Weekend Round-Up 2006 #37

The Age

Martin Flanagan looks at a new book about "Waltzing Matilda", possibly Australia's best-known and best-loved song, titled Once a Jolly Swagman by Matthew Richardson. Publication of this book is timely, says Flanagan: "Richardson's book is ultimately the voice of someone who sees globalisation as masking the onset of a second cultural cringe, one which, like its predecessor, creates disdain for local - Australian - culture." But, as Flanagan points out, the creation of the song didn't happen all at one time, the words and even the tune were changed over time by Banjo Paterson, who was credited with the original, amongst others, and Richardson's book is as much as the fluid creative process as about the song's origins. "At one level, the story shows how creation is a messy business with more than the odd element of luck or chance about it."

Brian McFarlane seems to think more of Nicole Kidman by David Thomson than most other reviewers so far, though I wonder if he hasnt fallen prey to the actor's charms as well: "Thomson clearly adores her as a creature of great sexual attractiveness and also knows how to value her for what, in the right circumstances, she can do as an actress. His shrewd assessment of her career choices and the patient, wide-ranging analyses of her acting highlights substantiate his claim for her as the 'most adventurous and the most varied (actress) of her time'...He gathers together the 'facts' of her life to help explain the public face we all feel we know. In the process, he offers a finely drawn portrait of a star, a woman, and maybe, to raise his own question, a lady?" The whole thing strikes me as tacky tabloid journalism.

Peter Craven is impressed with David Malouf's latest short story collection, Every Move You Make, especially as it represents the authors best form: "Everything he writes is 'quality'. That said, he has always seemed at his best in lyrical mode, writing short works of fiction, novellas and stories, than he does when he is pursuing grand themes in somewhat longer books - the POW experience in The Great World or the legend of bushranging in The Conversations at Curlew Creek." Craven finished his review with a flourish, "A better book of fiction has not come out of this country this year."

On the longer fiction front, Suzanne Leal's debut novel, Border Street, is reviewed by Kirsty de Garis, who finds that the novel "tells a story of one man's survival against enormous odds, and of its lasting effects. Leal has recounted this tale and woven a warm account of the unlikely friendship between people with 40 years and continetns between them." I wonder how many copies the publishers will sell of this debut at $32.95. I've a feeling that it's just too expensive for the current market.

Short notices are given to: In It To Win It: The Australian Cricket Supremacy by Peter Roebuck: "You either go with Peter Roebuck's epic, often Churchillian turn of phrase, or you don't. Most of the time I do, although he can lay it on a bit thick sometimes...his detailed knowledge of the game, make him a cricket writer with scope and flair and of substance too"; The Concerto Inn by Jo Gardiner: "The novel moves at a langurous, almost somnolent pace, with Gardiner guiding her characters through their 'slow pulse of memory'"; and Hit by Tara Moss, the fourth PI Makedde Vanderwall novel: "There's violence, titillation, conspiracy, romance and comedy".

The Australian

Robert Hughes's memoir, Things I Didn't Know, gets the once-over by Andrea Stretton, who opines that "There are very few writers whose words you would recognise from 20 paces: Hughes is one of them. Although usually writing about art and culture, he instinctively knows all there is to know about the fictional devices of characterisation, dialogue, the bittersweet nature of drama and comedy, and the great, deep sweep of narrative structure." High praise indeed. Not sure I agree completely but there we are. Hughes has had a bit of a problem with Australia of late, mainly over his treatment by the press following his near-fatal car crash in Western Australia in 1999.

Autobiography is also the subject matter of Bary Jones's new book, A Thinking Reed. Mike Steketee has waited a while for this book, and is generally pretty pleased with the final result. "Unusually for a book by a politician, Jones admits to failure and frustration leavened by some successes. Not that he is just a politician, let alone an ordinary one. He was a misfit in politics: a long-range thinker in a short-term environment, more inclined to bury into further research to add to his vast store of knowledge than to put together the numbers for a caucus ballot." But, as he puts it, "If the book suffers, it is from the Jones obsession with lists and organising information. Sometimes there is too much detail."

With her novel, The Secret River, on the 2006 Man Booker shortlist, Kate Grenville has now published Searching for the Secret River, the story of how she came to write the subject book. Stella Clarke finds that: "Searching for the Secret River records Grenville's five-year journey to the finished novel, which started out as nonfiction, moved from first to third person, through exhaustive dissections and revolutions, before completion. It is education in the art, and craft, of fiction, a lesson in the arduous devotion it can command...This book gives an account not just of the birth of a novel but also of the birth of conscience, which is what the history debates are basically about." An unusual glimpse into the novelist's art.

Short notices are given to: Agamemnon's Kiss: Selected Essays by Inga Clendinnen: "With incisive wit, Clendinnen brillinatly mixes a sense of liberation and vulnerability, not only within her body but also in society':

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on October 9, 2006 9:31 PM.

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