January 2005 Archives

A. Bertram Chandler

A. Bertram Chandler was born in Aldershot, England, in 1912, and migrated to Australia in 1956. Mainly known as a science fiction writer, he began writing short stories for John W. Campbell's Astounding during the Second World War. After moving to Australia he concentrated mainly on sf novels, many of them set in his 'Rim Worlds' sequence, featuring Commander Grimes (a sort of galactic Horatio Hornblower). He was known and honoured around the world - culminating in being Guest-of-Honor at the World Science Fiction Convention in Chicago in 1982. He died in Sydney in 1984.

Now David Kelleher, a long-time Chandler fan, has created a website devoted to Chandler. Of special interest to me is the associated page which contains a number of pieces that Chandler wrote for various sf fanzines (such as "Australian Science Fiction Review", "The Mentor" and "Science Fiction") and other general literary magazines (such as "The Australian Author"). Kelleher also reports that Chandler's story "Familiar Pattern" will be the featured story on the www.scifi.com/ website from 2nd February. I think it will only be there for a week.

Weekend Round-Up #5

Other than a review of Michael Crichton's State of Fear it's non-fiction weekend at "The Age". The major review is by Roger Benjamin of Papunya - A Place Made After the Story: The Beginnings of the Western Desert Painting Movement by Geoffrey Bardon and James Bardon. Covering some 490 paintings in the volume Geoffrey Bardon has compiled what must be the definitive work on Western Desert painting - one of the greatest gifts to the world of art, from Australia, since white settlement. At $120 this is a book for serious collectors only but is probably the cheapest way you'd ever get to see a lot of these works.

Tom Ryan, film reviewer for "The Sunday Age" reviews Australian Cinema After Mabo by Felicity Collins and Therese Davis. This examines Australian film since 1992 and Ryan concludes by stating:

The best test of what they've done here is that they make you want to revisit the films in the light of what they've said about them. And what they offer on the topic of the so-called "history wars" currently raging about the kinds of stories that should be told about Australia's past is insightful and timely.
Of somewhat limited interest, geographically speaking, is The Enduring Rip: A History of Queenscliffe by Barry Hill, reviewed by Morag Fraser. Not included on the website is Michelle Grattan's review of Don Chipp's memoir Keep the Bastards Honest. Chipp self-published the book but no reason is given, in the review, as to why. I would have thought that this book would have found a worthy place at a reputable Australian publisher. Grattan considers that the "book is a bit all over the place, rather like 'Chippy' himself, his mates would say - a mixture of emotionalism and enthusiasm." So it seems like it needed a bit of work. I wonder if that is what turned off any prospective publishers.

There is also an interview with Ian McEwan regarding the release of his new novel Saturday. I wouldn't normally mention this as it is a review of a non-Australian book (not that I'm prejudiced or anything, but this weblog aims to be Australian-centric), so the point of interest here is the price - $49.95. Just a touch under the magical $50 barrier. The UK list price is 17.99UKP, reduced to 10.79UKP at Amazon.co.uk, and the US list price is $26.00. Somewhat of a discrepancy I fear.

And it's non-fiction again over at "The Weekend Australian", with the lead review being of God Under Howard: How the Religious Right has Hijacked Australian Politics by Marion Maddox. And the review is actually on the web this week. Barry Hill (see the Queenscliffe book above) is "The Australian's" poetry editor and he reviews Martin Harrison's Who Wants to Create Australia? - a book of essays about Australian poetry. According to Hill: "The result is a brilliant and possibly seminal little book to which poets will defer, and which - for the general reader - might also serve as a marker in these times of precarious national identity." Which sounds pretty good, though I think his statement that "this is poetry criticism as pertinent to our daily lives as the price of oil" might be taking things a bit far.

St Kilda Writers' Festival

The St Kilda Writers Festival starts tomorrow, and you can find full details of the program here. The program items during the coming week will be held at night with the daytime events being held over the weekend of February 5&6. Main points of interest: a reading of Dorothy Porter's Monkey Mask presented by Sisters in Crime; Judy Buckridge chairs a discussion, with Arnold Zable and Ouyang Yu, titled "Language and Exile" presented by the Melbourne International PEN Centre; and "Ethics in Literature" with Peter Singer, Renata Singer and Bill Garner.

Items in "The Bulletin"

The Australian current-affairs magazine "The Bulletin" has played a long and glorious part in the history of Australian literature over the past 125 years. During the period from 1880 to about 1920 it was a major publisher of such poets as Henry Lawson, Banjo Paterson, Victor Daley, Mary Gilmore, and C.J. Dennis (amongst many others). But over the past few years it has moved away from publishing poems and stories, and now even book reviews are few and far between.

The most recent issue is the 125th anniversary edition and carries two articles about the magazine's history: "Tales of Mystery and Imagination" about the life and legacy of the magazine's founder J.F. Archibald; and "Lore of the Land" about the magazine's place in the rural side of the Australian nation in its early days. Other than that there is one, one, minor review of the short story collection: Zero Break: An Illustrated Collection of Surf Writing edited by Matt Warshaw. And that's it.

I'm not sure how "The Bulletin" presents its web-based material as yet. The two major articles mentioned are available on the magazine's website, but only to subscribers to the printed version. In the previous issue things were a bit better: Sally Blakeney both profiles and interviews author Peter Goldsworthy; and there are reviews of Hill of Grace by Stephen Orr, Taking Care of Business by Peter Corris, and Heavenly Pleasures by Kerry Greenwood. This may mean that "subscriber-only" material is only restricted for the week between issues; I've have to check back next week. And the thing that really topped off my feelings of disappointment with the current issue? The cover features a portrait of the late Princess Diana, Princess of Wales. Enough already. Can't we just move on?

Australia Day Honours

The field of Literature didn't fare terribly well in this year's Australia Day honours, with only Alan Hopgood being awarded Member (AM) in the General Division. He was cited: "For service to the performing arts as actor, playwright and producer, and to the community through raising awareness of men's health issues." Hopgood is probably best known for the plays "And the Big Men Fly", "For Better or Worse" and "The Carer"; the film scripts for "Alvin Purple", "Alvin Purple Rides Again" and "The True Story of Eskimo Nell"; and for television scripts for such series as "Blue Heelers" and "Neighbours". He has just completed a play based on the war-time diaries of Weary Dunlop, titled "Weary".

Brunswick, Not Revisited

Les Terry can't bring himself to revisit Brunswick, the Melbourne locale of his early childhood, as he finds that he would "prefer not to cross into that suburb". Terry has recently released a memoir of his time growing up in a poor (as it was then) inner-city suburb, titled The Remarkable Resurrection of Lazaros X, which details the hardships he endured while growing up in the 50s and 60s. He probably wouldn't recognise the place now.

A Change at the Top

A recent visit to a branch of Angus & Robertson revealed during the week that that book by Dan Brown has been displaced at the top of the bestseller lists - at least in that store. Stephanie Alexander's The Cook's Companion - Second Edition has moved to the head of the list and a worthy book it is too. The original was published back in 1996 and you'd be hard-pressed to find a Australian foodlover's kitchen without a battered old copy lying around somewhere. Ours is starting to look like a total mess.

Poem: Omarism by Victor Daley

With pen in hand and pipe in mouth,
And claret iced to quench my drouth,
I sit upon my balcony
That overlooks the sparkling sea,
Serenly gay, and cool, and bland -
With pipe in mouth and pen in hand.

This life I think is beautiful,
When at the jug I take a pull.
The harbor shines like azure silk;
The claret tastes like mother's milk;
Then to the pipe I turn again -
And then I trifle with the pen.

The red-faced neighbors townward go;
The air is in a furnace glow.
I watch them scorching as they pass,
Like flies beneath a burning glass -
Each clutching at the red-hot hour
For coin; their folly turns me sour.

The Business Man may fret and sweat
In his black coat, for etiquette,
And grow in shop and office old,
And gather wrinkles with his gold -
I sit in shirt-sleeves cool and bland,
With pipe in mouth and pen in hand.

The white clouds - idle they as I -
Like dreaming gods, at leisure lie
Upon the hill-crests. Smoke upcurls
From chimneys lazily, and girls
Below me, with bare, brown arms fine,
Are pegging linen on a line.

The great ships, from the world outside,
Steam slowly in with stately pride,
Their giant screws now gently spin;
'Tis good to watch them gliding in
From East, and West, and North, and South,
With jug in hand and pipe in mouth.

These visions fill me with content,
And I remember not the rent.
When with cool breezes comes the night
It will be time enough to write.
Then you shall see me start the band -
With pipe in mouth and pen in hand.

First published in The Bulletin, 9 November 1911

Carey and Courtenay

Is it really possible to compare Peter Carey and Bryce Courtenay? Simon Casterton in "The Age" seems to believe so. And he makes a fair argument for it. It all revolves around the point that "They may work different sides of the publishing street, but Courtenay and Carey are equally effective at getting their message across." So it is really all about marketing and positioning oneself in front of the customers/readers? Probably, and both came from advertising backgrounds originally so past experience is a major help. In addition:

Courtenay appeals to that part of Australian culture that is perhaps more overtly populist, nationalist and materialist. Carey, on the other hand, appeals to a more rarefied, cosmopolitan stratum, and has an additional appeal to overseas readers and literary prize givers. Courtenay is an immigrant made good, while Carey is a well-connected expatriate. Each, though, comes across as "good bloke", which is the acme of social acceptability in this country. Neither is as challenging to the general reader as, say, a Patrick White, or perhaps a J. M. Coetzee.
I've talked about Patrick White here recently and have decided that I have to read at least one of his books this year. But is Carey not as challenging as Coetzee? It's not a question that has occurred to me before. Courtenay's books sell very well in this country - I believe he was the top-selling local writer last year - but I haven't read anything by him. Maybe it's about time I did. God, not more books to add to the list.

Combined Reviews: Fire Fire by Eva Sallis


Reviews of Fire Fire by Eva Sallis

Andrew Reimer, in "The Age" finds that "Fire Fire is an unusual and unsettling book. It is not always possible to work out exactly where its ethical and moral emphases fall - and I mean that as a compliment" and "the novel's construction is wayward, and that (once more) is to be welcomed in a cultural climate where idiosyncrasy does not seem to be highly valued." Which I take to mean that he's a bit ambivalent about the book - liking some parts and considering others "somewhat commonplace, even a tad too tidy".

In the "Adelaide Review", Gillian Dooley compares the novel to Ethel Turner's Classic Seven Little Australians; not directly comparing the two books all the way down the line but deciding "While we leave Ethel Turner's little world with a happy tear and a sigh, Eva Sallis's inspires confusion and disturbance." Which is not to be considered a bad thing, merely the way it is. Doley concludes that "Fire Fire is a haunting book - not hauntingly beautiful, but full of foetid, morbid and powerful images which will stay, perhaps uncomfortably, in the mind."

Sally Murphy on the AussieReviews website, states that: "This is a gripping and compelling tale, spun with layers of language and of meaning."

In addition to these reviews, you can read the transcript of a discussion between Eva Sallis and Romana Kaval from the "Books and Writing" program on ABC Radio National.

Aurealis Award Winners

The winners of the Aurealis Awards were announced on Friday night in Brisbane. The full list of nominees was posted here on 14th January. The Awards honor the best Australian fiction, at long and short lengths, in the sf/fantasy/horror/young adult/children's genres.

Best Novel:

Science Fiction - Less Than Human by Maxine McArthur
Fantasy - The Crooked Letter by Sean Williams
Horror - The Black Crusade by Richard Harland
Young Adult - Midnighters by Scott Westerfield Children - How to Live Forever by Colin Thompson

Best Short Story:

Science Fiction - "Come to Daddy" by Brendan Duffy
Fantasy - "Catabolic Magic" by Richard Harland, and "Weavers of Twilight" by Louise Katz
Horror - "The Last Days of Kali Yuga" by Paul Haines
Young Adult - "Singing my Sister Down" by Margo Lanagan
Children - "Beneath the Surface" by Gary Crew & Stephen Woolman

The Gold Aurealis Award was presented to Cat Sparks for her Agog series of anthologies.

EBay Item of Note

Listed today on EBay Australia: "UNPUBLISHED MANUSCRIPT/NOVEL/162865 WORDS" - Item number: 7949533764. The author describes this work as follows: "This 177 A4 page manuscript was written by myself over a period of two and a half years (started 1999). After finishing the actual story I began the arduous task of spelling and grammer. Still in dire need of these things being done correctly I have grown increasingly impatient and finally tired of the whole task of completing these final tasks myself and have therefor decided to sell the manuscript as is. It has never been assessed proofwritten or submitted for publication. It is in its raw form and fourth and final draught before grammer and spelling is completed. The storyline is totally completed."

The paragraph above is copied directly from the Ebay entry. And, err, umm, needs a bit of editing methinks. I really don't know what to say about this. Does the author think that this manuscript (and by implication any manuscript) has an inherent value just because someone has spent the time to write it? Maybe. In which case this whole thing is every sad. It needs to be pointed out that it now isn't even worth the paper it is typed on. And unread, why would anyone buy it? And the asking price? The seller has placed a reserve on the item of $500. I fear they are going to be very disappointed.

Weekend Round-Up #4

"The Age" prints the third prize winner in its annual short story competition with "Hotel Sheesh Mahal" by Liz Gallois. I have a feeling that might probably be it for this series of short stories.

In its review section, James Ley finds that Thomas Shapcott's novel Spirit Wrestlers "is interested in the conflict between inscrutable demands for spiritual purity and the imperfections of the flesh." Ley combines the Shapcott novel with another from the same publisher, Wakefield Press, in Hill of Grace by Stephen Orr. Here, Ley says, "it is encouraging to see a writer vary his style in an attempt to find a third way between the two poles of standard no-frills prose and the florid, overheated variety that tends to dominate contemporary 'literary' fiction." But why has it taken so long for these books to be reviewed? The publisher's website states that Shapcott's novel was published in July 2004, and the Orr in November 2004. July? What's the point in reviewing it now? Surely Shapcott has enough of a reputation as an Australian novelist to warrant a review with a little more currency.

On the non-fiction front, Andrew Singleton reviews Fractured Families: The Story of a Melbourne Cult, religious that is. Brief mentions are given to the latest issue "Overland", House on the Hill by Estelle Pinney; Drowned Wednesday: The Keys to the Kingdom by Garth Nix; and Stirring Australian Speeches edited by Michael Cathcart and Kate Darlan-Smith.

"The Weekend Australian" starts off its Review section with an interview with young adult/fantasy novelist Garth Nix. Pretty standard fare for interviews of this sort with the best line from Nix being: "You should never judge any genre by the worst example of it and I think it is quite narrow minded to think that a particular form will mean it is not worth reading." Exactly.

In the Books section, Andrew McCann rejects the recent panic-mongering over the "decline" in quality of Australian literature and explains why quality fiction is rarely discussed in mainstream media. (This article is reprinted from the latest issue of "Overland" - but it is not included on that website either.)

Books reviewed: The Remarkable Resurrection of Lazaros X by Les Terry, and The Secret Annexe: An Anthology of War Diarists by Irene and Alan Taylor, which includes some of Weary Dunlop's work from a Japanese prisoner-of-war camp in WWII.

Short reviews are given to Safari: I Won't Cry, Mumma by Janet Seath and Frank Scaysbrook, and Imagining Australia: Literature and Culture in the New World edited by Judith Ryan and Chris Wallace-Crabbe, which sounds interesting.

Australia's Humane, Moral Immigration Policy. Cough.

Yet again the Australian Government has shown its true colours in regards to its immigration/refugee policy with the news that a Rebel Writer Faces Extradition to Iran. The writer in question is Ardeshir Gholipour who has been detained by the Australian Government since 2000 as it sought to examine his application for refugee status. Five years? Come on.

The facts of the case seem pretty clear and the support for his application from local writers and International PEN should surely have provided all the necessary information. But obviously not enough. Even faced with the evidence that Gholipour's fellow writers have been murdered and imprisoned for daring to write articles critical of the Iranian Government stands for nothing, as far as Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone is concerned.

Each time I come across items such as this I think the Government must surely have learnt the lesson of compassion by now and will act humanely and responsibly. And each time I am bitterly disappointed. Bastards!

Website Review: MetaCritic

This is not an Australian website but as it contains some Australian material I thought it best to review the site here before I started to provide links to it.

MetaCritic describes itself as a website that "compiles reviews from respected critics and publications for film, video/dvd, books, music and games." The book review compilations have only recently been added, hence the note here. Webpages of this sort are very useful in that they allow you to quickly scan extracts from a number of related sites without having to go to the effort of tracking them all down. This was the whole concept behind Yahoo in its initial stages - the web was getting too big to find anything so index sites would be the "next big thing". As you might expect for a website based in the USA the bulk of the material under consideration in the Books section is sourced from the USA and UK. You get the occasional interloper, like Murakami's Kafka on the Shore, but these are few and far between. The only Australian book I can find so far is The Tyrant's Novel by Tom Keneally.

The site aims to provide a score out of 100 based on a weighted average of a book's reviews. Some critics, and some publications, get a higher rating than others, hence the weighting. All of this is pretty subjective, of course, so the more reviews that are included the better. Taking the Keneally novel as a reasonable example: the book's score of 80 (The Line of Beauty by Alan Hollinghurst - the 2004 book winner - scored 89) is based on 16 reviews, including notices from "The New Yorker" (US), "The Guardian" (UK), "The Boston Globe" (US) and "The Spectator" (UK). All reviews were from publications or websites based in the US or UK. Sixteen reviews is a pretty good sample (the Hollinghurst score is based on 22) and the final verdicts of the reviews range from "outstanding", from "Publishers Weekly", to "unfavorable", from "The Washington Post."

The site provides a judgement, a brief description, the reviewer's name and a link to the article in question for each review cited. It's early days for the book reviews on this website and we'll have to keep an eye on it to see how it progresses, but I, for one, will be checking it on a pretty regular basis.

Quibbles: I'd like to see a wider range of books under consideration and a wider source of publications.

Kudos: As a review-checking aid it may well prove to be indispensible.

Elliot Perlman in the Wars

Ron Hogan, over on his literary weblog Beatrice, reports on a reading by Elliot Perlman in Manhattan. Seems the poor bloke suffered a broken arm rushing for a plane in Seattle. It's good news that Perlman is on a book tour, but bad luck that he has been injured this way. Let's hope he took out LOTS of travel insurance.

Combined Reviews: Sixty Lights by Gail Jones


Reviews of Sixty Lights by Gail Jones

This novel was included on the 2004 Booker Longlist, which doesn't quite qualify it as being unnoticed. It's more a matter of me not noticing it.

In "The Guardian", Susan Elderkin finds the book "A layered meditation on loss and grief and of finding joy in unexpected flashes, Sixty Lights is a passionate and somehow lonely book about the in-between parts of life - flawed, but then most novels worth reading are flawed." By "flaws" Elderkin states that, in the early part of the novel, "Jones seems dangerously at the beck and call of her words rather than of her characters." But she seems to thinks the novel all comes together at the end.

The novelist James Bradley reviewed the book in August 2004, and picked up on the book's photography theme - "The ghostly aspect of photography is never far away. The images it gives us, sliced out of time and carved in light, are possessed of a strange duality, capturing what is lost and preserving it even as they are suffused with the sadness of the moment's passing...Gail Jones' Sixty Lights is an extended meditation on photography that takes its haunting power and weaves it back into a story that reminds us of the ways in which those things that make us most human - love, story, forgiveness - are themselves inseparable from our mortality." Bradley also thinks there is evidence of some over-writing in the book but concludes that "there is an intelligence and honesty to her writing that brings the characters powerfully to life."

Rosemary Sayer, in "The Asian Review of Books - On the Web" considers that "Sixty Lghts is depressing rather than uplifting, especially as we know from the second page of the first chapter that Lucy will die of consumption at the age of 22, but it is without doubt a powerful insight into life for a young woman in Victorian times." Which hopefully doesn't give the game away. ((Just as a side note - you can't really say that this is a spoiler if the author herself reveals a major character development on page 2.))

Kasia Boddy, in "The Daily Telegraph", provides a note of caution in stating: "Ultimately, however, it seems that the main point of all this photographical apparatus is to flatter readers by demonstrating that what they've got in their hands is a literary novel with a carefully thought-out symbolic underpinning. Some may find the underpinning altogether too insistent." Which means what, exactly? That some will and some won't? I'd be happier if she said what she found rather than trying to anticipate what others will think.

Thomas Keneally

Thomas (or Tom, depending on whether he is writing fiction or non-fiction) has a couple of recent articles readily available on the web:

  • "Captain Scott's Biscuit" appears in Granta 83, and tells the story of how Keneally came to purloin a biscuit from Scott's Hut at McMurdo Sound in the Antarctic, and how he came to take it back.
  • "The Handbag Studio" appears in Granta 86, and finally explains how Keneally happened on the story that later turned into the novel Schindler's Ark and then into the Spielberg film "Schindler's List."

  • Poem: Redivivus by C.J. Dennis

    To-day I took old rhymes that I had written.
       And read them through, each one unto the end:
    When with a swift nostalgia was I smitten,
       As with sad memories of some old friend -
    Some happy, wayward man I used to know
    Long since. Alas! (And, by the way, heigh-ho!)

    All his, it seemed, these sudden, cheerful spasms
       Of humor poured from an untroubled mind,
    These old ambitions, old enthusiasms,
       When all the world seemed true, and men most kind:
    When roseate skies were never tinged with grey.
    Ah woe! (And, so to speak, alack-a-day!)

    All his these views so unsophisticated.
       These thoughts so innocent and yet so wise.
    Such minds as mine have never contemplated
       A world so free of guile, so free of lies,
    A world of woe and wickedness so free,
    Of misery! (And, as it were, ah me!)

    Not mine this intricate, yet careless weaving
       Of joyous rhymes? Not mine this happy twist?
    Surely not mine? 'Tis far beyond believing!
       Such songs come from some youthful optimist
    Who gaily danced along life's primrose way,
    And yet - (Well, once again, alack-a-day!)

    Yet they are mine, these merry, lilting phrases.
       Never again shall I pen such sweet lays!
    Never again shall I...But why the blazes
       Shouldn't I? (Odds fish! and spare me days!)
    Why shouldn't I? The time is surely ripe
    For verses far surpassing this old tripe!

    First published in The Bulletin, 10 July 1924

    Reviews of Australian Books #3

    "The New York Times" leads off a large review of Eliott Perlman's latest novel The Seven Types of Ambiguity by Daphne Merkin with:

    It feels distinctly odd -- almost surreal -- in this fragmented, self-consciously wink-wink, nudge-nudge, deconstructed post-Derridean moment, to come upon an enormous and enormously time-consuming 19th-century novel, informed by up-to-the-minute issues like pederasty and rampant consumerism, that is prepared, in all its sweaty aspiring, to take on the world whole-cloth. It makes you wonder about the nature of literary ambition and the immense vulnerability of any writer who attempts not just to describe the cacophonous everyday universe we live in but to impose a pattern -- a semblance of meaning -- on it.
    The review heaps a lot of praise on the book while at the same time stating that Perlman isn't quite "there" as yet. This might just be his breakthrough. Keep an eye out for the film version of his earlier book Three Dollars featuring David Wenham and Frances O'Connor, which has just completed filming here in Melbourne.

    Justin Cronin reviews Michael Faber's new book The Courage Consort in "The Washington Post". This is a collection of three novellas which wouldn't have difficulty in a genre such as science fiction, where the novella has a long and distinguished tradition, but is the "misunderstood middle child of the literary world" according to Cronin. After his previous sprawling novel The Crimson Petal and the White maybe Faber just needed a bit of a break.

    Peter Singer's book Pushing Time Away: My Grandfather and the Tragedy of Jewish Vienna is reviewed by Jeremy Adler in "The London Review of Books", but the full review doesn't appear on the website.

    Reviews by Australians #2

    Peter Singer, Professor of Bioethics at Princeton University, reviews Catastrophe: Risk and Response by Richard A. Posner in "The New York Times". This piece as published after, but probably written before, the tsunami struck South East Asia on December 26, 2004.

    Weekend Round-Up #3

    "The Age" on Saturday continues its series on the winners of its short-story competition by printing the second prize winner "Just a Line" by Ross Gray. Nick Economou reviews a couple of books about the recent Australian Federal election: Run, Johnny, Run: The Story of the 2004 Election by Mungo MacCallum (described in the review as "Australia's closest approximation to Hunter S. Thompson's gonzo journalist type (but without the self-indulgence)"), and A Win and a Prayer: Scenes from the 2004 Election edited by Peter Browne and Julian Thomas. I think the MacCallum book will be closer to my political leanings. There are not a lot of other major reviews in "The Age" this week.

    The "Age Review" section, which contains the book reviews, starts off with an article about the way the internet is changing the face of politics, and finishes with an article titled "Disastrous Times" which reads more like a catalog than anything else. It gives a nod to this section by listing 6 books which deal with the same topic. Both of these articles appear to me to be in the wrong section. They are more current affairs articles than "reviews" of anything. There is also the piece on the Miles Franklin Award that I wrote about yesterday. The other Australian books mentioned briefly: Sunset: Penguin Australian Summer Stories and The Riddle by Alison Croggon. Neither of these are on the website. I don't have a problem with these short mentions given the limitations of the book review section, my concerns lie with the articles included that should be elsewhere and the lack of larger reviews. One major review of two Australian non-fiction books just isn't enough.

    Andrea Stretton leads off "The Weekend Australian's" Review section with an article on children's art books. This is an edited version of an essay previously published in "Art & Australia" magazine, which isn't available on either website. Further books reviewed: Keep the Bastards Honest by Don Chipp; and small mentions of Blood, Sweat and Tears: Australia's World War II Remembered by the Men and Women Who Lived it by Margaret Geddes; A State of Injustice by Robert N. Moles; and Peter Brock: Living with a Legend by Bev Brock. Not what I would call a terribly inspiring bunch.

    The Miles Franklin Award

    For some years now I have been rather annoyed that the Miles Franklin Award is held in such little regard in this country. I've said in other places that I feel a bit ambiguous about awards in the arts - both sides of the argument hold sway at any one time: you can't expect to be able to pick the "best" novel out of a list of widely divergent subjects, and it tends to diminish the value of the work down to a "beauty contest"; it focuses the public's attention on books that are generally considered "worthy" and which might, in other circumstances, have been overlooked.

    So let's, for the sake of this piece, acknowledge that the award is here to stay, and that it does have an important role to play in the literature of Australia. Why, then, does it only come to the public's attention when there is a fuss? And why so often?

    At the end of 2004, "The Age" reported on the changes to the award judging structure being implemented by the Trustees. This "Judging Panel Charter" sought to define the roles of the judges, to limit their activities and place restrictions on their tenure and ability to elect a panel chair. Three of the judges - Mark Rubbo, David Marr and Kerryn Goldsworthy - resigned and have since been replaced. The award was in a bit of a sorry state during the latter part of the 1990s following the debacle of the choice of The Hand That Signed the Paper by Helen Demidenko/Darville in 1995. Slowly, confidence and trust in the award had begun to re-emerge, and now it seems like it has hit on hard times again.

    There are a number of things about the award that I would like to see changed. Although I can see that having a fixed judging panel has had a beneficial effect of late, I would like to see some new faces included. From time to time. The Booker experience, of completely changing the panel each year, is too far the other way, but having judges
    appointed for life (as in the original set-up), or unchanging for a considerable period doesn't appeal either. Maybe a combination of the two might work: a number of judges, say 4, which have extended appointments and from whom the panel chair is chosen on a rotating basis, and another 2 who are new appointments each year. That way you get "fresh new blood" each year with a level of continuity that the award seems to require. But what do I know? I'm only an interested observer.

    Michael Williams, on the other hand, has more telling and informed things to say about the current mess. And maybe his final paragraph sums it all up:

    A look at the winners over the 47 years of the award shows a considerable bias towards historical novels, novels with rural settings. Anglocentric, predominantly male. Is this an excessively narrow interpretation of the phases of Australian life? Arguably the Archibald Prize has a higher profile than the Miles. The spike in sales offered by its endorsement doesn't come within a bull's roar of that enjoyed by the Mann Booker, and almost 50 per cent of its winning titles are out of print. Somewhere along the line, this cultural icon has lost its way.

    Germaine Greer Out of Touch

    So says Associate Professor Catharine Lumby, the director of media and communications at Sydney University, in today's "Age".

    "Greer's claims about the advice women's magazines offer to their readers is simply wrong. Lurid cover lines aside, the focus of many articles is on encouraging women to stand up for themselves, to explore their own sexuality and not to put up with violence or harassment from men. Just ask Mia Freedman, a bright young feminist, who edits Cosmopolitan...Greer's original criticisms of Big Brother - which she offered some years before her decision to go on the show - are another example of her tendency to jump to conclusions about pop culture. She famously noted that the kind of people who like watching the show are the same kind of people who'd enjoy watching torture - and she wasn't joking."
    Maybe it's just a case of being out of touch.

    Greer reminds me of a Clive James lecture I went to some years back. It must have been near the end of the 90s as the debate on whether or not Australia should become a republic was all the rage. During his lecture James defended the English Royal Family (he had been a close friend of Princess Diana) and couldn't see why Australia would ever need to drop the monarchy, and didn't think the majority of Australians wanted to either. His major problem was that he hadn't spent a lot of time in Australia since he left in the sixties and had no real understanding of what the issues really were, and what the average Australian thought of them.

    Greer has also stated that the Australian suburbs are a cultural wasteland where books, film and art are never discussed. But when was the last time she ever spent time in those self-same suburbs to actually find out if this is the case or not? Watching Neighbours or Home and Away doesn't count; in the same way that watching NYPD Blue is a reflection of the streetscape of New York. Greer seems to skimming modern culture lately. Dipping in only so far as to re-inforce her already well-established points of view. And when she does jump in the deep end, as with her recent foray into Big Brother territory, she finds herself lost. It's what's known as getting old Germaine.

    Aurealis Awards

    The Aurealis Awards Nominations (for best Sf/Fantasy/Horror/Young Adult/Children's Australian literature) have been released (okay, mid-December, but I'm trying to catch up) and the full list can be found at their website. The awards night is listed for January 22 in Brisbane, but, in the meantime, here are some reviews (where I can find any) of the novels under consideration:

    SF Novels

    Orbital Burn, KA Bedford
       - "The Courier-Mail"
       - SF Site
    The Rebel, Jack Dann
       - "The Age"
       - Boomerang Books
    Nylon Angel, Marianne de Pierres
       - SF Revu
       - Diverse Books
    Less than Human, Maxine McArthur
       - SF Site
       - MEviews
    Heirs of Earth, Sean Williams & Shane Dix
       - SF Reviews
       - TheForce.Net

    Fantasy Novels

    Brilliance of the Moon, Lian Hearn
       - SF Site
       - "The Age"
    Tainted, Glenda Larke
       - Galaxy Bookshop
    Snow, Fire, Sword, Sophie Masson
       - Infinitas Bookshop
    Giants of the Frost, Kim Wilkins
       - Boomerang Books
       - "The West Australian"
    The Crooked Letter, Sean Williams
       - TheForce.net
       - Galaxy Bookshop

    Horror Novels

    The Black Crusade, Richard Harland
       - Tabula Rasa
       - Fantastic Queensland
    Fire in the Shell, S Pennicott
       - Galaxy Bookshop
    Giants of the Frost, Kim Wilkins
       - Boomerang Books
       - "The West Australian"

    Young Adult Novels
    Midnighters 1: The Secret Hour, Scott Westerfield
       - The Review Centre
    Hot Nights, Cool Dragons, Matt Zurbo
       - The Age
    Undine, Penny Russon
       - Boomerang Books
    Flesh & Blood, Jackie French
       - Galaxy Bookshop

    Children's Novels

    Snow, Fire, Sword, Sophie Masson
       - Infinitas Bookshop
    How To Live Forever, Colin Thompson
       - Department of Education, Tasmania
    The Pearl of Tiger Bay, Gabriel Wang
       - January Magazine
    Ranger's Apprentice, John Flanagan
       - Gleebooks
    Claire de Lune, Cassandra Golds

    A bit of a problem here with the nomination of Giants of the Frost by Kim Wilkins in both the Fantasy and Horror categories. (I know that Sophie Masson is nominated in two different categories, but that seems okay to me: Children's and Fantasy seems quite compatible.) One or the other I would have thought was the best option.

    It is pleasing to see so many novels listed. I remember back in the seventies and eighties when even one sf/fantasy/horror genre novel a year by an Australian author was considered good going. But the biggest question is: where are all the reviews? It seems that great scads of Australian literature is being ignored in this country. Especially in the children's section. Either that or the reviews aren't ending up on the web.

    Combined Reviews: Home by Larissa Behrendt


    Reviews of Home by Larissa Behrendt: (This novel won the David Uniapon Award for Indigenous Writers.)

    "This brilliant first novel should make David Marr a happy man. This is a perfect example of the political novel, engaged with the experiences and imaginings of contemporary everyday Australians." So says Jo Case in her review on the
    BoomerangBooks.com website. She finishes with a seal of approval: "Home skilfully demonstrates how this country has ended up in the mess it is in - not through wanton, comic-book cruelty, but through a cycle of prejudice, misunderstanding and abuse of power."

    On the Aussiereviews.com website, Sally Murphy agrees with Case's assessment: "Behrendt also uses the book to comment, directly and indirectly, on the political and legal plight of her people in a way which, again, humanises these issues and exposes them to readers who perhaps are in need of a fresh perspective...This is an outstanding first novel."

    Anita Heiss, in "Australian Humanities Review", starts off her review by stating: "I haven't met one Indigenous Australian who hasn't been affected by the policies of protection that lead to what we commonly refer to as the Stolen Generations. Coupled with having read extensively and written a novel on the same subject myself, Larissa Behrendt's award winning novel Home was a disturbingly familiar read for me." Which is followed somewhat later by: "Revealing an obvious talent for the creative form, the rich writing in Behrendt's Home was only hindered by the slabs of lectures that appeared throughout the book, as the author fell into her 'other role' as academic." Heiss is impressed with the fiction but not with the need to introduce a catalog of Indigenous issues into the work. I tend to forgive such "faults" (if they are faults at all) in first-time novelists as they have to find their feet somehow. Second and third novels on the other hand, don't tend to get the same sort of consideration. And I don't have problems with "issues", just how they are integrated into the work.

    Terri Janke, in a review on the ABC Book review website concludes: "This is more than a historical novel or a story about reclaiming lost family connections. Home is written from the heart. The author has drawn on her life, her passion, her family heritage to produce a fresh, innovative and well-written piece of fiction, full of juicy yarns that keep you reading. The author also weaves in the stories of her people, the Eualeyai people, as told to her by her father. In this sense the novel is truly a literary gem."

    Other reviews: "The Age" - "...to describe it as a good first novel or a good indigenous novel is to undersell it; Home is, without qualification, simply a good novel."

    Forthcoming Australian SF and Fantasy

    Sara Douglass has c coming out from Tor, in the US, in January 2005. This was originally published in Australia in 2000 by HarperCollins. It is the second novel in her "Crucible" historical fantasy trilogy, and follows The Nameless Day.

    Sean Williams gives all the appearances of a one-man industrial complex with his crowded up-coming publishing schedule: Geodesica: Agent, with Shane Dix, is due in February from Ace (US) and HarperCollins (Australia); The Blood Debt in March from HarperCollins Australia; and The Resurrected Man in April from Prometheus Books. Jennifer Fallon has Warrior: The Hythrun Chronicles Book Two coming from HarperCollins in January.

    The Right Hand of God by Russell Kirkpatrick will be published in Australia by HarperCollins in February 2005. It's interesting that each of these writers has their own website which contain lots of information for readers. Douglass, Williams and Fallon have written a number of books and so will have realised what publicity (and connecting to their fans) can do for an author's work, but even Kirkpatrick, with his third book about to be released, has learned the value of author promotion.

    Patrick White? No thanks

    Edward Champion wonders if Patrick White is "Australia's most unreadable novelist", after linking to an article by Thor Kah Hoong in The Star Online. I couldn't rightly say as I haven't attempted to read anything by White since I was 16, at high school, and had his Tree of Man foistered upon me as part of the English wider reading list - I couldn't finish it. Although I have a number of "literary" conversations with friends over the course of a year I doubt if White is
    mentioned more than once in that time. Which is a bit sad, given that he is Australia's only Nobel Laureate for Literature.

    Germaine Greer Drops Out

    Out of Big Brother that is. We might all have been more than a tad surprised that the ex-pat Australian author decided to join the cast of BB in the UK in the first place, but surprised at her leaving it? I don't think so. Not that she has decided to give a reason as of this time. All she had to say was that it was a load of crap. We would all have understood.

    [Thanks to the Bookslut weblog for the link.]

    Poem: The Poet's Pay by Edward Dyson

    The poet took two bottles stout
       Of good old Queensland rum,
    And one of ink, and spread them out;
       A bottle, too, of gum,
    And big blank sheets of paper white,
       And then resumed his place
    Amid the crockery to write
       A poem of rare grace
       That must command its space,
    And e'en a thumping cheque invite,
       And please the populace.

    The poet wrote the whole night through,
       And at the rum he sipped.
    The sheets about the room he strew,
       And in the ink he dipped.
    He gummed this stanza next to that,
       And paused a while to think,
    Then charged again with venom at
       The bottle holding ink
       His merry rhymes to chink,
    And every time a line went flat
       He took another drink.

    And when at length the day had come
       Quite empty were the lot
    Of bottles - gum, and ink, and rum.
       The poet, though, was not.
    Full, too, the pages....Fortune hard
       Brought back the verse again.
    Then for the bottles in the yard
       The poet went from a swain
       Three coppers did obtain.
    "See, earnest labor," cried the bard,
       "Is never wholly vain!"

    First published in The Bulletin, 3 January 1918.

    Reviews of Australian Books #2

    Peter Conrad reviews Peter Carey's Wrong About Japan in the "Guardian", and isn't too impressed with it as he calls it a "disengaged feat of thumb-twiddling".

    In Tasmania by Nicholas Shakespeare is reviewed by Penny Green in the "Guardian", who finds that "Tasmania is an enigmatic place and Shakespeare captures it with an appreciative eye".

    Boyd Tonkin in "The Independent" says: "It's hard to think of a more fiercely imagined novel about a place in recent years than Michelle de Krester's The Hamilton Case".

    Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts is getting a lot of attention around the world, and this week Carole Burns reviews the book in "The Washington Post". Her verdict: "Roberts's writing is never understated. He sounds sometimes like Raymond Chandler, with that noir mix of toughness, sentiment and bravado. This style threatens to tip over into the overwrought, and sometimes it does." But for a first-time novelist he doesn't seem to have done too badly.

    DBC Pierre's Vernon God Little (which is rising up the to-be-finished pile) gets a somewhat belated review by "The Yale Review of Books". I mean the book came out almost two years ago and won one of the major book awards. Did it really need to take that long to find that the book is "like nothing more than watching the most simplistic of TV-movies: a stereotypical, sensational, and self-congratulatory caricature geared towards triggering the right snickers at the right times."

    Weekend Round-Up #2

    "The Saturday Age" appears to have its book review pages pretty much back in shape after the holidays, although not all of "The AgeReview" section is included on the newspaper website. The major piece is the first prize winner in "The Age" short-story competition, "All Fathers the Father" by Emmett Stinson. The Best Australian Poetry 2004, edited by Anthony Lawrence from the University of Queensland Press, and The Best Australian Poems 2004 edited by Les Murray from Black Inc, are reviewed by David McCooey. He finds the state of Australian poetry to be rather healthy at present. He doesn't list the cross-overs between the two volumes but does state that they have been compiled from two very different premises. He concludes the review by stating:

    Things can never be said completely, as these poems so bountifully show. This is our gain, as these poems also show, and there is enough excellent work within these volumes to fill many hours of weird unemployment.
    Christopher Bantick reviews Fossicking for Old Books by Anthony Marshall from Bread Street Press. Marshall runs Alice's bookshop in Rathdowne Street, North Carlton, which is not a bookshop I'm familiar with, given that I live in the inner Eastern suburbs of Melbourne rather than the inner North. But it looks like I will have to pay a visit in the not too distant future. I happened to be in Jack Bradstreet's bookshop in Hawthorn yesterday and this review was mentioned along with the fact that Marshall used to work closely with Bradstreet for a number of years. It's obvious, then, that Marshall has the pedigree and temperament required to make a good book-seller, as Bantick points out:
    North Carlton's demographic has changed since the early Italian migrants but Marshall notes, with delight, that now his customers come from Turkey, Cambodia, Somalia and elsewhere. He finds joy in their names and meeting their requests. Maybe this says something about Marshall apart from the books.
    Gideon Haigh is one of the best cricket writers anywhere and his latest collection of works, Game for Anything: Writings on Cricket is reviewed by Nathan Hollier:
    Haigh is determined that cricket should be understood as an important part of people's lives and culture, not simply as a product to be consumed. This helps to explain his insistence that cricket writing should be as serious and cerebral, as entertaining and well crafted as the best writing of the arts and sciences: "For the most part, cricket writing remains firmly in the cliche factory, a wholly owned subsidiary of the sporting-industrial complex."
    Other Australian books reviewed or mentioned but not included on the website: The Literary Lunch by Geoffrey Dean from Roaring 40s press; Wild Figments by Michael Leunig from Penguin; Beds are Burning by Mark Dodshon from Viking, the history of Midnight Oil, one of the world's greatest rock'n'roll bands IMNSHO; Heat 8 edited by Ivor Indyk from Giramondo Publishing; and Quarterly Essay 16: Breach of Trust by Raimond Gaita, which I reviewed here on January 3 - scroll down to see the entry.

    "The Australian"'s website doesn't appear to have a specific Book section, nor a Search facility, so finding any literary references is pretty difficult, if not impossible. In any event, Peter Coleman reviews Steadfast Knight: A Life of Sir Hal Colebatch by Hal Colebatch (the son) from Fremantle Arts Centre. "Colebatch's father...lived through two world wars. He also became one of the great West Australians (premier, senator, agent-general) - to be mentioned in the same breath as, say, John Curtin or Paul Hasluck." Exalted company indeed. It's a pity that the Fremantle Arts Centre Press doesn't have its website up-to-date. Given the small publicity budgets involved with publishers such as this, I'd have thought having details of current books in print would be the first order of business. Luckily enough they seem to publish first-class books (but just give me something to link to):

    Colebatch was in his late 70s when his son Hal was born. It was his ambition to live long enough for the boy to be able to remember him. This moving biography shows how well he succeeded.

    Combined Reviews: Drown Them in the Sea by Nicholas Angel


    Reviews of Drown Them in the Sea by Nicholas Angel

    (This novel was co-winner of the 2003 Australian/Vogel Award.)

    Sally Murphy, in Aussiereviews.com states that: "Drown Them in the Sea is a very Australian story about life on the land and the ever-present struggle against adversary. It is about a man's love of his land and his family and also, very strongly, about mateship."

    "GoodReading Magazines: "Given the recent drought of shorter novels, Drown Them in the Sea comes as a breath of ocean air itself."

    Thuy On, in "The Age", finds that: "Drown Them in the Sea is a graceful fusion of brute realism and spare, evocative prose. It captures the essence of rural Australia with Akubra-wearing Millvan as the archetypical farmer: heroic, laconic and indefatigable...in Angel's capable hands Drown Them in the Sea is a compelling narrative of admirable characters against an unforgiving backdrop. It has a maturity that belies the author's 25 years."

    Featured Australian Fiction

    "The Age" has been running excerpts from various works of fiction over the past week or so as part of their "Summer Reading" section of the entertainment pages. The excerpts don't all appear to be on the paper's website, but here are some links to the Australian works featured so far:

    White Earth by Andrew McGahan
    - reviewed by Aviva Tuffield in "The Age"
    - reviewed by Sally Murphy in Aussiereviews.com
    - reviewed by Patricia Irvine in "The Adelaide Review"
    The Gift of Speed by Stephen Carroll
    - reviewed by Michael McGirr in "The Age"
    - reviewed by Kabita Dhara in Boomerang Books
    Angel Puss by Colleen McCullough
    - reviewed by Marian McCarthy in "The Age"
    - profiled by ABC South West WA

    Memories of Susan Sontag

    Peter Craven wrote an appreciation and personal memory of Susan Sontag soon after her death at the end of 2004. It was published in the Fairfax papers ("The Age" and "The Sydney Morning Herald") on January 1, 2005 under the title "The Light of Truth" but I've only today noticed it up on the SMH website.

    The Rising Cost of Australian Books

    During my regular morning scan of various literary weblogs (mostly based in the US) I came across a new one from Richard S. Wheeler called The Iconoclast. The amusing thing that caught my eye was his note: "Seven or eight dollars for a throwaway paperback is too much; that will buy a lot of hamburger."

    Gee, I wish I could buy paperbacks, even throwaway ones, in Australia for seven or eight dollars, or, even translated from the US, for ten or twelve. The two I have sitting on the desk next to me are Monica Ali's Brick Lane, and Alan Hollinghurst's The Line of Beauty. Both are trade paperbacks, ie hardback sized softcovers, which is the publication method of choice for most non-Australian fiction reprinted in this country. The Ali novel has a price tag of $29.95, and the Hollinghurst $28.00. These prices are pretty standard, but I have been noticing similar publications sneaking over the thirty dollar mark of late. It's hard to get a similar view of non-fiction, either in hardback or softcover as what I buy from overseas is rarely available here, and what I buy here is, probably, rarely available overseas. The best example I can come up with is Brian Greene's The Fabric of the Cosmos, listed at $49.95 here and at $28.95 in the US. Oddly enough, that seems almost reasonable.

    It's the fiction I have most trouble with. I've heard all the arguments: size of market, supporting local authors, supporting local bookshops, etc, etc. But you have to wonder if the price of these books is deterring people from buying them. You then have the publishers saying that readers don't buy paperback fiction anymore, so they increase the price to compensate for the lack of sales, and then readers buy less, and then the publishers... It seems a pretty specious argument to me. And now the word is that local publishers are not taking on any new local writers because the market just isn't there.

    So I'm at a bit of a loss. I can't see the prices stabilising or reducing, and I can't see more local authors coming on to the market. The future doesn't look that flash for anyone involved, readers, writers or publishers. The only ones who seem to be making a living are the distributors.

    Combined Reviews: The Silver Donkey by Sonya Hartnett


    Reviews of The Silver Donkey by Sonya Hartnett:

    - Meg Sorensen, in "The Sydney Morning Herald": "An elegantly published little hardback for children, The Silver Donkey is both a tribute to Hartnett's growing international status and a nostalgic nod to a time when fun and mystery weren't pre-packaged, branded and gauche. Read it to your children for its wonderfully controlled prose and beautifully composed story but be sure to give them lots of tickles along the way."

    - Peter Craven, in "The Age": "The Silver Donkey is a gorgeous jewel of a book that comes in the plainest wrapping. It is a deliberately old-fashioned story. It is not about family atrocity and dysfunction. It is about being casually brave in order to help a gentle stranger. It is also, in its shadows, about a man who has suffered in the teeth of terrible things and is willing to commit what society thinks is a crime in order to be with the brother he loves."

    - "The Bulletin" states that "Hartnett's book is a triumph of tact and restraint."

    The Silver Donkey is also reviewed in "The Australian Book Review" No. 267, but the review is not available on the website.

    And Sonya Hartnett writes about what it means to be a writer of young adult fiction in Australia for "The Bulletin".

    2004 Best of Year Books

    By now, hopefully, all the "Best of..." lists that are going to be published have been. There seems to be hundreds of the bloody things. And it seems almost an impossible task to get on top of them. Australian books included:

    The Bride Stripped Bare by "Anonymous", in the "San Francisco Chronicle's" Best Books of 2004.
    The Hamilton Case by Michelle de Krester, in "The Seattle Times" "Best Books 2004: Scene of the Crime's Top 12"; and in "The New York Times" "100 Notable Books of the Year", Fiction and Poetry Section.
    Queen of the Flowers by Kerry Greenwood, in "January Magazine's" "Best of Crime Fiction 2004".
    The Tyrant's Novel by Tom Keneally, in "The New York Times" "100 Notable Books of the Year", Fiction and Poetry Section.


    Molvania: A Land Untouched by Modern Dentistry by Santo Cilaura, Tom Gleisner and Rob Sitch, in "The Village Voice's" "Top Shelf: Our 27 Favourite Books of the Year".
    A Death in Brazil: A Book of Omissions by Peter Robb, in "January Magazine's" "Best of Non-Fiction 2004".
    In Tasmania by Nicholas Shakespeare in "The Economist's" "Best Books of 2004" History section. There are probably others but these are the only ones I've been able to track down as of this time.

    Reviews by Australians #1

    Tim Flannery, director of the South Australian Museum in Adelaide, reviews Coal: A Human History by Barbara Freese in the 6 January 2005 issue of "The London Review of Books". We normally find Flannery reviewing works on natural history of "The New York Review of Books" - where he seems to be their resident expert on the subject - so this will be a change of tack for him. The article is not on the website, unfortunately.

    Reviews of Australian Books #1

    Although it was published in early December and won't be up on the website for to much longer, I wanted to bring to your attention Anita Desai's review of The Hamilton Case (by Michelle de Krester) published in the 2 December 2004 issue of "The New York Review of Books". They don't review much Australian fiction so this is a pleasant surprise. De Krester's previous work was the well-received novel The Rose Grower.

    The Etched City by K.J. Bishop, is reviewed in the "Washington Post Bookworld". An impressive achievement for a first sf novel by an Australian. The review says: "The Etched City is a philosophical novel and a surrealist tour-de-force filled with beautiful, sometimes harrowing imagery....K.J. Bishop is an important new voice in contemporary fantasy, and her potential seems virtually limitless. It will be interesting and instructive -- to see where she goes from here." The Library Journal described the book as: "Reminiscent of Stephen King's Dark Tower series and the works of China Mieville, Bishop's first novel combines the action-based atmosphere of a Western with the headiness of magical realism to forge a unique, visionary tale."

    Anthony Thwaite reviews Wrong About Japan by Peter Carey, in the "Daily Telegraph".

    Quarterly Essay 16 - "Breach of Trust" by Raimond Gaita


    It's hard to believe that Quarterly Essay is now four years old. It has become such a part of the landscape of political debate in this country in that time that I find it pretty much indispensable. Although not all essays in the series have created a large amount of debate, there have been a few that have really got under the skin of a number of media pundits. I think in particular of John Button's "Beyond Belief - What Future for Labor?" in QE 6, "Beautiful Lies - Population & Environment in Australia" by Tim Flannery in QE 9, and the most controversial, Germaine Greer with "Whitefella Jump Up - The Shortest Way to Nationhood" in QE 11, which was selectively and massively mis-quoted by the mainstream media. The storm that one raised still sends ripples through Australian politics from time to time.

    So the Quarterly Essay series has covered a number of topics, most, it must be said, from a center-left standpoint. And this has enraged the attack dogs of the current Federal Government, who have the view that the whole of the media is out to get them: a typically paranoid worldview that is held by every political party when in power. If they actually sat back and thought about it for a moment they might take the view that their policies are actually being discussed, and it is the Australian way to attempt to intimidate and attack the best players on the opposition side. But, of course, that would lead to an acceptance of the fact that some people out there might not, deep down, like them very much. Heaven forbid.

    Which brings us to the latest Quarterly Essay 16, titled "Breach of Trust - Truth, Morality and Politics" by Raimond Gaita. Gaita is Professor of Moral Philosophy at King's College, University of London and Professor of Philosophy at the Australian Catholic University, so is perfectly positioned to argue "for a conception of politics in which morality is not an optional extra". His main Australian "targets" in this essay are the politicians who have the power to shape the current Australian thinking and the future of Australian society. In other words, the current Federal Government. As soon as I picked up the current issue and started to read, I could visualize the hackles starting to rise on the neck of the Liberal Party's href="http://www.tonyabbott.com.au/">Tony Abbott. He's not one to take any form of criticism lightly. I can only assume that the current "silly season", when everyone is more interested in sunshine and sport, is the only thing that has kept him slavering all over the newspaper "Op-Ed" pages in response to this essay.

    I've been having a lot of trouble coming to terms with the re-election of the Howard coalition government in last October's Federal election. I haven't been overly enamoured with the other side of politics (the Australian Labor Party) for the past several years, but I felt they had a reasonable chance this time of upsetting a government which I considered had lost its way, and lost the trust of the Australian people. The final result, where the coalition won control of both Houses of Federal Parliament, shocked and appalled me, and proved that, as a political pundit, I have no idea.

    John Howard and I go back a long way. My memory of events thirty years ago may not be exactly correct but I have read recently that Howard entered Federal politics in the general election in 1974, the election that returned the Whitlam Government. As best I can figure out, that was the first election in which I was legally entitled to vote and, given that voting is compulsory in Australia, it was the first election in which I cast a ballot. So Howard has been a part of my visual and auditory landscape for the whole of my political life. It is not something I look back on very kindly.

    Howard's political history is long and detailed: he became Minister for Special Trade Negotiations in 1975 and then Treasurer in Fraser's Government in 1978; he was Leader of the Opposition more times than I care to remember, and was finally elected Prime Minister (the position he had always coveted) in March 1996. He has been in that position ever since, recently becoming the second longest-serving PM in the nation's history, only behind his hero Robert Menzies. Whichever way you look at it, whatever side of politics you find yourself on, you have to admit that John Howard is the consummate Australian politician of his generation. No one has had anything like the effect on the Australian ethos and the way Australia is viewed by the rest of the world. Bill Bryson may not be able to remember his name from one week to the next, but George Bush sure knows where and who he is. And that state of affairs might have more to say about where this country currently finds itself than I care to think about.

    Australia has changed in the past ten years or so, and changed for the worse. I'm not one to hark back to the days of my youth and see a wide land of sunny skies and bright, smiley people. The country I grew up in the sixties and early seventies was a gauche, insular backwater. Nouvelle cuisine was defined as putting mayonnaise on your fish and chips. The pubs shut at six o'clock and indigenous Australians weren't counted in the census, let alone having the right to vote. And then things started to change in the early seventies. Whitlam was elected in 1972, the Vietnam War ended, and a new wave of immigrants started to arrive in this country from South East Asia bringing with them a new social order. And in this midst of all this stood John Howard, alone of his Federal cabinet colleagues (so the story goes) to vote against allowing the "boat people" of the late seventies special immigration status. While everyone at that time was looking ahead, Howard harked back to the fifties with its white picket fences; husband, wife and three kids on a suburban quarter-acre block; and only white faces as far as the eye could see. He hasn't changed - he did say that he would be the most conservative Prime Minister Australia has ever had in 1996 - but has now changed the political/media landscape to such an extent that his brand of "liberal" conservatism is now mainstream. I hated it. I hated the whole idea that what I saw as the "Australian way of life" - a classless society where everyone is given a fair go regardless of race, colour or creed - was being subverted into a division of the "haves" and "have nots". And I started to be ashamed to say I was Australian. How could I justify my love of the country and its people when the only face it showed to the world was a narrow-minded, bigoted, selfish nature? Whenever I defended the place I felt I was really trying to convince myself more than the listener of the country's worth. And I seriously considered leaving, packing up the family and heading off to the United Kingdom, where I could look back on the Australia I knew and loved with the rose-coloured glasses of the ex-patriot. But I'm still here, and still annoyed, and still ashamed of what's going on.

    Which is why it is such a relief to come across something like the following: "There is therefore no reason for those who were depressed by Howard's victory to feel ashamed of being Australian, though they have reason to feel ashamed of some things Australia has done. The present and the past of most countries is a mixture of good and evil. One can be proud of the good things and ashamed of the evil while loving the country and its people. Sometimes it is a painful love." Gaita explores the questions of trust, and why it is important, for politicians. He acknowledges that they must sometimes be "economical with the truth" about specific issues but argues for a sense of morality and ethics that sits above the day-to-day political manoeuverings. I would have liked him to skewer a few more current politicians by name but I suspect he may well have thought this would diminish his message. He states: "Illiteracy about the nature of politics and about the
    relation between it and morality distorted our public life long before the Howard years. It would be foolish to believe that the Prime Minister has been responsible for it. Intentionally or not, however, he and his government have deepened it and profited from it."

    I don't believe that reading this essay has changed my view of where Australia is at present and where I see it going. It has, however, put a number of things into a bit more perspective and offered a few pointers about how to reconcile short and long term politics. I can see that I will have to come back and re-read this essay some time in the next year or so. A second reading might give me the perspective I need to appreciate the arguments somewhat better. I hadn't meant to go on this long with this "review". I just tend to get a bit carried away when it comes to talking about current politics and politicians. There hardly seems to be sense of vision amongst any of them. And that pains me a lot.

    Weekend Round-Up #1

    Both The Age and The Australian lead off their book review sections this week with a guide to the upcoming books for 2005. On the Australian Fiction front we have: March by Geraldine Brooks, due in April (missed opportunity there methinks), which is a US Civil War romance inspired by Little Women; Robert Drewe's novel Grace, (August) which continues Drewe's definition of the fictional landscape of Western Australia with a tale of an escapee from a desert detention centre, set in the Kimberleys; The Secret River by Kate Grenville (August), described as a "rural gothic"; Alex Miller's Prochownik's Art, scheduled for October, which looks at violence and erotica from an artist's perspective; The Lost Thoughts of Soldiers from Delia Falconer in July, she is best remembered for The Service of Clouds from 1997; Brian Castro produces You Can Find Me in the Garden in June; Sonya Hartnett follows up her Miles Franklin Award shortlisted novel (from 2003) Of a Boy with a mystery and suspense novel titled Surrender; and Lily Brett and Roger McDonald release as-yet untitled novels later in the year. In crime we have new novels from Kerry Greenwood (with her 15th Phryne Fisher ystery), Jane Clifton, Garry Disher, Peter Temple, and Colleen McCullough with her crime novel debut On, Off in November. Thomas Keneally will have a history of Sydney's first settlement out in late 2005; Gallipoli is re-visited by Harvey Broadbent; and Cameron Forbes looks at prison camps of World War II, which promises to be a cheery subject. Australian Biography is big again, with works on the Krakouer brothers (silky-skilled AFL footballers from the 70s and 80s, the eldest of whom fell on hard times in the 90s); Sir Edward Woodward (the ASIO chief rather than the British actor); Renee Rivkin (high flying, high crashing stockbroker); and Delta Goodrem, at only 19 years of age this promises to be slimmer than she is. Memoirs are scheduled from singer Helen Reddy; commdian Noeline Brown; sports broadcaster Debbie Spillane; politician Barry Jones; ex-cricketer Steve Waugh; rock singer Chrissie Amphlett; and writer Frank Moorhouse.

    The Australian starts off its general book coverage with a piece about that book by Dan Brown. It's a re-print from The Sunday Times, with inserts to give it a sort of Australian flavour (such as the fact that the book has sold 953,000 copies, in three formats, since it was published here in April 2003). If it's that big I might have expected a specific Australian written article, but it is the silly season so we'll let them pass this time. The rest of the book reviews are constrained to non-Australian publications with the exception of Going Native by Michael Archer and Bob Beale - which I can't find reprinted on the website anywhere. They redeem themselves a little later in the Review section by giving a favourable review to "Enjoy Every Sandwich - The Songs of Warren Zevon" by Various Artists - one of my all-time favourites.

    The Age still isn't back to its usual Saturday format so book coverage is a little low at this time of year. Peter Pierce, professor of Australian Literature at James Cook University, reviews the annual collections from publisher Black Inc: The Best Australian Essays 2004, and The Best Australian Stories 2004. There has been a change with both collections this year. Peter Craven, who edited all of Black Inc's collections in previous years (with the possible exception of the sports writing collection), had a falling out with Black Inc publisher Morry Schwartz during the year and has been replaced by individual editors; Robert Dessaix edits the essays and Frank Moorhouse the stories. You sort of get the impression that Pierce thinks both editors did a good job but it is hard to be sure. The final sentence of the review reads: "Signalled, perhaps is withdrawal from the exigent present into the delusory hopes of art." Whatever that is meant to convey. Also in The Age two books on Literary Hoaxes (Daylight Corroboree: A First-Hand Account of the Wanda Koolmatrie Hoax by John Bayley, and Who's Who: Hoaxes, Imposture and Identity Crises in Australian Literature edited by Maggie Nolan and Carrie Dawson) are reviewed by Simon Casterton. Australia has a great tradition of literary hoaxes. Probably the best-known of which is the Ern Malley affair, recently fictionalised by Peter Carey in My Life as a Fake. But added to that are the recent Norma Khouri hoax and the Helen Demidenko fracas in the mid-1990s; positively fertile ground. Mark Twain was probably right in that Australia is a land of lies. In The Sydney Morning Herald "The Spin-Off Doctors" roposes: "Novels based on a popular TV series or movie have a built-in audience, but are they literature, wonders Mark Juddery." Well, actually, I reckon it's the sub-editor who does the wondering, Juddery just reports on the phenomenon, giving special attention to those Australian writers who have written spin-offs from such as Doctor Who, Star Wars, X-Files and the Terminator movies. I think the question is a ridiculous one. Genre fiction, of whatever type, is still literature. It's a big church, I don't see it having any trouble accommodating anything that can get in the front door. Another thing: Juddery doesn't use the despised term "sci-fi", which lifts this piece up a notch or two.

    Science fiction also gets a look-in at The Courier-Mail with Jason Nahrung's piece titled "Horror Champion". The champion of the title is Ellen Datlow, editor of OMNI for 17 years and recently better known for her annual World's Best Fantasy and Horror anthologies. In particular, her work with Australian authors is mentioned along with her guest appearance at this year's Clarion South as one of the international tutors. Abbreviation check: one good ("SF"), one not so good ("sci-fiction"). Not sure where this last one came from. Sounds like an acknowledgment that "sci-fi" is on the nose but that "science fiction", or even "sf", is not derogatory enough. Either way, consistency would be nice.

    Currently Reading


     Before They Are Hanged by Joe Abercrombie
    The second book in the "First Law" series. Epic fantasy written to honour the honour and explore the standard fantasy tropes, as well as to poke ore than a little fun at them at the same time. A big book, but still a page-turner.



     How it Feels by Brendan Cowell
    A debut novel from a multi-talented author/actor/director. A coming-of-age novel which might well be semi-autobiographical.


    Recently Read


     Monster Blood Tattoo: Factotum by D. M. Cornish
    The third book in the MBT series. Will we finally find out who Rossamund really is? And will we be sad to leave this fully-realised fantasy world? I suspect the answer will be "yes" to both.



     Rendezvous at Kamakura Inn by Marshall Browne
    Browne's first novel in a new series, this time featuring a Japanese detective, Inspector Aoki. This novel finds the inspector investigating an old murder in a snowed-in remote Japanese retreat.



     The City & The City by China MiĆ©ville
    MiƩville's Hugo Award winning novel of two cities inhabiting the same physical location. A murder mystery with hints of classic sf/fantasy memes, from Dick to Borges, but in a European setting.

     Gone Tomorrow by Lee Child
    The 13th Jack Reacher novel. Suicide bombers on the New York subway and international terrorism mixed with hard-boiled action makes for an interesting brew.



     The Blade Itself by Joe Abercrombie
    Heroic fantasy in the modern style. A fantasy that is laced through with noirish elements, and excellent characterisations. First book of The First Law trilogy.

     Where Have You Been? by Wendy James
    What happens when a sister returns after being missing, presumed dead, for twenty years? James enhances her reputation as one of Australia's rising literary novelists.

     Wyatt by Garry Disher
    Disher's anti-hero is back after an absence of ten years with a gritty, fast, noirish struggle for survival. All the best aspects of Disher's work are on display here.



     Leviathan by Scott Westerfeld
    A Young Adult steampunk novel set at the start of an alternate history First World War. Fast-paced, intriguing and totally captivating.



     Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? by Philip K. Dick
    Dick's novel of the near future when the difference between human and android is barely discernible. One of the great all-time sf titles.



     American Journeys by Don Watson
    Watson journeys into the heart of America, by train and car. There he discovers the best, and the worst, of humanity and society.



     Ghostlines by Nick Gadd
    2009 Best First Novel at the Ned Kelly Awards. Murder in the art world involving political intrigue and business corruption in Melbourne.


    About this Archive

    This page is an archive of entries from January 2005 listed from newest to oldest.

    December 2004 is the previous archive.

    February 2005 is the next archive.

    Find recent content on the main index or look in the archives to find all content.

    Powered by Movable Type 4.23-en