Weekend Round-Up #44

There's a big Australian range of books in this weekend's "Weekend Australian", especially Australian history. Robert Murray reviews and compares The Commonwealth of Thieves by Tom Keneally and Australia Our Heritage: A History of a Nation by John Molony. As he says, the early European settlement history of Australia "was not the stuff of conspicuous glamour, of adventure novels, operas, musicals, epic poems or colourful heroes; everybody was just too damned sensible." And this "overpowering presence of common sense pervades Keneally's story, so that it is not often a ripping yarn, but it is nevertheless probably the best book yet of many written on the foundations of Sydney, and also the beneficiary of much work by others during the past 40 years.

"The obvious comparison is with Robert Hughes's showier The Fatal Shore. Hughes squeezed out more drama, more blood, intestines and artistic heightening to produce an international bestseller. The Commonwealth of Thieves is more detailed, richer in context, more serious in purpose and careful with the truth. It requires concentrated reading but lingers in the memory."

And: "Sensible, methodical, competent and workmanlike are also good descriptions for John Molony's general history of Australia, up to the minute about prehistory, environment and Aborigines. Both writers strive for the difficult balance between Aborigines and whites, between convicts and others down the pile with authority. Molony is a notch left of centre but otherwise history warriors will find few easy targets. He packs the information in concisely, from the Dreamtime through James Cook to Philip Ruddock and the asylum-seekers, though sometimes it has the bumpy feel of a peak-hour bus. Much is familiar, of course, but it seems well suited to students and other newcomers to Australian history."

Continuing the theme are reviews of The Life of George Bass: Surgeon and Sailor of the Enlightenment by Miriam Estensen: "Miriam Estensen's biography of Bass is a careful, detailed account of the surgeon and explorer and makes a companion volume of sorts to her book The Life of Matthew Flinders, Bass having been both friend and inspiration to that young man"; The Ship Thieves by Sian Rees: "Rees writes a coherent story, steering through the gaps in documented knowledge with a light hand"; and The Fatal Voyage: Captain Cook's Last Great Journey by Peter Aughton: "It is a good summary if you want to know what happened on that dramatic, tragic voyage but have no deeper interest or patience for complexity".

Frank Moorhouse has written Martini: A memoir that Michael Sharkey finds is "at once a memoir and a celebration of the good life and the martini considered as fine art. Sober reflections, drolleries, causeries and mock Platonic dialogues on transient pleasures are interwoven in an elegant series of interlinked narratives and proses to be taken in sips, rather as Montaigne's essays and the maxims of La Rochefoucauld are to be savoured, not swilled."

Reprinted from "The New York Times" is William Grimes's review of Tête-à-Tête: The Lives and Loves of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre by Hazel Rowley. The main news: they had feet of clay, and Sartre was a right bastard. Quelle surprise!

Liam Davidson is intrigued by Heather Rose's The Butterfly Man, which continues the story of Lord Lucan after he fled London 31 years ago after the death of his children's nanny. He finished up at the ends of the world, ie Tasmania.

Nicholas Jose's new novel Original Face is described as ethnic noir with a twist. "Jose's deeper themes comes into focus and, perhaps subsconsciously, readers realise they have been hoping for something such as this almost from the first pages: the chance for Original Face to transcend its genre foundations and become much greater than the sum of its parts. It does."

The Saturday "Age" has changed the layout of its book review pages, now incorporating them into a "Culture and Life" lift-out which is in a saddle-stapled tabloid format - similar that used by "The Weekend Ausralian". I think this style works particularly well for these contents as it differentiates them from the rest of the paper and makes it easier to read aroundthe house, and during the week on the train.

The major piece in the "Age" this weekend is a large profile of Alex Miller timed to coincide with the release of his latest novel Prochownik's Dream. Jane Sullivan does a good job with this giving a good outline of Miller's life and work and how it has come together in his new novel.

Crime novelist and ex-journalist Peter Temple considers two new Australian dictionaries in The Macquarie Dictonary and The Collins Australian Dictionary. He's not overly impressed with either of them.

Morag Fraser, Miles Franklin award judge etc etc, is impressed with Geoffrey Blainey's A Short History of the Twentieth Century. "He understands technology, indeed he has spent much of his work as a historian detailing its sources and development. He understands democracy and its inherent tensions. He has lived through wars and seen their fruits - invention as well destruction. His history of the 20th century holds good and evil in balance."

Short notices are given to: Dance of the Nomad: A Study of the Selected Notebooks of A.D. Hope by Ann McCulloch: "Consider the notebooks, she suggests, to be pathways in a maze - separate but connected".

Australian fiction also looms large in the "Sydney Morning Herald" with Susan Wyndham's review of The Ballad of Desmond Kale by Roger McDonald. It's turning out to be a big year in Australian literary fiction.

Short notices are given to: My Spin on Cricket by Richie Benaud: "This is a strange book that is more like a written cricket commentary than a piece of organised prose writing. Richie Benaud simply chats away about anything that takes his fancy"; Designated Targets: World War 2.2 by John Birmingham: "John Birmingham is a skilful and engaging writer in a broad range of contexts".

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on November 8, 2005 9:35 AM.

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