from a lesser hairyfooted dunnart? You need a guide to Australian mammals. Peter Menkhorst and Frank Knight have given us what will undoubtedly become the field guide of choice for anyone interested in Australian mammals.
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    Old Children. [poem]
    (Australian Book Review, 2002-08) Shapcott, Tom
    This item is a poem by Tom Shapcott, dedicated to Ron and Pam Simpson.
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    On the Volcano Trail. [poem]
    (Australian Book Review, 2002-08) Ryan, Brendan
    This item is a poem by Brendan Ryan.
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    Changing the Order of Things. "C.Y. O'Connor: His Life and Legacy", by A.G. Evans. [review]
    (Australian Book Review, 2002-08) Hutchison, David
    Evans has, through painstaking research in Ireland and New Zealand, revealed — in the words of the historian Geoffrey Bolton — O’Connor’s ‘elusive and complex personality’ and enriched our understanding of this outstanding engineer. This new biography will appeal to a wide audience.
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    Off-Duty Darwinism. "Disseminating Darwinism: The Role of Place, Race, Religion, and Gender", by Ronald L. Numbers and John Stenhouse (eds). [review]
    (Australian Book Review, 2002-08) Wolfe, Patrick
    The tension between strict Darwinism and transformist evolutionary schemes not founded on natural selection is central to "Disseminating Darwinism". The best chapters (those by Eric Anderson, Scott Appleby, David Livingstone and Jon Roberts) are also those that most explicitly acknowledge this tension. With one exception, the collection originated as papers presented to a conference held in Dunedin in 1994. As if guided by a hidden hand (or, as is more likely, by determined convenors), the contributors bring a strikingly consistent set of concerns to bear on their separate accounts of the ways in which Darwinism was received, interpreted and rhetorically deployed by different interest groups in different parts of the English-speaking world in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Copyright to all textual material owned by Australian Book Review Inc. Flinders Dspace has made every effort to contact the copyright owners of other material, and will remove items upon request.