Weekend Round-Up 2006 #11

James Bradley's The Resurrectionist is reviewed by Peter Pierce in "The Age" this week. Pierce is professor of Australian literature at James Cook University and generally I find his reviews perceptive and informative. In this case I'm more than a bit bemused. Bradley's novel is set among the anatomists of 1820s London and the men who supply them with corpses, the resurrectionists. Pierce states early: "Begun with such confidence in the command of its prose, Bradley's novel becomes more commonplace, gloomy and ghoulish as it details the robbing of graves or the purchase of cadavers, matter-of-fact about a business that can depend on murder...Curiously, this is a novel with its own ringing descriptive voice but only an uneasy authority over its subject." I have no idea what he means by this. The "descriptive voice" I understand, but why the next phrase? Pierce then seems to imply in the same paragraph that Bradley uses stock-standard gothic stereotypes, which doesn't doesn't really fit with subject authority. It's something else entirely, and, I might say, not one that I agree with.

I think also that Pierce is not sure how to approach this work. After Swift's fall into "despair and destitution" Pierce feels that "Bradley narrative pace slackens". As he says, "one act of treachery follows another" as Swift's sense of self-worth is slowly and inevitably destroyed. Pace isn't important here surely. What we are after is a description of a human personality slowly coming apart at the seams, and the pace of the book needs to reflect that.

In the end Pierce concludes: "This is still the work of a strong talent, a writer whose ambition magnifies the structural problems of his work, who sought here rather to struggle with the challenge of previous historical fictions, than more comfortably to seek space for his own." I don't know what "previous historical fictions" he's talking about here. Pierce doesn't mention them.

In her review of Safety by Tegan Bennett Daylight, Michelle Griffin finds the author has taken a big literary risk: "this novel reads like it was written according to some puritan artistic code; all natural lighting, unresolved tensions and characters who can't escape the basic parameters of their personalities. Although Safety is difficult to warm to, it has plenty of integrity, refusing all temptations to pander to the usual resolutions of love stories." And she concludes that "Although this is a novel about people who love each other, it is not, in any sense, a romantic novel."

Geoffrey Blainey describes Hirst as "one of the nation's most independent and original historians" so a collection of his essays is of some importance. Actually, any collection of essays by any Australian historian is of importance in this era of "the history wars". Morag Fraser reviews his latest collection, Sense & Nonsense in Australian History, in "The Age" and finds that there "is vigour in Hirst's essays, a plain man's passion, you could call it. He will say what he means. To what end? Sometimes he reads like a reflex contrarian, but, more often, like a deft scholar whose researches leave him uneasy with orthodoxies, out of kilter with the historical fashion of the moment, but leave us informed."

John Hirst's essay collection is also reviewed in "The Weekend Australian" by Robert Murray, who concludes "The book should be essential reading for those who want to ponder, let alone write and teach about, Australian history but fear choosing between the Paul Keating/Phillip Adams view on the one hand and Pauline Hanson or David Flint on the other."

Phil Brown considers Shadowboxing, a first novel by Tony Birch: "Birch's descriptions of the lower socio-economic world of inner Melbourne in the '60s are brilliant and he evokes, with a curious nostalgia, a claustrophobic world that anyone would be lucky to escape from unscathed. He has a great ability to pare down his prose, laying bare the raw flesh of the matter in the process. Despite their rigours, the stories are engaging, with flashes of larrikin humour. The book is even something of a page-turner at times, although the calamity of one page often leads only to heartbreak on the next."

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on March 13, 2006 8:49 PM.

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