Reviews of Australian Books #83

Was Nellie Melba the most famous Australian of all time? Ann Bailey tries to answer that question in her biography of the opera singer, I am Melba. In "The Age", Jim Davidson attempts to figure out if she succeeded: "Melba was a phenomenon, whose ambition overcame the qualms she often felt early in her career. The voice drove her on, against the wishes both of her father and her husband. As intended, the name she chose as a singer did make her city famous...The most famous Australian, then, but for how much longer? Melba is safe unless Rupert Murdoch caps his business career with a spectacular act of philanthropy - like Cecil Rhodes - or until we produce a David Beckham, rather than a Don Bradman, in a sporting code the whole world plays. Or, in rock, an equivalent of The King or The Boss."

Also in "The Age", Sophie Gee feels that Julia Leigh may have cut too much from her new work, The Disquiet: "...Julia Leigh's art is rigorous, uncompromising and gutsy. This is a book that carries no fat at all, and it leaves her completely exposed as a writer. No juicy themes or doggy characters who romp out to meet you. No romantic tension and no sex. No jokes. It's not plot-driven, so there's nothing to keep you turning the pages...The book must work through the power of spare, precise prose. It calls for exquisite discipline, fitness and perfect understanding, and Leigh gives herself almost no margin for error. The degree of difficulty is immense...The ending, which needed to be perfectly carefully balanced like the rest of the book, felt rushed, leaving me wishing she'd cut the characters a bit more slack and given them a few thousand more words."

Mark McGuinness also looks at the Melba biography, I am Melba in "The Courier-Mail": "Nellie Melba is a glorious subject for biography. With meticulous research, Blainey has produced a more sympathetic Melba than John Hetherington's well-regarded study in 1987 and a more rounded complement to A Family Memoir, Pamela Vestey's affectionate tribute to her grandmother, as great a dame as she was grand and Australian to the core."

Cath Keneally, in "The Australian", is very enthusiastic about Joan London's latest novel The Good Parents: "From the first word, London is in control, unfolding the surprises tantalisingly, little by little...Set in the millennium year 2000, The Good Parents is wise, true, funny, tragic, soaring in scope and unassuming in style. The writing can be so quietly lyrical you want to read very slowly, the suspense enough to make you want to race to the finish. The quality of observation, close-focus and long-range, is so sharp you'll jab Post-it notes on every page...Every character, completely understood from the inside, is matchlessly right and irreplaceable...The human struggle to do good and be good in the world is at the heart of this novel, monumental efforts about to be annihilated by our limitations or the next unforeseen twist of fate."

Shara Saunsaucie reviews Magic's Child by Justine Larbalestier on the "calico_reaction" weblog: "It's a good book, but out of the three, I think it's the weakest. The strongest, ironically, is the second, Magic Lessons (second books have a bad rap for being the weakest in a trilogy/series). I think Magic's Child suffered a bit from having too much to wrap up and tie together. Everything happened really fast, but not necessarily in a way that made causal sense. Still, it's quite the enjoyable trilogy, and I still intend to hold the premise driving the books as a shining beacon of how to make a really cool magic system that has consequences."

The "Words and Flavours" weblog reviews The Sound of One Hand Clapping by Richard Flanagan: "While it is overwritten, the novel is not poorly written. It evokes a place -- Tasmania -- that remains mysterious even for many who live in the same country. It takes that powerful force of isolation and chaos that Tasmania holds -- the island that offered prisons within prisons, an island of 'wild, mad [weather], its reason lost somewhere out in the aching emptiness of the fish-fat sea'" -- and thrusts it upon characters whose lives have seen too much turmoil to have the strength to try and tame their new home."

Jerry Jarrell reviews The Arrival by Shaun Tan on the "Lithography 101" weblog: "Tan is a remarkable artist, and when the protagonist of The Arrival resorts to sketching in order to communicate, you get the impression that this is what Tan himself has been doing all along - using art in its most primitive historic role as a way of telling stories."

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on April 21, 2008 9:56 AM.

Richard Flanagan on Tasmania was the previous entry in this blog.

Australian Bookcovers #111 - My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin is the next entry in this blog.

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