An Author Responds

In "The Australian" last week, Nicolas Rothwell, reviewed Lost World of the Kimberley: Extraordinary Glimpses of Australia's Ice Age Ancestors by Ian Wilson. So what?, you might think. Well, Wilson has responded to that review, and his response is printed in this weekend's edition of the paper.

To be blunt, the original review gets really stuck into the book on pretty much all levels: research, coverage, theory, you name it.

One hardly knows whether to laugh or weep on being confronted with such a bizarrely multiplicit book: at once a layman's overview of recent steps in Australian archeology and rock art research, an account of one man's brief Kimberley trip and an exploration of certain unverifiable personal enthusiasms that even the author, in his wiser moments, half-ascribes to his "overactive imagination."
The problems with Wilson's project lie as much in the manner of its undertaking as in the specifics of his critique and his claims of discovery. The north Kimberley is a subtle, recalcitrant place that discloses its tone and the relation of its parts only over the slow passage of years. There are many serious writers and historians who have spent half a lifetime travelling its remote quarters, yet would not dare to boast that they have come close to its core.

Wilson, by contrast, presents a 300-page book of grand interpretation on the basis of a few shepherded days.

Which leaves little room for mis-interpretation. And the reviewer doesn't restrict his criticism to the author alone: "If a leading Australian publisher [Allen & Unwin] feels licensed to put out such material in the quest for profit, then we have reached a sad moment in the degeneration of the nation's writing culture."

This a classic "bad review", but a review of the work alone. The only criticisms of the author relate to the book, the research that went into it, and the conclusions that were drawn and which are printed.

I went back though the original review looking for personal attacks, snide remarks, anything that might invalidate Rothwell's conclusions. There are a couple that might fit the bill. He talks of Wilson's "prevailing system of hobbyhorses and beliefs about the prehistoric past" - which is fair enough given Wilson has written some 20 or so books with titles such as Jesus: The Evidence and The Turin Shroud: Unshrouding the Mystery. You wouldn't read either of those without having an inkling that the author had some theory or other he wanted to present. Referring to such theories as "hobbyhorses" might be seen as being a tad provocative, but it's hardly libellous. Slightly later in the review Rothwell notes that when Wilson travelled to the Kimberley he "passed through Kununurra, noting the presence of 'very black-skinned' Aboriginal people (the shock! The surprise!), and spent a few days travelling the bush with a tour guide." It's a cheap shot and really should have been excised by the sub-editor. Maybe it can be excused on the basis that he might have written a lot worse. But it's pretty juvenile stuff all the same.

And that's all there is. Overall, Rothwell thinks Ian Wilson did not do a good job in writing his book. And he says so.

Normally, that would be the end of it. "The Australian", however, has seen fit to print the author's response.

This is never a good idea, other than to correct factual errors. Even praise for the review isn't good, as it only tends to put the author in a bad light. Anyway, the response is here. I don't think it improves Wilson's position one jot.

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on February 6, 2006 12:04 PM.

Poem: The Literary Hero by Ironbark (G. Herbert Gibson) - Part 2 was the previous entry in this blog.

Weekend Round-Up 2006 #6 is the next entry in this blog.

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