Weekend Round-Up #16

The major Australian review in this weekend's "Weekend Age" is written by Patrick McCaughey, a former director of the National Gallery of Victoria, of Degenerates and Perverts: The 1939 Herland Exhibition of French and British Contemporary Art by Eileen Chanin and Steven Miller. And I reckon you'd struggle to find a more obscure topic, but McCaughey puts it into perspective: "The Herald Exhibition of 1939 was the most important exhibition ever to come to Australia. Despite obvious lacks and omissions - no German Expressionists, no Russian Constructivists, no Italian Futurists and few Surrealists - it brought the modern movement with a bang to the doorstep of Australia as nothing else had." The authors tell the story of the exhibition and the machinations behind the scenes and "like all good stories, it has its villians and heroes." The exhibition was huge, some 217 works, and it drew massive crowds, 45,000 in 11 days in Melbourne alone. A seminal event in Australian art, indeed.

Given the amount of Australian first novels I keep on coming across, all of a medium to high standard, I believe we are in the middle of a major resurgence in Oz fiction. And a good thing too. Lisa Gorton is impressed with The Patron Saint of Eels by Gregory Day, his first novel. "This is an unlikely and oddly endearing story of a small Victorian town, an Italian saint and some eels." Though she does temper her feelings a little: "At times, it is true, The Patron Saint of Eels seems a little fey; perhaps the made-up miracle makes its moral point a little too easily." A little lee-way is allowable with first novels I'd say.

Juliette Hughes is "swept up into an earthy, comic and dangerous universe" as she reads Five Oranges by Graham Reilly, and Frances Atkinson finds Kate Llewellyn's memoir Playing with Water: A Story of a Garden rather "contagious".

Short notices are given to: Waking Up with Strangers by Daniel Gloag: "The first 50 pages of Gloag's fiction is brilliant - the writing sparkles, his characters charm, and he creates a wonderful sense of the restlessness of youth. The brilliance is not sustained, alas. But even Blind Freddie can see that the author has a huge gift." Slaughterboy by Odo Hirsch, "...is a dark and at times gruesome novel that depicts with visceral acuity the hardship of one boy's life in early 16th-century Europe." Specky Magee and the Boots of Glory by Felice Arena & Gary Lyon: "this is an easy reading, easy thinking book for boys". Desperate Hearts by Katherine Summers, a memoir that is a testament "to the resilience of children who given a modicum of love and an opportunity or two, fight through", and Diggerspeak: The Language of Australians at War by Amanda Laugesen.

In the "Weekend Australian", Maryanne Confoy's biography Morris West: A Literary Maverick is given a major going-over by Barry Oakley. West "was a craftsman who wanted to be seen as an artist. [This book] is intelligent and perceptive, but it takes us closer to the books than to the man."

Colin Falconer's novel "My Beautiful Spy is an airport novel par excellence. By this I don't mean that it's lightweight or inadequately researched but that its page-turning, high-paced action is at the expense of subtle character development and considered, meticulous prose." And Edwina Preston, in her review, concludes: "Falconer's novels sell like hotcakes across the world but the recipe is bland and workaday, with no surprise ingredients. Easily digestible but offering little in the way of long-term nourishment."

John Baxter's new book We'll Always Have Paris: Sex and Love in the City of Light is reviewed in this weekend's "Sydney Morning Herald" by Sacha Molitorisz, described as "a Herald writer recently returned from Paris". Anyone who read Baxter's previous book, A Pound of Paper, wil know that he has a very readable style, often given to looking beneath the surface of his subject: "Throughout, Baxter has an ear for the prurient, the offbeat and the absurd. That - combined with his efficient, elegant prose - makes the book a pacy, page-turning read."

The Essential Bird by Carmel Bird is reviewed, and author interviewed, by Matt Condon in "The Courier-Mail". "The title started out as a bit of a joke," [Bird] says. "My editor said it was time to collect some of the stories together and we'd always called it 'the essential Bird'. When it got closer to publication my editor asked what we should call it. But that was the title. It plays on words. It's about getting to the essence of things." As Condon puts it: "These works mull over Bird's lifelong interest in psychiatry, madness, murder, charisma, and cults and how these elements sit in contemporary society. Her ability to enter the psychology of her characters is one of the outstanding characteristics of her work."

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on April 18, 2005 8:08 PM.

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