Recently in Mid-Week Round-Up Category

Mid-Week Round-Up

The current state of the Australian condition is examined in a triple-book review by Bob Beale in this week's Bulletin. He looks at Australian Heartlands by Brendan Gleeson, Time for Change edited by Tim Wright and The Australian Miracle by Thomas Barlow, and saves his best praise for the last of them: "...a thoughtful read about Australian creativity and invention, it also busts some cherished myths. Barlow coolly dissects the perception that Australians are great innovators (good, but nothing special), that we're crap at commercialising our ideas (could do better, but we're OK) and that our best and brightest get poached (what we lose on the swings, we gain on the roundabouts)."

In a later review in the same column, Anne Susskind is a bit disappointed by Karen Spamon's Madonna of the Eucalypts which she finds to be: "...too much story and too linear, without enough pause for crafting the writing." Not sure what she means by that either. Thereby reflecting the problem of mini-reviews.

Tim Flannery's book The Weather Makers, is reviewed by Jim Hansen in the cover article for "The New York Review of Books". It's more of an overview of the subject and a summarisation of this book, plus others, than a straight review.

Mid-Week Round-Up

Matthew Lamb reviews Flag and Nation by Elizabeth Kwan in "The Courier-Mail". "A senior researcher at Parliament House in Canberra, Kwan has produced Flag and Nation, a thorough and much-needed history of the transition from the Union Jack to the Australian national flag we know today (the blue ensign)...The evidence this book presents leaves the impression that no one can argue any longer, through citing 'tradition', that we should keep the current Australian (blue ensign) flag: because no such continuous and inclusive tradition in favour of the Australian flag exists."

In "The Bulletin" this week, Barry Oakley looks at three new debut Australian novels: Poinciana by Jane Turner Goldsmith " an impressively assured first novel, as insightful about personal emotions as it is about the political tensions that undercut them"; Grass Dogs by Mark O'Flynn, who "paints Edgar [the main character] with such sure and savage strokes that he is the novel, and the novel is him"; and Billy's Tree by Nicholas Kyriacos which "is told so well you could call this the great Redfern novel. But Kyriacos insists on telling us the stories of
too many others ... and the narrative energies gradually decompress."

Also in "The Bulletin" (just down the page a bit), Anne Susskind reviews Shadow Thief by Melbourne writer Marion May Campbell, whose novel is "is tremendously accomplished, literary and at times compelling, even scintillating. Although many of the topics are common to Australian women's novels - mothers and relationships and sex, often gay - it is about as far as it can get from chick lit, and the tedious, lengthy recounting of detail and dialogue which characterises too much local writing."

Mid-Week Reviews

In "The Bulletin", Peter Pierce states his case early, and pretty clearly, in his review of Careless by Deborah Robertson: "Suffer the children is one of the best novels of the year." And later: "With Proudflesh, a prize-winning volume of short stories behind her, Robertson is an experienced writer. Yet little could have prepared her previous readers for the ambition, intelligence and confidence of structural touch of Careless." (You'll need to scroll down to get to the review.)

Graham Williams looks at Voices of War edited by Michael Caulfield, in "The Sydney Morning Herald". The book details interviews with 21 Australians who fought in various wars, culled from over 2000. Williams concludes: "This book should be in every school library in Australia. These people are national heroes."

Mid-Week Reviews

Peter Pierce gets to grip with Carey's latest, Theft: A Love Story, in "The Bulletin", placing it within the author's previous output: "From the first line of Peter Carey's latest novel, Theft, we are buttonholed by a narrator who is persistent, eloquent, perhaps unhinged...The speaker is as confidently importunate as the narrator of Carey's first novel, the comic, picaresque triumph Illywhacker...From the beginning, Theft is ghosted by settings and events from the author's life, but more emphatically by his own earlier fictions. In a book about art fraud and imposture (as it was in My Life as a Fake), the issue of provenance is central. In Theft it resonates more widely to question the authority of stories, and their tellers."

In "The Sydney Morning Herald", Dorothy Johnston has reservations about Dead Set by Kel Robertson, a crime novel set in Canberra; Mandy Sayer is frustrated by No Time for Dancers by Gillian Bouras, a memoir of her late sister; and Andrew Reimer looks at Theft, by someone or other.

Mid-Week Round-Up - Almost on Time

In "The Telegraph" Ali Smith reviews the new DBC Pierre: "Reading Ludmila's Broken English, the new novel from D.B.C. Pierre who won the 2003 Man Booker with his first novel, Vernon God Little, is like being hit over the head with a giant hammer, then hit again." Which gives you the impression she doesn't like it - then again maybe she has something about hammers. Anyway, the the review ends with telling you what else to expect, rather than making a definitive statement as to its worth: "Don't expect too high an art here. Don't expect a story. Expect the baroque. Expect slapstick and speed, funny and obscene, and a near-gorgeous overwrite out of which come occasional moments of shocking loss and beauty." Or did I miss something.

In the same paper, Tim Flannery considers The Devil's Picnic by Taras Grescoe, who "squanders the opportunity to
write an important book", and then has his own volume, The Weather Makers, href=";jsessionid=U5AMECKXCFQBLQFIQMFSFFOAVCBQ0IV0?xml=/arts/2006/03/12/bofla12.xml&sSheet=/arts/2006/03/12/bomain.html">reviewed by Susan Elderkin who finds that "what makes this book especially useful is its
multi-disciplinary approach".

Back home in "The Bulletin", James Bradley has a gander at the new Pierre: "Ludmila, for all its moral fury and flashes of genuine hilarity, is a curiously enervating experience. The book never quite knows when to stop, the characters possessed of a crazed loquacity which drowns out the wit which crackles between the lines"; Robin Wallace-Crabb reviews The Bone House by Beverley Farmer: "The book's four essays push language to that cliff edge, testing its ability to deal with all that a person's sensory equipment is receiving from life"; and Peter Pierce skims over Passarola Rising by Azhar Abidi and
Annabel Smith's A New Map of the Universe: "Both novels are confident performances, giving the perhaps illusory notion that foundations have firmly been laid for fictional excursions to come."

Mid-Week Reviews (A Bit Late)

After last week's profile of Marshall Browne, we have James Hall's review of his new novel, Rendezvous at Kamakura Inn, in "The Sydney Morning Herald": "In crisp, emphatic sentences, he draws credible, well-motivated characters and describes abrupt, explosive action with no sense of self-indulgence. In an unusual career for a writer, Browne, once a banker, has also been a commando and a paratrooper. He obviously knows about violence."

Sandra Hall, a film reviewer for "The Sydney Morning Herald", has written her second novel which is found somewhat wanting by Bronwyn Rivers in the same paper. "Given Hall's professional knowledge of narrative technique it is rather surprising that she falls into the biggest trap for young players: too much telling and not enough showing...This novel makes vivid its historical setting, yet its early drama dies away." A different approach to some British papers who only seem to want
favourable reviews of books by staff.

Mid-Week Reviews

In "The Bulletin", Barry Oakley looks at James Bradley's The Resurrectionist and considers that: "Like [the anatomist] exposing layer after layer in his quest for the secret of life, Bradley pushes past the blood and gore in a search for the secret of identity." We also have the "transcends the genre" phrase in the review. Not one I'm keen on, as it comes across as condescending. I don't think Oakley meant it that way but grumpy old bastards like me tend to look for stuff like this.

Also, at the same webpage, Salley Blakeney reviews M.J. Hyland's second novel Carry Me Down, which turns out to be "a page turner -- a gripping story told so well that it changes the way you see things. M.J.Hyland has the potential to be an Irish literary artist, not one of the blarney gang." And Judith White looks at Tegan Bennett Daylight's novel Safety and finds: "This is a young writer who more than fulfils her early promise. Ten years after her first book, Bombora, the writing is still fresh, elegant and precise. And now her canvas is expanding, her characters gaining depth. May she continue to take her time; her work is worth waiting for."

In "The Age", James Ley reviews the novel Rifling Paradise by Jem Poster: "There are indications that Poster has the capacity to be an accomplished stylist, but his dialogue is as mawkish and wooden as that of any soap opera. This would be less of a problem if he did not force the dialogue to carry so much of the burden of exposition...Rifling Paradise is, nevertheless, a readable and well-paced novel, but one which is, for all it good intentions, rather unremarkable."

Christoper Bantick is impressed with Sara Douglass's new novel Darkwitch Rising, the third volume in her Troy Game series. "Douglass's feel for character melds real time with imagined place most felicitously. With an assured narrative voice and animated characters - who quickly begin to matter to us as people - Darkwitch Rising is a book that will please Douglass's established audience. It also deserves to win new readers."

Andrew Reimer thinks DBC Pierre's novel Ludmilla's Broken English is "weird and wonderfully outrageous". So the verdicts on this are going to be widely spread it seems.

Mid-Week Reviews #3

"The Bulletin" this week covers a number of war books in the lead-up to ANZAC Day on April 25th. The books featured cover topics from World War I and Gallipoli, through World War II and Vietnam.
Hellfire: The Story of Australia, Japan and Prisoners of War by Cameron Forbes is given a separate review by Ross Fitzgerald. This is a true account of the Thai-Burma Railway that was built by Allied Prisoners-of-War, and later depicted, erroneously, in David Lean's film The Bridge on the River Kwai. "Hellfire is a first-rate account of the history of these prisoners of war, most of whom are now dead. For many still alive, the war and its horrors never ended; others came to forgive if not forget. Whichever the case, as Forbes so poignantly puts it: 'What they suffered, how they carried themselves, how they served their country, should never fade from Australia's memory.'"

Last week in "The Bulletin" Deborah Bogle was impressed by The Diary of Emily Caroline Creaghe, Explorer edited by Peter Monteath. This book is described as the diary of the first white woman to explore northern Australia.

Mid-Week Reviews #2

Once you start looking closing at the book reviews in Australian newspapers and magazines it rapidly becomes obvious that the same small number of books get similar coverage across a range of publications. So it comes as no surpise that this week "The Bulletin" reviews both March by Geraldine Brooks, and Farewell My Ovaries by Wendy Harmer.

In her review of March, Mandy Sayer works on the thread of Literary "borrowings": the novel uses characters from Louisa May Alcott's Little Women. And this is a useful track on which to run such a review as it probably gives the general reader something easier to hang on to than intricate details of various American Civil War battles.

She writes:

      "March is also peppered with well-known historical figures from the 19th-
      century intellectual Concord set: we see a young Henry Thoreau making pencils
      and Ralph Waldo Emerson arguing at a dinner party. Brooks' handling of
      19th-century American diction and syntax is superb, particularly when it comes
      to the rhythms and argot of southern blacks (no small feat, considering she is

      "Not all literary borrowings succeed in 'standing on their own' as well as subtly
      interacting with the original text. March achieves this and much, much more.
      It is a powerful, radiant novel with more sudden twists than a hurricane. It
      certainly blew me away."

Fiona Giles opines: "Farewell My Ovaries explodes exuberant sexual fireworks in the face of that Victorian dowager princess, lonely old age. It should also send the Brazilian waxing industry through the roof." I somehow doubt it.

The new issue of "Australian Book Review" is out and guess what, these two books are again featured. No, that's a bit churlish. I have the highest respect for this magazine as it covers as much of the Australian publishing scene as it possibly can. I'm just lamenting the lack of Australian fiction to review I guess. On the other hand, this low number does allow a general reader to keep up, almost.

Mid-Week Reviews #1

Now that I've figured out how the "Bulletin" magazine organises its book reviews and literary news, I can give you a bit of a run-down on what they are looking at.

Sonya Hartnett's new novel Surrender, which is getting rave reviews all over gets praise again from Peter Pierce, from a week ago. If you review a book with a line like: "Surrender ... is a virtuoso piece of prose. One carefully weighted and crafted sentence follows another", and "Hartnett is one of the best, and certainly most uncompromising, of Australian novelists", then you are left in no doubt that the reviewer believes we have a novel of the finest quality before us. I still keep seeing the book shelved amongst the Young Adult sections in most bookstores which might be to the book's detriment. The cover is "non-genre" specific so it should be able to transcend the shelving problem. I think the publishers might need to point out the glowing reviews the book is receiving to the bookshops, and remind them of the success of Mark Haddon's book of a year or so back.

Sally Neighbour is a correspondent for the ABC's "Four Corners" program on television and, as such, has had the opportuity to report on a number of countries across the Middle East and Asia over the past decade. Out of that experience she has produced In the Shadow of Swords: On the Trail of Terror from Afghanistan to Australia, which is reviewed by Paul Daley. Books of this sort are very useful as they provide an adjunct to the dominance of the US print and television media. It's useful to have some Australian perspective on a topic that will come to affect us more and more in the years ahead.

Diana Bagnall looks at Dirt Cheap by Elizabeth Wyndhausen, which was also reviewed in "The Age" on the weekend. She finds that "Wynhausen's voice is strong and frank, by turns compassionate, belligerent, bewildered, caustic, self-deprecating - but always intelligent."

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