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Reviews of Australian Books #94

"The Age"

Felicity Plunkett on Life in Seven Mistakes by Susan Johnson: "Johnson uses a plaited structure for her novel, cutting the line of the present's chronological forward-movement with segments of the past that have built this present. Each blast of heat from the past brings about some melting, so that things within the family begin to shift. This structure elegantly reinforces the overarching metaphors of heat and cool."

Juliette Hughes on I Dream of Madga by Stefan Laszczuk: "If the circumstances in the story are dire, the tone and treatment are astonishingly humorous and assured. Tragi-comedy is a damn difficult thing to pull off, and Laszczuk does it with wicked style...Despite all the bizarre deaths and wrenching loss, there is nothing gloomy about this book. There is another girl, there is the
possibility of redemption, there are points of joy and ironic humour through all the darkness. One thing that Laszczuk does well is write about sex: he has a kind of honest cheerfulness about it that allows tenderness, humour and realness. It's a gift all too rare when the prizes usually have to be given for badly written sex description."

"The Courier-Mail"

Cheryl Jorgensen on Ghostlines by Nick Gadd, which won the author "the Victorian Premier's Prize for an unpublished manuscript in 2007. It is a crime novel which relies on a cleverly constructed plot, and although the main villain is a psychopath, leaving several bodies in his wake, we readers do not have to attend the site of execution or wade through the victims' viscera."

Jason Nahrung on The Daughters of Moab: "Sydney writer Kim Westwood makes a grand debut with this post-apocalyptic vision of Australia...The prose is beautiful, possibly too beautiful, with a denseness of description that at times serves to be obfuscatory rather than descriptive or informative. It adds a surreal quality, enhanced by use of present tense, that reduces the tension and pace of the journey.

"The "AntipodeanSF" website on Incandescence by Greg Egan: "The title says it all. Greg Egan is the eponymous incandescent Aussie hard SF author, and his latest novel, Incandescence, is a tour-de-force of scientific extrapolation that delivers us into the far future and introduces us to concepts and ideas that uphold the tenet that complexity is ultimately driven by simplicity. Here is evolution on the edge, an electronic society on the edge, and astrophysics on the edge."

Dean, "The Happy Antipodean", looks at The Tall Man by Chloe Hooper: "Just prior to reading this book I finished a biography of the literary journalist Martha Gellhorn. The contrast between the 'old school' of Gellhorn - who did a lot of coverage of WWII - and Hooper's equitable method is tonic...Gellhorn never didn't take sides. Hooper refuses to, and her book -- which in her cover blurb Helen Garner says is 'enthralling' and 'studded with superbly observed detail' -- is all the richer for it."

Short Notices

Eva's "Book Addiction" weblog: "I've finally finished the lusciously thick and richly illustrated second volume of the 'Monster Blood Tattoo' trilogy, and I'm horrified that there is only one more to go...Lamplighter by D.M. Cornish (Putnam, 2008) is, like its predecessor Foundling (Putnam, 2007), a dark and dense pleasure indeed."

The "Hall of the Mountain King" weblog on Sabriel by Garth Nix: "The book features a darker tone that reminds me a bit of Michael Moorcock's Elric tales, yet the action is fast and lively and less brooding than those books."

"DoveGreyReader Scribbles" about Feather Man: "Rhyll McMaster has created a memorable character in Sookie but also somehow maintained an emotional distance which feels like reader safety. First person narrative defines thought processes with pinpoint accuracy, not only Sookie as a child but as teenager and young woman too."

The "Tuesday in Silhouette" weblog on The Memory Room by Christopher Koch: " I floated through it with a reasonable amount of enthusiasm, and once or twice I even became immersed it in. It does, however, lack credibility/consistency at many levels."

Reviews of Australian Books #93

The first review I've seen of Margo Lanagan's upcoming novel, Tender Morsels, appears in "Locus" magazine, from Gary K. Wolfe. (This is hardly surprising given the book isn't released for some months yet.) This review starts off with a very good explanation of the YA marketing and publishing category, its position and its implications. "Lanagan's Tender Morsels is perhaps best approached without any YA preconceptions, for reasons that become apparent before we're halfway through the prologue, which begins literally with a roll in the hay ('you have the kitment of a full man,' explains the witch to the dwarf, 'however short a stump you are the rest of you.')...By its second half, Tender Morsels begins to take on a density and moral complexity almost suggestive of a George Eliot novel, with its decades-long narrative arc, its shifting relationships, its questions involving responsibility, misdirected love, and the nature of families. Or maybe it's simply a more expansive exploration of the kinds of worlds we've glimpsed in condensed form in some of Lanagan's stories -- it's certainly more leisurely in its development, and more accessible in its prose (those who find Lanagan's characteristic neologisms and swaggy narrative voices a challenge may view this with some relief, though she's still one of the few authors who could get away with a line like 'she cackled ivorily'). Either way, it's a brilliant realization of a brilliant promise, and a profoundly moving tale. "

Louise Swinn is very impressed with Susan Johnson's new novel, Life in Seven Mistakes, in "The Sydney Morning Herlad": "There will be a whole host of readers looking forward to the latest release by Susan Johnson, readers who have enjoyed her work since Messages From Chaos 20 years ago or readers who joined in more recently for her painful memoir, A Better Woman, or for her novel inspired by the life of Charmian Clift, The Broken Book. Johnson has shown substantial breadth. She has a knack for presenting what can be unbearable in reality, of rendering it on the page with tremendous heart, making it readable and going one step further: somehow managing to make it enjoyable."

Short Notices

Diana Carroll in "The Independent Weekly" reviews Dreamland by Tom Gilling: "Gilling knows Sydney well and has a fine insight into that shadowy world where public and private lives collide in the media, the boardroom, and the courtroom. His characters are believable, ordinary people placed in extraordinary situations. And he tells a good story. I loved this novel from the beginning to the very last page; unfortunately, I felt badly betrayed by the ending and desperately wanted more. Apart from that small disappointment, this is an accomplished novel from a very talented Australian author."

The "ScrippsNews" website takes a look at Garth Nix's "The Keys to the Kingdom" series of YA novels and is pretty impressed: "Nix's series has developed a deservedly loyal following that has impatiently awaited each installment. These are books that can easily take repeated readings -- there's so much detail in each one that it's hard to take in all at once. For better or for worse, however, it's not a series that can be read out of order; instead, readers need to take the time to wade through each volume to truly understand what's going on."

On her "Reading Matters" weblog, kimbofo considers Thirteen Tonne Theory: Life Inside Hunters and Collectors by Mark Seymour to be an excellent read: "'s a wonderful, if slightly worthy, warts-and-all account that fans will find fascinating."

Johnnie Craig, on the "I Have Grave News" weblog judges Disquiet by Julia Leigh to be a triumph: "A multitude of underlying plotlines, personal dramas and secret histories bubble just beneath the surface, and Disquiet could easily have evolved into a weighty family saga; yet the things we don't discover carry the same weight as those we do."

James Purdon in "The Observer" on The Resurrectionist by James Bradley: "Bradley has tamed the scattershot plotting of his earlier work into a prose of neat vignettes, catching the gore of the mortuary slab and the seedy high of the opium den."

The "Tuesday in Silhouette" weblog on The Lost Dog by Michelle de Kretser: "It's one of those books that hums quietly along; even though extraodinary things may happen, it really does feel like an everyday kind of travel. It just pulls you along as the characters journey through life. That's what I loved about it. The writing. The writing was quite lovely."

The "Light the Shade" weblog on The Art of the Engine Driver by Steven Carroll: "One aspect of Steven's writing amazes me, and that is his wonderful talent of being able to deliver the ending to a story before its truly begun without losing the reader. I am not sure if other people would find this delightful as I do, or irritating, and indeed in other books I have found the looking forward such as 'this would be a moment they would remember for years to come' or 'this single moment, Jack would ponder many times in his future' to be an annoying way of underlining text to ensure the reader knows its important. But in this story I found it charming, in an odd way, it is like being let in on a secret that only you and the author share."

Reviews of Australian Books #92

AS Byatt is pretty keen on The Lost Dog by Michelle de Kretser, writing in "The Financial Times": "This is the best novel I have read for a long time. The writing is elegant and subtle, and Michelle de Kretser knows how to construct a gripping story...This writing is new and constantly surprising, without being showy or quirky. It is exact, like Penelope Fitzgerald; it is strange, like Patrick White."

In "The Washington Post" Dara Horn sees The Lost Dog by Michelle de Kretser as being haunted by history and modern life: "While the plot is subtle, the book's musings on modernity are anything but. Nearly every page offers observations on how contemporary Western life attempts to efface the past: faddish dress, gentrified neighborhoods, the disposability of old technology."

Patrick Ness revels in Jamaica by Malcolm Knox in "The Guardian": "Alongside Tim Winton's Breath, this is the second excellent novel in as many months to examine masculinity and male friendship in Australian sport, a subject that might seem of limited intrinsic interest. But it's not the song, it's how it's sung, and if Winton is an aria, Knox is early Rolling Stones."

Mark Bahnisch isn't impressed by Inside Kevin07: The People. The Plan. The Prize by Christine Jackman: "I'm unable to think of any good reasons for parting with $34.95 for Jackman's book, which is touted as the ultimate insider account of the Labor Party's campaign strategy in the lead up to last year's federal election...Inside Kevin07 is a yawn as a yarn, summoning up little dramatic tension, and telling us almost nothing new and interesting about the campaign, unless you're the sort of person as obsessed with campaigning wonkery as its cast of characters are."

Nicola Walker in "The Brisbane Times" finds that The Household Guide to Dying by Debra Adelaide may be in a class of its own: "In an interview published by this paper, Adelaide, a lecturer at UTS, and the author of two earlier novels, expressed her belief that fiction can be both literary and a commercial success, 'which is something we don't do in Australia', while adding that she 'was just writing the sort of book [she] wanted to read'."

In "The Age", Jeff Glorfeld is impressed with Bright Air by Barry Maitland, calling it "classy stuff and a pleasure to read".

Short Notices

On the Book Bath weblog Karen has a look at The Household Guide to Dying Debra Adelaide: "This book was divine -- beautifully narrated by Delia who I just adore. A wonderful mixture of sharp, quickwitted, intelligent, reflection -- everything I would love to be!"

"The Reading Log" weblog has a look at The Well by Elizabeth Jolley: "This winner of the Miles Franklin award is a tight piece of writing, a powerful study of isolation and obsession played out in a power struggle spanning two distinct generations."

The "A Novel Approach (!)" weblog reviews Careless by Deborah Robertson: "A warning: this book is not happy. At all. It is very, very good, but it is certainly not a feel-good novel. At all. Considering the themes of this book are grief, and how we deal with it, that's probably not a surprise. In the hands of a lesser author, this would probably have been a mess of clichés, and feel good moments that make humanity seem kind and caring. Robertson does not fall into this trap."

Susannna Yager in "The Telegraph" calls Peter Temple's Shooting Star "a taut, action-packed thriller".

Reviews of Australian Books #91

In "The Age", Michael McGirr: "Arnold Zable's exquisite new novel, Sea of Many Returns, charts more recent comings and goings from Ithaca. Zable's fiction has often found disquieting resonances between physical and emotional space. Here, once again, he embraces restless and heartsore characters, people whose deep longings are sketched with a few reverent gestures...Zable has a remarkable gift for this. He holds pain with unsettling gentleness. His prose is such good company that you accept its honesty."

In "The Sydney Morning Herald", John Huxley on The Pages by Murray Bail: "Though short and sharp, it is as refreshing as its predecessors and arguably more far-reaching in its range of big ideas, probing the fitful engagement not just between men and women, brothers and sisters, Sydney and the bush, Australia and the wider world, but between thinking and doing...Interspersed in a narrative that is part romance, part mystery, part domestic comedy, part intellectual road trip, part personal diary, are interludes; pauses for reflection, for observation and instruction, that are educational and entertaining. The tone is witty, conversational, provocatively commonplace."

And in the same newspaper, Jennifer Moran on The Tall Man by Chloe Hooper which "...explores many themes -- the uneasy relationship between Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal Australians, the legacy of our cruel history, the poverty and problems that beset many remote Aboriginal communities, the unequal application of justice -- but at its heart is a compelling human story in which hasty passion and terrible chance propelled one man to defend his character and his profession and the other to a painful, untimely death."

In "The Courier-Mail", Cheryl Jorgensen on Mutiny on the Bounty by John Boyne: "Despite an illustrious career, it was the notorious mutiny on The Bounty which, until now, seems to have marred William Bligh's reputation. He has been portrayed in popular fiction as a tyrant. What [Boyne] has created is no academic tome, but a stirring story of high adventure.It is a great yarn and it finally gives us a truer picture of Bligh...This is not to say that Bligh has been eulogised in this book. Boyne portrays him as a humane man whose judgment is not always perfect but whose high moral character and his consideration for his crew, ironically contributes to his downfall."

In "The Australian", Nigel Krauth also looks at the new Bail novel: "The Pages, Bail's first novel in 10 years (after Eucalyptus), focuses on realms beyond the visual: philosophy and psychoanalysis...The Pages extends the ideas of Eucalyptus. It's about men and women who fail to categorise existence satisfactorily. Actually, I like this novel better. It's mature, not as forced; it chooses a patch and works it simply, confidently. "

Reviews of Australian Books #90

The first review here isn't actually of a book at all but a short story: "The Goosle" by Margo Lanagan. It's not often that anyone puts as much effort into a single story as "The Torque Control" blog does here. Admittedly, a lot of the review examines other reviewers' reactions to the story, but it uses those reactions as a springboard to get to the heart of the story, rather than restricting itself to a "what they said" approach.

Jane Shilling in "The New Statesman" on The Lost Dog by Michelle de Kretser: "Ranging between the present and events of the past, whose convergence has led her protagonist to his crisis, de Kretser pursues ideas of exile, loss, disappointment, mortality; the nature of happiness and also of evil; the relation between humanity and beastliness; the significance of objects, both present and remembered; the means by which we conjure and protect identity; the shared characteristics of words and shit; ideas of duty, responsibility and attachment -- and much more."

Of the same book, Stephen Abell in "The Telegraph", states: "The Lost Dog, we are told at its conclusion, 'draws directly and obliquely on works by Henry James'. This is a risky ploy, with two obvious pitfalls: the hubris involved in setting your prose in comparison with that of the Master; and the fact that, in the reams of James's thoughtful literary criticism, there are likely to be all sorts of strictures that can be used against you." He then proceeds to do so.

And in "The Guardian" Ursula Le Guin sees a lot of promise in the novel: "There is no feminine for 'avuncular', but there ought to be. I want, in auntly fashion, to praise Michelle de Kretser for being good and beautiful, while scolding her for being afraid to show her goodness and beauty. What do you want to hide behind all that face-paint for, child? Do you think you have to be as skinny as a pencil and wear a ring in your navel just because other people do? The fashionable disfigurements and artificialities I complain of are, of course, literary, and they affect not her, but her novel, The Lost Dog." And to show you how much reviewers can differ in their views, she continues: "Kretser's native style is clear, vigorous, sensitive to mood and cadence, and strongly narrative - an excellent tool for a novelist with a story to tell." Compare that to Abell's view that the book is over-written.

In "The Age" Peter Pierce finds that Tom Gilling's latest novel, Dreamland will leave the reader "satisfied if not sated".

David Mattin, in "The Independent", appears pretty impressed with the first novel by Steve Toltz: "It's no surprise that the Australian author of A Fraction of the Whole, at 36, is a little older than we've come to expect from our debut novelists. This absurdly incident-laden, feverish, farcical 700-page life story bears the watermark of long gestation. What's more, it stands above the vast majority of debut novels because it seems so marvellously sure of itself and what it should be."

Linda Newbery is enchanted by The Ghost's Child by Sonya Hartnett. I know I was.

Dean, on the "HA" weblog, found more in Venero Armanno's Candlelife than I discovered.

Short Notices

Damien, of the "Crime Down Under" weblog, is obviously pretty impressed with Barry Maitland's latest, Bright Air. So impressed that he's written a partial review of the book even though he's only about halfway through. I'm going to have to write to him and get him to stop this sort of thing. It's giving the rest of us a bad name.

Jocelyn on the "Teen Book Review" weblog on Justine Larbalestier's How to Ditch Your Fairy: "I sat down and started reading this book as soon as it arrived in the mail, and I didn't put it down until I was finished; I didn't even notice the time passing, that's how caught up I was in the story. It's fun and interesting and has a main character I absolutely couldn't get enough of!"

Guy Salvidge finds himself reading a lot of Andrew McGahan's novels. The latest is 1988: "Overall, it would appear that 1988 is a lesser book than Praise. Same style, same stark truthfulness, same nihilism. There's no development between the two books, almost to the extent that it would appear that McGahan had painted himself into a corner."

The "No two persons ever read the same book" weblog didn't enjoy Grace by Robert Drewe. Which sort of proves the title of their blog, because I did.

"The Griffin Reviews" weblog has a look at Greene on Capri by Shirley Hazzard.

Reviews of Australian Books #89

Dean, of the "HA" weblog, reviews Barcelona by Robert Hughes and opines that this book "may be the culprit when it comes to allocating blame for the almost endless series of cultural histories that ushered in the new millenium". He means "endless histories of clocks, salt, cod, and everything else made or consumed by humans".

Jan Hallam finds the humour in Debra Adelaide's novel The Household Guide to Dying in her review of the novel in Perth's "Sunday Times": "There are no two ways about it: death is a difficult subject. We deny it, we don't talk about it, we rage against it or flinch from it when it comes near, bury our heads or lose our words...For Australian author Debra Adelaide, death is a subject to be confronted head-on and laughed at. In her hands it's a curious thing, a funny thing and, ultimately, a poetic thing...Never does Adelaide's tone become sentimental for sentimentality's sake, but after all the lightheartedness and bravado throughout most of the book, the heartbreak surely comes."

In "The Australian", Alan Gold looks at a fictionalised account of Errol Flynn's later life, The Pirate's Daughter by Margaret Cezair-Thompson, and finds it "an awe-inspiring work of fiction."

In the same paper, Barry Oakley thinks that Tom Gilling might be struggling a bit with his third novel, Dreamland: "The second novel is supposed to be the hardest for someone who has made his mark with his first, but with Gilling it's his third. Dreamland keeps much closer to the ground. We've gone from magical realism to the ordinary garden variety, though we still have the Gilling touch. Topically, in these days of identity theft, the novel's protagonist decides to give his up and become someone else."

In "The Sydney Morning Herald", Tony Wilson is a bit disappointed with Boned by Anonymous, and even takes a wild guess at the identity of the author.

Short Notices

Amanda Kendle reviews Tuvalu by Andrew O'Connor, on the "" website, which she says "is a fast-paced novel, more than a coming of age and sandwiched between modern life in Japan and Australia, all seen through the eyes of Australian narrator Noah Tuttle. Andrew O'Connor won the 2005 The Australian/Vogel Literary Award for this novel."

Robert Black on Australian Nightmares, edited by James Doig, on the Oz HorrorScope website: "I was [...] excited when I first read Australian Gothic: An Anthology of Australian Supernatural Fiction by James Doig. He had uncovered an amazing array of 'missing' stories and forgotten authors. We not only received some uniquely top class fiction, but stories set within the Australian environment. It was also a joy to be introduced to authors long since forgotten, authors whose work was of exceptional quality yet somehow had slipped through the pages of history."

The website reviews Genius Squad by Catherine Jinks: "I really enjoyed Catherine Jinks's novel Evil Genius, but its little-kid-friendly cover art and gimmicky opening failed to prepare me for the story that followed -- it was tough to recover from the shock of finding such hardcore creepiness in a book with a cover that looked like a Saturday morning cartoon. Genius Squad, the sequel to Evil Genius, is almost as dark as its predecessor, and its cover art is just as cutesy, but at least this time I knew what I was in for...Jinks has written an excellent series installment, building upon her previous story's foundation while setting up material for a sequel. (Unlike many middle books, I never felt like I was just clocking time.)"

Reviews of Australian Books #88

In "The Age", James Ley considers The Boat by Nam Le to be an "impressive fiction debut."

And in the same paper, Judith Armstrong is impressed by Sophie Cunningham's second novel Bird. As is James Ley in "The Australian" who finds the novel a "family myth writ large".

Nicola Walker gets emotional in her review of Debra Adelaide's novel The Household Guide to Dying in "The Sydney Morning Herald". But in "The Australian", Kathy Hunt seems rather disappointed with the novel: "Adelaide has written a humorous novel that is not funny."

Stephen Oliver's new collection of poetry, Harmonic, has been reviewed in "Antipodes: A North American Journal of Australian Literature" by Nicholas Reid, and Oliver has reproduced the review on his website: " is full of such moments of luminosity, as it is of landscape newly and freshly seen. Lyricism, if less present than in some of Oliver's earlier works, is thoroughly disciplined, and when released, thoroughly appropriate and beautifully realised. Harmonic is a major achievement, and were I still teaching, it would have a place on my courses on twentieth century poetry. It deserves to be widely appreciated."

In "The Courier-Mail", Heidi Maier finds The Boat by Name Le to be "ambitious and compelling". Stephen Davenport, in "The Independent Weekly", was not impressed with The Steele Diaries by Wendy James, but seems to have completely missed the point. The commenters get really stuck into him. This strikes me as another case of the wrong reviewer for the book.

Short Notices

Paul Allen, in "The Coventry Telegraph" reviews Kittyhawk Down by Garry Disher.

Kimbofo, on her "Reading Matters" weblog, found Sorry by Gail Jones "disappointing", but was more taken with How the Light Gets In by M.J. Hyland.

David Pullar, on the "PopMatters" website points out that The Good Parents by Joan London is "stylistically simple and rather conventional."

Despite some reservations, Dan Dervin concludes that The Lost Dog by Michelle de Kretser "delivers on its intriguing premises".

Reviews of Australian Books #87

Peter Corris is impressed with Breaking the Bank: An Extraordinary Colonial Robbery by Caroline Baxter. He was expecting a dry social history of a bank robbery in Sydney in 1828, even if it was, in adjusted monetary terms, the largest such robbery in Australia's history, instead he found that "Baxter brings long-dead people to life so vividly, it's hard to see why novelists and television producers have overlooked the story. The ability to translate dry historical records into vibrant narrative is not given to everyone. Robert Hughes achieved it in The Fatal Shore. The bibliography shows Baxter to be an expert in genealogy and the use of colonial records. These skills and writerly flair have produced a fine book."

John Harwood's second novel, The Seance, is enjoyed by Andrew Taylor in "The Independent": "Harwood manipulates his characters'-- and readers'-- emotions. Even when he appears to provide a comfortably mundane explanation, he has a nasty habit of revealing the terrifying uncertainties that lurk in the shadows."

On "The Guardian" books blog, Sam Jordison has been re-examining past Booker winners, and finds he approaches Peter Carey's Oscar and Lucinda with some trepidation. He finds it flawed but loveable.

As part of an on-going project to promote books longlisted and shortlisted for the award, "The Orange Prize Project" weblog has posted a review of Sorry by Gail Jones: "The strength of the novel is the language, not just the Shakespeare but Jones' own language. The descriptions of the outback are original enough to catch the ear. For instance the descriptions of the aboriginal meeting places at river beds, the unlaboured descriptions of their language, their walkabouts and their extended family structures. Somehow she managed to take a bleak tale (you never for a minute think there will be a happy ending, not for mother or for daughter) and give it enough warmth and depth and
colour to keep you engaged."

Julia Lawrinson has written a novel about the Sydney Push, titled, aptly The Push. Michael Wilding finds that it is a young adult novel. Not that this is a problem: "The idea of a young adult novel about this antique world of sexual liberation and anarchist theory may seem bizarre, but the Push was itself a mass of contradictions. Unrelenting in its refusal to recognise any authority, it had a well-defined pecking order with its stars. Committed to critical thinking, to acting out the freedoms that philosophers had merely discussed, its gatherings at Sydney pubs such as the Royal George and the Criterion were fabled."

Short Notices

Faye on the "ALIA Retirees" weblog, looks at Johnno by David Malouf: "I found it a very satisfying and challenging read. It provides strong [insights] to relationships and personal development -- however I have some questions. The big one for me is -- is Johnno believable? And does the narrator pull off the relationship fixation?"

Maxine, on the "Petrona" weblog writes that "Dead Point is the third Jack Irish novel by Peter Temple. It is brilliant. Although I've very much enjoyed every book I've so far read by this author, in this one he joins the pantheon, in my opinion. Crime fiction does not come any better than this."

Motherhood and freedom seems to be the themes behind four novels compared by Rosemary Neill in "The Australian": Still Waters by Camilla Noli ("...portraying motherhood at its most deviant ..."); Disquiet by Julia Leigh (...exquisitely taut narrative..."): The Biographer by Virginia Duigan; and The Steele Diaries by Wendy James ("...examines the conflict between motherhood and freedom").

It's interesting to see how different countries accept Shaun Tan's The Arrival as their own. On the "Too Many Books" weblog, the statement is simple enough: "It is basically a story about America."

The "School Library Journal" reviews both volumes of D.M. Cornish's Monster Blood Tattoo series: Foundling and Lamplighter.

Reviews of Australian Books #86

Allen and Unwin have published the Macquarie PEN Anthology of Aboriginal Literature edited by Anita Heiss and Peter Minter, and Jane Sullivan takes a long look at it. Linda Burney also looks at this anthology for "The Australian": "It provides a fascinating account of the words of Aboriginal intellectuals and ordinary people, of some of our best-loved storytellers and young postmodern voices. Most important for a people whose stories have been quashed, it is an exercise in truth-telling. Historians traditionally have relied on written evidence. The writing of the handful of Aborigines who were taught to read and write soon after white settlement exposes another side of Australian history that has remained undisclosed. If not for the survival of these few pieces, we would have no authenticated version of indigenous experiences. For me, the gems are the earliest writings: the letters, petitions, pleas, many of them from Tasmania, where, until recently, the prevailing myth was that the Aborigines had been wiped out."

Beth Kanell, on the "Kingdom Books" weblog, delves into Snapshot by Garry Disher, and, in the process, laments the limited availability of Disher's works in the USA: "SNAPSHOT maintained a jagged, relentless tension throughout, although I didn't feel any urge to make sure the doors and windows were locked, or to turn on more lights. Instead, I wanted, very much indeed, to know how each of the investigators would sort out the life issues that were being jacked up into pain and threat through the kind of work they did, the hours, the tragedies. Well worth reading, and I'll be fitting another Disher novel into my reading schedule as soon as possible."

Dean, on the "HA" weblog, calls The Red Thread by Nicholas Jose, "an unsung masterpiece".

In "The Age", Michelle de Kretser reviews Stanley and Sophie by Kate Jennings, which she finds 'is a moving account of how we love and how we mourn: 'the fishhooks in the heart'."

In "The Australian", Kathy Hunt looks at the same book by Jennings and has a similar response.

Stella Clarke considers three new first novels: The Stranding by Karen Viggers ("...a moving, edgy love story..."); The Retreaters by Sharlene Miller Brown ("...a wonderful book, poetic, assured and graceful."); and The Lifeboat by Zacharey Jane (an "...unusual and haunting story..."); all for "The Australian". And staying with that newspaper is Don Anderson on A Family History of Smoking by Andrew Reimer: "...there was a sharp division through several generations of Riemer's family, smokers on his mother's side opposed to non-smokers on his father's. His mother was a serious smoker, regarding it during the best of times as an index of civilisation, during the worst of times as a brute necessity."

Justine Jordan on Disquiet by Julia Leigh in "The Guardian": "Disquiet is a strangely lukewarm title for a family narrative that includes infant death, adultery, domestic violence, alcoholism and other misadventures...The narrative tension is suspended between repression and melodrama, placing its characters in an uncharted emotional no man's land where anything might happen."

Short Notices

Maxine Clarke on Peter Temple's Dead Point: "If you haven't yet read Peter Temple, you have a total delight in store."

Reviews of The Good Parents by Joan London

Cath Kenneally doesn't pull any punches in her review of The Good Parents in "The Australian".

London's first novel, Gilgamesh, was published in 2001, short-listed for the Miles Franklin and won the 2002 The Age Book of the Year fiction prize. The Good Parents is better; it ought to win every prize going. In many novels, one character stands out as being so well-realised you suspect that character is the author. With The Good Parents, you feel that about them all, male or female, young, middle-aged or elderly.
In "The Sydney Morning Herald", Michael McGirr sees a natural progression from the author's earlier work: "Joan London writes wonderfully about intimacy between strangers...Her new novel, The Good Parents, is full of characters who vanish but not without trace. In this regard, it shares something with her previous book, Gilgamesh, a story in which small town Western Australia is the hub of a world where characters struggle to find their place of belonging...The Good Parents is no less skilful in handling the many shades of loss, the eerie and sometimes petulant presence of the absent. Once again, small town Western Australia is the hub of a moving world...The Good Parents is underwritten by a wealth of human understanding. It knows stuff. It has compassion for people who make choices they don't have to; for families that never set."

Reviews of Australian Books #85

I've decided to drop the "Weekend Update" postings as they seemed to be getting later and later in the week until they became so divorced from the weekend they attempted to report upon that they became both a chore and irrelevant. So I've decided to set up a set of individual author review sections (you will have seen such posts for Clive James, Geraldine Brooks, Peter Carey, J.M. Coetzee, Helen Garner and Tim Winton recently) and to capture all other reviews of Australian books under this heading. This way I'm less bound by the vagaries of website updates, and more focused on book reviews on an author level. Some of the author specific posts listed here will gradually become less frequent and they may move back under this heading if the number of reviews and web mentions falls below some arbitrary critical level. Not sure what that level will be as yet, though I suspect a couple are getting close.

So, to the reviews proper. Kevin Hart on The Poet Who Forgot by Catherine Cole in "The Australian": "Hope's letters to Cole perfectly recall that sparkling eye and his extraordinary ability to render difference in age irrelevant. Cole, now a novelist and academic, was in her mid-20s when they met; Hope was in his mid-70s. Only when I saw Hope at the end of his life in a nursing home in Canberra, suffering from dementia and having forgotten almost everything he knew -- the sad burden of Cole's memoir -- did it strike me forcibly that he had been an old man in the years I knew him."

Michael Robotham's latest novel, Shatter, would appear to maintain his reputation as one of the better crime/thriller writers around. In "The Age" Sue Turnbull finds that "Robotham knows how to engineer a plot in order to sustain a head of steam while giving the reader time to observe both fellow travellers and the scenery."

Brenda Niall, biographer of the Boyds (Martin et al), is probably a perfect choice to review The Biographer by Virginia Duigan: "Burglars and grave-robbers, greedy collectors, obsessive academics. From Henry James' 'publishing scoundrel' in The Aspern Papers to A. S. Byatt's monomaniac in Possession, a wide range of unsavoury roles has been created for the biographer in modern fiction...The biography of a living subject adds a new dimension to the debate. Virginia Duigan's absorbing novel The Biographer brings us into the present day, with a subject who craves the final accolade of a book about himself...Beautifully paced, and even more sinister for its decorous setting, The Biographer offers the elements of a detective story and a debate on biography's methods and ethics in a sympathetically drawn human situation."

Reviews of Australian books in "The New York Times" are rare indeed, so it's good to see Alison McCulloch having a detailed look at The Lost Dog by Michelle de Kretser: "This book's insights are at times so thickly layered as to leave character, story and reader gasping for light and air. Which isn't to say they're necessarily bad insights. More often than not, de Kretser nails some situation or foible in 20 words or less. Consider her observation on 9/11: 'Everything changes when Americans fall from the sky.'...As de Kretser showed with her second novel, The Hamilton Case, her forte is illuminating the lives of such 'leftovers of empire', and she provides more of those delights here. But this novel also continues a steady move away from the concrete world of places and events toward the human interior."

Short Notices
Marg, on the "Reading Adventures" weblog dips into two books in Gath Nix's "Keys to the Kindgom" series Grim Tuesday and Drownded Wednesday, being a "bit disappointed" with the first of these, and "delighted" with the second.

The "A Novel Approach !" weblog picked up the "wrong" Matthew Condon novel, A Night at the Pink Poodle, but was pleasantly surprised anyhow: "This is a very Australian novel. No, wait. This is a very Gold Coast novel. Not that I live there, so I can't really comment, though I feel that I might now be able to. For a place that is concerned about looking bright and glitzy, there is a lot happening just underneath that is anything but happy."

Reviews of Australian Books #84

Malcolm Knox finds a lot to like about God of Speed by Luke Davies in "The Sydney Morning Herald" which "is one of those memorable novels that is more strange than perfect. It has its patchiness....The short-chapter structure is mostly satisfying but in the early stages there were times when I wanted it to slow down, allow its weirdness to unravel at a slower pace. Like a beautiful yet over-modest person, it didn't seem to want the attention it merited."

Damien, on the "Crime Down Under" weblog, believes that Michael Robotham has found his niche in Shatter: "In just three books Michael Robotham has established himself as a master storyteller whose new releases are much anticipated both home and abroad. He consistently crafts impressive thrillers around intriguing scenarios. Shatter continues the trend and brings back the protagonist from The Suspect, Joseph O'Loughlin...Combine the hard work gone into character development with Robotham's free-flowing writing style, evidence of a natural storyteller at work, and readers will have no trouble becoming fully involved in Shatter."

On the "Happy Antipodean" weblog, Dean delves into the archives and looks at Old Blastus of Bandicoot by Miles Franklin: "While Franklin doesn't swerve to avoid emotion -- there are as many teary moments here as in Bleak House -- she avoids at all costs extraneous verbiage. This book is tight as a drum and, like that instrument, responds to good reading with gusto."

Joan Barfoot in the "Timmins Daily" is impressed with Identity Theory by Peter Temple: "Most powerfully, though, almost every word is written with rage, as Temple sets his clear, fierce gaze on the collateral damage caused by greed and ambition -- the evils men do, sometimes thoughtlessly, but too often deliberately and viciously, and just as carelessly."

Short Notices

The "Create Readers" weblog looks at Pagan's Daughter by Catherine Jinks: "The fifth book (although it can easily be read on its own) in the series based around the character Pagan Kidrouk, this is an action-packed book which gives a clear and detailed picture of life in the middle ages without being didactic or losing pace."

Sally Murphy reviews The Children by Charlotte Wood: "[this] is an insightful novel, looking at family relationships and the effects of death and illness on these connections, as well as on the impact that being exposed to violence can have on an individual. Moving through the long and emotional days of the family's bedside vigil, the story offers the multiple viewpoints of the different players, so that the reader is drawn into the differing perspectives of the family members and comes to care about what happens to them."

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."

Reviews of Australian Books #82

"DovegreyReader" is impressed with Disquiet by Julia Leigh, even touting it for a CERTAIN award later in the year, except that the publisher has pitched it as a novella, rather than a straight novel. "There is little I can tell you about plot without giving away the essence and I would humbly suggest avoiding reviews until you've read Disquiet for fear of finding out what you'd rather not. Impact is all and Julia Leigh does impact in a quiet and controlled way scattering echoes and reverberations in her wake. Except everything in this book, no matter how bizarre it seems, can and does happen in people's lives, so no suspension of disbelief required, read and believe."

In "The Sydney Morning Herald", Peter Goldsworthy finds that "Susan Wyndham's Life In His Hands is the story of the relationship of the flamboyant [neurosurgeon] Teo and his young patient. It's an insider's story; granted intimate access to both men, Herald journalist Wyndham becomes a friend to both. Her story, then, is affectionate, but still honest in its discussion of character failings - it's no hagiographic duet...Her grasp of procedural detail is the equal of the neurosurgical sequences in Ian McEwan's Saturday, the best outsider job I've read. In some ways her book is less a tale of two men than a tale of two brains - the creative right brain of the musician, and the logical and coolly methodical left brain of the surgeon - and she pulls off a neat trick of neurosurgery in joining these two halves into a complete book."

In the same newspaper, Peter Pierce reviews The Poet Who Forgot by Catherine Cole.

Since the 1960s, the ascendant literary form in Australia has been autobiography, tales of the self in prose and verse, some shading into what Donald Horne called "sociography" while others dwell on the solitary power of examining one's own past. So crowded has the field become that recently we have seen ingenious autobiographies by other means. One is Catherine Cole's The Poet Who Forgot, the account of the correspondence and friendship that began in the early '80s between Cole, a public servant and aspiring writer, and A.D. Hope, one of Australia's greatest poets, by then in his 70s. ... Hers is a wilful discursiveness, based on the assumption that the quality of the writing will persuade us to stay the journey. As indeed it does.
Margaret Cannon has a look at Identity Theory by Peter Temple as it is published in Canada. And she's very impressed, comparing Temple's work here to John le Carré, and concluding that this is a novel that "will be read for decades".

Sam de Brito is best known as a journalist for Sydney and Melbourne newspapers. His first novel, The Lost Boys, covers similar ground to his journalism: the Australian male. Nigel Krauth, in "The Australian", discovers much to like, and a lot to feel uncomfortable about: "Seemingly no cultural stone is unturned in this narrative and, indeed, for most of it the narrator, his mates, his parents and the rest of the world are stoned. An awful lot of alcohol and drugs are consumed in this book. If the novel is a random breath test of the Australian nation, then the nation has come up immediately jail-able."

Also in "The Australian", radio presenter Norman Swan reviews Life in his Hands by Susan Wyndham: "This is a beautifully written, emotional, almost novelistic account of what to some may seem blind courage on the part of both patient and doctor...It tells, however, of a bigger story that affects us all: the right to live and die the way we choose, as long as our eyes are open and no-one else is harmed. "

Reviews of Australian Books #81

John Kinsella's poetry collection, Shades of the Sublime and Beautiful, is reviewed in "The Guardian" by William Wootten who is rather charmed by the whole thing: "Violently bullied at school and angry at small-mindedness, aggression and bigotry, Kinsella doesn't go in for the defences of 'redneck' Australia that you find in the work of his compatriot Les Murray. Indeed, he is prepared to make attacks on it that can risk looking pretty intolerant themselves. Kinsella's decision not to pretend to be a man of few words, his unembarrassed display of a knowledge of science, mathematics or literary theory, seems to be part and parcel of this: an implicit riposte to a certain version of rural Australian identity or to the school mates who called him 'Dictionary'...Kinsella's new collection has well-turned lyrics and pieces of linguistic daring. In the main though, its poems, whether in conventional metre or variants of free verse, amount to a poetic journal chronicling Kinsella's passions, politics and preoccupations as well as the life and landscapes of the western Australian wheatbelt that has been the heartland of his verse."

"Lowly's Book Blog" starts with a small anecdote about meeting Sonya Hartnett in a bookshop - back when she worked behind the counter - and then moves to a small review of The Ghost's Child: "This book reminded me so much of The Boy in Striped Pyjamas another fable written for adults. And even at times Hartnett's The Silver Donkey. It was a tale told simply enough for any child. However, the richness of the story lies in the symbolism. This book wants to be studied not read."

Courtney, on the "Once Upon a Bookshelf" weblog enjoyed Monster Blood Tattoo: Foundling by D.M. Cornish: "The story was exciting, but it was the characters that did it for me (as per normal). They were all so vibrant and real -- there were only a couple bit characters that seemed like they could have been developed more; with everyone else it was a joy to read about them and get to know about them, even if they weren't the nicest of people. The transformation of Rossamünd through the book was fabulous to watch too -- he went from a passive kid to someone who had a backbone and wasn't going to let people push him around any longer." She's looking forward to the next book in the trilogy.

The "Swarm of Beasts" weblog gets it about right in its review of Red Spikes by Margo Lanagan: "These are stories that take a lot of thought to get the most out of, thanks to the complex themes, Lanagan's brilliant use of language, and the blank spots in the stories; Lanagan never overexplains, and there were times when I wished for something a little bit more straightforward, a little bit more linear and spelled-out. But then they wouldn't be Margo Lanagan stories, would they?"

"Aguylibrarianreads" finds a lot to like about Evil Genius by Catherine Jinks: "Evil Genius is a great book full of intrigue, computer hacking, villainy, and some minor mutant action thrown in as well. It is very dense, full of mathematical and computer references that can be difficult to wrap your mind around. If you've ever questioned how the James Bond villains learned their trade, this is your book."

Reviews of Australian Books #80

kimbofo is very taken with Richard Flanagan's novel The Sound of One Hand Clapping giving it a five-star review: this "is a book about new beginnings that shatters the myth of Australia as the 'lucky country'. It does not shy away from presenting white Australians as uncouth, uncultured and racist at a period in the country's history at which immigration was running at an all-time high. For that reason alone, it is a refreshing -- and challenging -- read."

Kathryn Crim, in the "San Francisco Chronicle" finds a lot to like about Careless by Deborah Robertson, "who published a collection of short stories, Proudflesh, in 1997, has crafted an intentional style, sometimes austere and unsentimental but often weighted with exaggerated emotion. This flattens the subject Robertson has gone after with rare confidence. In the end, the novel's scope remains too narrowly focused on its themes, and the characters do not grow beyond them...And yet, for a first try, Robertson's effort to tackle both violence and grief is earnest and exceedingly thoughtful."

Peter Temple's Dead Point is reviewed by Peter Mitchell on the "Tonight" website.

A friend whose literary criticism I respect told me last week that he found [Peter] Temple lacking in soul. His hero Jack Irish didn't display the qualities of, say, Robicheaux, the creation of southern American novelist James Lee Burke, whom we both unreservedly admire. With respect, I disagree. I find the flawed Jack Irish -- with his constant struggle to live up to what's right -- extraordinarily sympathetic. When a bag of cash is tipped out on a lonely backstreet solicitor's workdesk, it can't be easy to write out a bill for a mere $120 ... then pick the notes out of the pile of loot. At other times he slips, as we all do, and can be both economical with the truth and distinctly devious. Just as I like his ear for dialogue, which is extraordinary, I relish his characters.
Open File by Peter Corris is given the once-over on the "Strangely Connected" website, and the reviewer things it's time to make an end. "The characters are a bit too close to being caricatures, and the way people and events work out doesn't quite ring true. Perhaps the old flashback to the past approach isn't the way to capture the best of Cliff Hardy, and it seems unlikely that he will ever really be at home in the brave new world of investigation that technology has led us to. So maybe he should just take off into the sunset -- or was this what Peter Corris was trying to do? After all, Cliff Hardy was introduced in The Dying Trade in 1980, and was having trouble with his Falcon even then. Cliff was ex-army, ex-Malaya, and ready for action. The writing, the characters and the sense of place were as good then as they are now. But it also means that Cliff Hardy must be getting on in years, so perhaps he should retire."

And continuing the crime fiction theme we have two reviews of Adrian Hyland's novel Moonlight Downs, which is the US title of his first novel Diamond Dove. Stephen Miller in "January Magazine" has reservations: "Throughout his novel, author Hyland applies layers upon layers of local atmospherics so thick that not one but two glossaries are in the front of this book. Even then, the dialects and colloquialisms are often beyond the reach of all but the most attentive reader. With several chapters that seem to add little to the mystery and provide excessive amounts of travelogue, it's as though Hyland has tried to channel both Tony Hillerman and Bruce Chatwin into the same novel." On the other hand, Peter Rozovsky finds that Hyland "has written a delightful, engaging book that remains true to the venerable amateur-sleuth tradition even as it explores a world that will be new to many Australians, to say nothing of readers on the other side of the world."

Short notices

Elaine Walker on Lamplighter by D.M. Cornish: "Lamplighter is an adventure filled novel full of mystery and suspense with many unexpected twist and turns...I really enjoyed this story as I read the book I felt as if I was part of this new world that Cornish has created. Rossamund is a such a likable character that you can't help but be drawn to him and all that he says and believes."

Reviews of Australian Books #79

kimbofo ended up giving Night Letters by Robert Dessaix four stars, but it didn't all start out that well: "I have to admit that Night Letters initially failed to win me over. I actually considered abandoning it. But I'm glad I persevered, because once I understood this was a novel about storytelling -- there are references to famous novelists throughout, including Patricia Highsmith, Ruth Rendell and Salman Rushdie -- I truly enjoyed it. There are stories within stories, and once you realise that these all combine weight to Robert's search for meaning, you wonder why you didn't 'get' this much earlier."

Peter Skrzynecki deconstructs The Arrival by Shaun Tan (it's down the page a bit).

Tan uses a number of ways to move the story forward:
  • a number of small images can focus on details within a bigger picture
  • smaller images can lead to the larger image
  • the larger image can show great detail
All the images are like photos and postcards, the representations of a journey.
Estelle runs her weblog "3000 books" with the aim of writing about all the books she reads. The title comes from the calculation that she has about 60 years of life left, and she intends to average 50 books a year, so 3000 it is. Until recently she has been reluctant to tackle any Australian novels as "Every local author seemed, to my youthful narrow vision, to whitewash their pages in reflections on ghostly gums and the infinite character of the land." This was obviously a vision she wasn't keen on. And then someone gave her The Lost Dog by Michelle de Kretser, and she was impressed enough to change her mind: "Considering the lyricism with which De Kretser conveyed this multi-generational tale, it was with no regret that I renounced my antipathy for Australian fiction. Even a sometimes awkward approach to dialogue enhanced her considered inquiry into personhood, revealing conversation for its brutal, dissembling self. Summoning brevity, empathy and familiarity to her aid, De Kretser has rendered the landscape of the Australian psyche with regard to all its sources and betrayers, making The Lost Dog a truly interesting read."

Short Notices:

Joe Cinque's Consolation by Helen Garner was enjoyed by the "Yapping Dog": " took me a while to get there, but this book is a seriously fantastic read."

Marshall Zeringue asked Pamela Erens what she was reading and one of the books was The Transit of Venus by Shirley Hazzard: "Transit contains elements of many different genres: romance novel, mystery novel, drawing-room comedy, philosophical essay. It's nothing if not ambitious, and it probably goes unread by scores of people who would cherish it if they gave it a chance. The truth is that I was tempted to put it down after the first ten pages. The narrator is prone to pronouncements and aphorisms, and the language can at times be highly elaborate and abstract. But soon the richness of the character portraits and the powerful mood won me over, and Hazzard's style came to seem perfectly and uniquely right."

Reviews of Australian Books #78

Short notices:

Philip Berrie on Black Ice by Lucy Sussex: "Part detective story, part horror story this book by Lucy Sussex was hard to put down because I kept wondering where it was going. At 186 pages the denouement came somewhat suddenly after all the various storylines had taken so long to establish, but the author successfully tied up all the various threads in the climax in a way that was more reminiscent of real life than Hollywood, which I, for one, was grateful for."

kimbofo is impressed with Bad Debts by Peter Temple: "This book is not dissimilar to The Broken Shore in that it features a damaged protagonist with a slightly dodgy past and a penchant for spirited women. But that's probably where the similarities end...The main difference is the writing style. Bad Debts, which was written almost ten years before The Broken Shore, certainly feels less polished, the language is tougher, the dialogue more choppy. And in the best tradition of hardboiled noir, the main character, washed-up lawyer Jack Irish, treads a very fine line between enforcing the law and breaking it. You're never quite sure whether you should admire him or despise him. "

The "Inside Southside" weblog reviews Evil Genius by Catherine Jinks: "This computer-based mystery is steeped in dark humor and full of fascinating characters, nerds, and freaks. The novel takes place in Sydney, Australia but it hovers in mental and emotional planes somewhere in cyber-space where nothing is quite what it seems on many levels."

Genevieve Tucker looks at Feather Man by Rhyll McMaster: "This is a bold and assured debut effort which maybe could have been even more powerful with stronger editing..".

Susanna Yager in "The Telegraph" on Shatter by Michael Robotham: "It's a clever novel by a very talented storyteller."

Chuck McKenzie urges readers to go out and buy Australian ark Fantasy and Horror 2007 edited by Angela Challis: "Most of the stories included I had read before, in their original publications, yet it was greatly enjoyable to revisit them, flanked as they were by tales of near or equal quality. All the standard dark fiction tropes and themes are here: loss and redemption, ghosts of the past (figurative and literal), predators and prey, and so on. There are Lovecraftian monsters, zombies, and phantoms. There are murderers, torturers, and ... folks who are just plain creepy. Standard-sounding fare, yes, but in almost every case the authors of these tales have brought fresh new takes (and twists) to their tales that elevates them well above the 'same old'."

Reviews of Australian Books #77

The short story collection, Dark Roots by Cate Kennedy, is getting some good reviews in the US with Irene Wanner in "The San Francisco Chronicle" being mostly impressed: "Dark Roots, award-winning Australian poet and writer Cate Kennedy's first book of fiction, shows exactly why putting together a story collection is such a challenge. If each piece ideally aspires to the scope and significance of a novel, a successful book of stories requires multiple outstanding performances - 17 in this case - and it's no wonder the most-often used term reviewers seem to apply to story collections is 'uneven.' Kennedy's book is uneven. A few of its entries miss the mark. But the majority, by far, are fabulous."

And Maud Newton, in "The New York Times", finding the stories in "the Australian writer Cate Kennedy's first collection, are melancholy but deliberate and coolly exact. They depict characters in crisis, often so mired in what Walker Percy called the malaise of everydayness that the horror of their condition is invisible to them. Some of the stories culminate in epiphanies; others hinge on a jolt -- a violent act or loss."

On the "Voynich News" weblog Nick Pelling looks at Vellum by Matt Rubinstein: "Though it has a contemporary European vibe to its vocabulary, Vellum is firmly situated in the Australian geographical and historical landscapes (spinifex, First Fleet, etc): and is all the fresher and more engaging for it. The paradoxical idea of an inland desert lighthouse recurs through the book, and (surprisingly to me) one such does exist, at Point Malcolm: I think this nicely mirrors various Voynich-like conundrums, which I'm sure you can work out for yourself." This novel was published in Australia as A Little Rain on Thursday.

Joel Yanofsnky gives Steve Toltz a boost in "The Montreal Gazette": "There was a time when it was automatic: You cut a first novel some slack. Reviewers, readers, too, were expected to take into account a rookie author's limitations. That often meant understanding when the story was, say, overly autobiographical, when it wasn't imaginative or ambitious enough...But times have changed. Now, first novels are like blockbuster movies and breakfast sandwiches: you go big or you go home...In his debut, A Fraction of the Whole, Australian writer Steve Toltz goes really big. It's not just that this picaresque saga of the criminal and crazy Dean family clocks in at 530 pages. Or that Toltz's mix of know-it-all philosophizing and comic shtick seems to set him up as a successor to literary whiz-kids like Dave Eggers and Jonathan Franzen." Which hopefully won't be the kiss of death for him.

Short notes:

A. Fortis on Red Spikes by Margo Lanagan: "Sometimes these worlds might resemble our own; sometimes we're in the head of some other creature. Sometimes the reader is left disturbed, on edge; other times, hopeful and light. But mostly the former. This is definitely a collection of dark fantasy tales, and it should appeal to adult readers just as much as to YA readers."

Book Lady on The Arrival by Shaun Tan: "An excellent book on immigrant experience. The fantastical artwork gives you a feeling of what it would really be like to go to a new land where most things are not familiar to you. Plus, since the pictures are the only way to understand the story, lots of imagination is required on the reader's end."

Max Barry is one of Colin Matthew's favourite authors, and he is impressed with the author's Jennifer Government: "This book is a clever satire on big corporations and globalization which will cause readers to look at things a little differently when paying attention to commercials or advertisements. There is just enough truth in this book to be scary."

Pre-release reviews of D.M. Cornish's Monster Blood Tattoo: Lamplighter continue to appear ahead of its US release, and Drew found much to enjoy in the new book: "D.M. Cornish continues to astound and delight in this second novel. It might be a bit intimidating for a series to jump from 300 pages (in Foundling) to 600 pages in Lamplighter, but the tale is engaging and the narrative compelling from start to finish."

Reviews of Australian Books #76

Richard Rayner, "The LA Times", likens A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz to Charles Dickens and John Irving. "...occasionally, a big, sprawling first novel fights its way into print with a flourish, at which point its ambition and the eccentricities of its 'firstness' can become its best marketing tools. Such is the case with Australian writer Steve Toltz's A Fraction of the Whole, a book that is willfully misanthropic and very funny, a meditation on the inescapable legacies that fathers bequeath their sons and the overall toxicity of family. In A Fraction of the Whole, it's not only Mum and Dad who screw you up; siblings get in on it too...this long novel, which lives or dies in the brilliance of its writing, has, too, a subtle, compelling structure. The plot is, to say the least, eventful, and while some twists seemed predictable, I loved the wild ride. A Fraction of the Whole soars like a rocket." Which leaves you in no doubt what the reviewer thinks.

Matttodd takes a look at The Ballad of Desmond Kale by Roger McDonald, the 2006 Miles Franklin award winner, and seems pretty happy with what he finds there: "I was put off by a comment by someone calling it 'the best book about sheep farming you'll ever read', or something to that effect. In essence, I thought it another long winded, historical novel set in colonial Australia, and I left it. Then, I picked it up to take overseas, and I'm really glad I did...Within its covers, you will find something to keep everyone happy - intrigue, mystery, romance, and a cracking good story. Roger McDonald has created a fantastic protrait of the New South Wales colony in its youth, and you really feel a part of the action."

On the "Mostly Fiction" website, Sudheer Apte is quite taken with a certain novel by Peter Temple: "Readers are used to thinking about 'literary fiction' as something exalted, separate from mere mystery stories. The Broken Shore is a remarkable book that goes far beyond its modest genre. Starting with a murder mystery plot that unfolds slowly and then deepens into a major scandal, the novel explores a wide variety of characters, both white and Aboriginal, and their relationships. And permeating the entire narrative is the ever-present coastline of southern Australia, of cold, jagged cliffs and violent seas. It may be a cliche to say that the place is itself a character in the novel, but it applies to The Broken Shore."

Short notes

Mirthful seems to have read a different verson of Stiff by Shane Maloney to the one I have on the shelves: "Stiff is entertaining enough and the basic plot is sound, and fairly original. However, there's not much local colour to be getting on with, to my mind the story might as well have been set in Britain or the States."

Laura considers The Secret River by Kate Grenville on the "Unread Authors" weblog, and gives the book 4 stars: "Grenville keeps a low- to medium-grade tension running throughout the novel. Some of the tension comes from the very act of survival in the Australian wilderness, and the stress between William and Sal. But the primary conflict is directly with the native people."

The latest novel by Michael Robotham struck a chord with Peter Millar in "The Times": "Shatter is a gripping journey into the weaknesses and strengths of the human psyche, a story of humanity and inhumanity - and how one can become the other - and how depravation and cruelty can be the flip side of love."

Reviews of Australian Books #75

Just one book under review this time, for a very good reason: namely that the author of the book challenged me to link to it. And happy I am to oblige.

On the "" site Megan J. Bulloch reviews Monster Blood Tattoo: Lamplighter, the second volume in D.M. Cornish's series concerning the Half-Continent.

Much as I would like to write about this incredible new world, with its host of new characters and new sort of creepiness for hours, I could review D.M. Cornish's Lamplighter, the second in the Monster Blood Tattoo series in a single, longish word: getsuppliesinbeforeyoustartbecauseyouwillNOTputitdownandwillnotevensleepuntilitisdone-thenyouwillwaitbreathlessly(andalittlegrumpily)forthethirdinstallment.


This book is interesting on various levels. It is certainly a good, solid novel with highly entertaining characters. It is also an exploration of self - how do we become the people we end up as? What role do our parents, important adults and our society play in this becoming? What does it mean to be human?

I WILL be reading this book when it comes out.

Reviews of Australian Books #74

The epistolary novel was once quite a common novel-writing form with authors such as Austen, Dostoevsky and Wilkie Collins using the technique. The most recent well-known version of this form is probably We Need to Talk About Kevin by Lionel Shriver (2003)which won the Orange prize. A modern version of the form is To the Boys in Berlin by Elizabeth Honey and Heike Brandt which uses emails and postcards instead of the more typical letters. Sue Bursztynski reviews the novel for "January" magazine: "'s kind of nice to read a story that celebrates historical research and that is so easy for reluctant readers to get through. This should be enjoyed by children from about 12 to 14 years of age."

As part of an "Unread Authors Challenge", Framed, from the USA, has a look at Cloudstreet by Tim Winton, but doesn't exactly enjoy the experience: "There is very little innocence or naivete in any of Winton's characters. In fact, they are wise and cynical."

Eric Fritter Riley is impressed with Shaun Tan's The Arrival: "The artwork depicts a world that seems to me like a gentler vision of the H.P. Lovecraft mythos (lots of tentacles, but not very scary) and something akin to the Codex Seraphinianus. It's truly a fantasy world, but one that is loaded with details of actual life. It's that interplay between these two facets that makes this such a memorable work. "

On "The Guardian" arts blog, Alyssa McDonald is sympathetic to books from Australia, noting that "when it comes to getting noticed in the UK, Australian literature suffers from the same problem as writing from, say, Canada or India: it isn't British or American. Prizes mean press coverage, so authors such as Carey are high-profile in the UK, but Australia's awardless authors are routinely neglected in the same way as other non-American foreigners." She then proceeds to review Best Australian Stories from Black Inc and is impressed with what she finds.

Rachael, on "The Book Muncher" weblog, gets a sneak preview of the upcoming book Monster Blood Tattoo: Lamplighter by D.M. Cornish: "I found Lamplighter harder to read than Foundling for several reasons, but mostly because of sheer size. The second story was about twice the size of the first. The wording was strange at times, the descriptions repetitive or drawn out and boring." But the book picks up as it goes and "The last hundred pages or so redeem the story's other faults...Despite the length of this book, I am looking forward to the next installment in the series, and I hope the sheer size of this book will not daunt others from reading it."

Reviews of Australian Books #73

Carrie Laben looks at Black Sheep by Ben Peek and, while she has some early feelings of disquiet about a few aspects of the book, finds that "the book shines. Peek takes the standard dystopian furniture, all the ubiquitous cameras and brainwashed grunts and creepy identical houses and small bands of idealistic rebels and the like, and at first he seems to be going down the standard dystopian paths with it. But then he takes several unexpected turns - first into Dick-esque paranoia, and then into a series of confrontations with the fact that the solution to our hero's dilemma isn't as simple as raging against the machine. In fact, there may be no solution at all."

Johanna, on the "Green Gourmet Giraffe" weblog, is impressed with Kerry Greenwood's Heavenly Pleasures, part of the author's Corinna Chapman series of novels. "I love a novel that lingers lovingly over food and then gives you the recipes at the end. But I want to share with you my favourite lines from the book. Corinna spends a lot of time thinking and talking about chocolates and muses, 'How had a paste made of crushed cocoa-beans become so important? How had a bitter bean come to mean comfort, reconciliation and kindness?'...It does make you wonder how something so bitter has come to represent such sweet decadence in our lives, something that tastes so good that we don't demand nutritional benefits from it." It's a different approach, that's for sure.

In "The Guardian", Julia Eccleshare has a brief review of Shaun Tan's The Arrival (third item down): "Wordlessly, through pages of beautifully crafted illustrations, Shaun Tan conveys the universal experiences of all those who leave their homes either by choice or from necessity. Wordlessly, through sepia images designed to look like an old photo album, the sometimes challenging, sometimes heart-warming experiences of all new arrivals are captured. The pain of separation, the barriers of language, the driving optimism, the resigned tolerance to setbacks and the endless hope of success are all shown in Tan's carefully observed and finely drawn narrative illustrations."

Michael Robotham is the author of the novels Lost, Suspect and The Night Ferry, and now has a new novel, Shatter, coming out. James Cooper, of the "inthenews" website, gets in an early review, but is quite disappointed with the main plot, yet captivated by the major sub-plot: "The central character is amicable but uninspiring and the killer is something of an inhuman caricature with the flimsiest of motivations...Yet for some reason, the book is compelling and it took me to about page 234 to realise what was keeping me reading. Then it became obvious that the sub plot, which involves the relationship between Jo and his wife, was really rather interesting."

Briefly noted: Review of Cate Kennedy's Dark Roots: "At her best, the English-born Kennedy allows us to peak into one side of an unraveling relationship - a disintegrating marriage, a deflowered lesbian affair, a May-December romance, and a refugee woman thrust into and out of motherhood."

Review of Monster Blood Tattoo: Foundling by D.M. Cornish: "Maddeningly, Cornish can really write, and his story gets off to an engaging start when not tripping over these idiotic extras." By extras the reviewer means maps and appendices. Quite ignorable I would have thought.

Reviews of Australian Books #72

In "The Washington Post" Paul di Filippo ponders the limitations of labelling in his review of Margo Lanagan's short story collection Red Spikes: "Margo Lanagan's third collection after White Time (2000) and Black Juice (2004) is being marketed as for young adults, '14 & up.' Aside from the fact that many of the protagonists herein are youths, I'm not sure about the need or accuracy of pitching Lanagan's complex, resonant, mature fables in this fashion. True, any bright, sensitive teen will immediately latch on to these emotive tales like a free-falling person snatching a parachute. But these are the kind of high-quality stories that will vibrate the nerves and heartstrings of readers of all ages."

Justine Larbalestier has more to say about this on her weblog. Though she doesn't specifically mention Lanagan's work, the sentiments remain the same.

On the "International Noir Fiction" weblog Glenn Harper finds that Peter Temple's Identity Theory (aka In the Evil Day) is a departure from his other works: "Paranoia (confirmed by the story's resolution) replaces a more elemental social pessimism that is evident in Temple's noir novels (particularly The Broken Shore, with its meditations on racism and economic depression in rural towns). Depending on your taste, you will like Identity Theory or The Broken Shore -- the thriller and the crime novel seem to appeal to different readers." A similar thing is said about Disher's two series - Wyatt and Challis - and yet I like both of them.

kimbofo was worried that The Book Thief by Markus Zusack wouldn't live up to the hype, and left it languishing on her nightstand for 12 months. She needn't have worried: "The Book Thief is a deeply unsettling story and a truly moving one. I teared up over so many scenes that I couldn't bare to list them here for fear of running out of room! The ending is of the typical grab-your-tissues-and-sob-your-eyes-out ilk. But in reading this very long book -- perhaps a fraction too long, in my opinion (it meanders a lot in the middle) -- I never once thought I was being emotionally manipulated."

Despite reservations about Richard Flanagan's The Unknown Terrorist, C.B. James still found a lot to like: "The portrayal of the Australian government seemed a bit over-the-top to me. Incompetent or malevolent government officials and police officers are a staple of espionage thrillers, but I really hope the Australian government is doing a better job than is portrayed in The Unknown Terrorist. As the novel drew towards its close things began to happen, secrets were revealed, and I found myself having a hard time believing it all. I won't reveal anything here, but don't be surprised if you find yourself saying no way out loud towards the end of the book...Overall, I found The Unknown Terrorist by Richard Flanagan to be an entertaining, suspenseful page turner with something to say about contemporary culture. So, in spite of things getting a little out of hand in the end, I'm giving it four out of five stars." If the case of Mohamed Haneef was anything to go by, the previous Australian goverment wasn't doing a very good job at all.

Reviews of Australian Books #71

On the "Cultural Dessert" weblog, out of the UK, Robin Simpson wasn't fully engaged by Richard Flanagan's Gould's Book of Fish: "All of which was very impressive but I'm afraid it didn't really engage me -- I found the grotesque characters, violent events and oppressive conditions fairly hard-going and didn't really sympathise with anyone. I reluctantly struggled through most of the book only to encounter a great 'Usual Suspects' twist at the very end which almost made me want to go back and read the whole thing again -- almost but not quite."

Jake Kerridge, "The Telegraph", is impressed with The Memory Room by Christopher Koch without being completely blown away by it: "Koch is superb at evoking place: he is excellent on the nastiness that lurks beneath the beauty of Beijing, and just as good on the drudgery of life in Canberra, a 'set of suburbs in search of a city'...I enjoyed the book throughout: only when it came to what should have been the killer emotional blow did I find that I didn't care enough about the characters to hit the deck."

Damien reviews The Low Road by Chris Womersley on his weblog, "Crime Down Under", and confidently states: "This is an Australian noir thriller in the tradition of Jim Thompson's The Getaway told in a rich, lavish voice...If ever there were a book that screams Ned Kelly Award contender then this is it with outstanding character development coupled with a strong sense of place that simply leaps off the page at you."

And staying with the crime genre, Glenn Harper reviews Bad Debts, the first Jack Irish novel by Peter Temple on the "International Noir" weblog: "Like another Australian, Garry Disher, Temple is quite prolific and, also like Disher, he shows considerable diversity among the different strands of his writing. Disher's police-procedural series is, like Temple's Broken Shore, complex, socially conscious, and complex. Whereas Disher's noir series focused on a professional thief is straightforward or linear in comparison, Temple's Jack Irish series is complex in a different way from his Broken Shore: There's a lot of plot, for one thing. Bad Debts combines Irish's avocations (woodworking and gambling) with his day job (as an attorney whose law license is a cover for what is essentially detective work somewhere between McDonald's Archer books and Parker's Spenser novels."

On her "Reading Adventures" weblog, Marg is quite taken with East of Time by Jacob G Rosenberg, and is looking forward to reading the next volume of his autobiography: "In lesser hands this book could quite easily have become nothing more than a list of names of the people that the author knew that didn't make it out of the aftermath of WWII. Instead, we have a series of poignant vignettes about the people that a young Jacob Rosenberg knew, stories about how they influenced him then, and how some of them continue to influence him now...Regardless of where the lines are blurred between what actually happened and the parts that are imagined, the story of loss and pain are very vibrant and real, and all too heartbreaking, and are definitely written in a very readable style."

Zarah Ghahramani never fitted in with the prevailing system in Iran, taking part in student demonstrations at Tehran University before being held in prison in solitary confinement for a month. After release she left Iran for Australia. She has now written, with Australian novelist Robert Hillman, a memoir titled My Life as a Traitor, which is reviewed in "The New York Times" by William Grimes: "In flashbacks Ms. Ghahramani describes a life outside prison walls: her warm
Kurdish family, the pleasures of Persian poetry and the hunger for a more just, more reasonable society that, in ways both trivial and profound, motivated her and thousands of other Iranians, including some very brave and ingenious teachers."
[If you need login access to this site then try BugMeNot.]

Reviews of Australian Books #70

Jonathan Yardley, of "The Washington Post" enjoys the new novel from Geraldine Brooks, People of the Book. Identifying its subject matter as being similar to such books as The Name of the Rose by Umberto Eco, The Rule of Four by Ian Caldwell and Dustin Thomason, and even The Da Vinci Code by Dan Brown, Yardley states that "The good news is that this new novel by the author of March, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction in 2006, is intelligent, thoughtful, gracefully written and original. Brooks has built upon her experience as a correspondent in Bosnia for the Wall Street Journal to construct a story around a book -- small, rare and very old -- and the people into whose hands it had fallen over five centuries, people who 'had known unbearable stress: pogrom, Inquisition, exile, genocide, war.'...Suffice it to say that it's a book that resides comfortably in a place we too often imagine to be a no-man's land between popular fiction and literature."

And dovegreyreader out of Devon in the UK agrees: "Geraldine Brooks has mixed truth with history and with mystery, there's violence and intrigue, a bit of torture, through which I had to close my eyes because I can't bear to read it, (fountain pens fine, torture not it would seem) and all wrapped up in the modern-day world of book restoration, fine-art forgery and an awful lot of parchment and ink made with some very dubious substances. The detail however is meticulous and I was confident that Geraldine Brooks had done a vast amount of homework without waving it under my nose and asking for an A*."

On the Australian "HorrorScope" weblog, Michael Tait reviews Fivefold by Nathan Burrage, and is quite impressed: "Some of novel resonates with an early Clive Barker feel; feints and charms are used; possession is a factor. Also, there are philosophical undertones on the nature of pain and pleasure ... and whether eternal ecstasy and agony are fundamentally one and the same...Above all, FIVEFOLD is just plain entertaining. With synaptic sparring, mental warring, and clandestine cabals -- FIVEFOLD displays an absolute impressive debut and a novel that could perhaps teach even veterans a thing or two about the game."

Damien, on the "Crime Down Under" weblog, commends Perfect Suspect by Vincent Varjavandi: "The Perfect Suspect begins as a tight psychological thriller that appears to be told along the usual lines where a killer will pick off his victims until our protagonist tracks him down. But this is no ordinary psychological thriller and it soon blossoms out into a much more complex thriller that becomes increasingly confrontational...[the novel] proves to be a compelling thriller with a hidden complexity that plays out to a resounding finale."

Reviews of Australian Books #69

In "The Brisbane Times", John Birmingham is quite definitive, The Trout Opera by Matthew Condon is The Great Australian Novel: "Ten years in the writing, beautifully realised, every goddamned page is a smack upside the head to the rest of us loser writers who couldn't hope to string together a single phrase with the pure bred artistry that Condon lavishes over nigh on 600 pages."

Cynthia Ward concludes that a new sf novel by Sylvia Kelso, Amberlight, "is the best new fiction I've read in 2007". It's a change, she says, from all the sf that sees no amicable resolution to the battle of the sexes.

In "Lahontan Valley News and Fallon Eagle Standard", Kirk Robinson reviews The Unknown Terrorist by Richard Flanagan: "...what is most compelling is Flanagan's astutely cynical portrayal of a contemporary society -- celebrity culture -- in which fear is a prized commodity to maintain control; a world in which innuendo and rumor-mongering is instantly available to all...It's a darkly imagined urban wasteland where legitimate and illegitimate worlds become indistinguishable, one in which the media is not interested in the truth, or its victims, but only in how the story will play."

Emily Donaldson opines, in "The Toronto Star", that Orpheus Lost by Janette Turner Hospital just doesn't quite make it: "Under all this awkward hyperbole and metaphorical bling there is a decent thriller trying to claw its way up and into the light of day."

Reviews of Australian Books #68

John Clute, a major sf critic based in the UK reviews Red Spikes by Margo Lanagan and compares her work quite favourably with some other majr writers: In an interview published some years ago, Langan lists a number of influences upon her as a child who read; in among the usual suspects we find two significant figures: Alan Garner and William Mayne, perhaps the two most 'difficult' authors of any renown in contemporary children's literature: Both of them authors who make it clear that, when finally you catch up to where they are telling their tale, they were there all the time. Everything you needed was a feast before you in the first place. Reading Lanagan is a similar festival." He also thinks one story in the collection is weak simply because "she has fixed simplistically into story form what needs to be expanded into a big dialogic novel, some big garden of a book with ley lines all through it so we can trace long happenings after the incipit." We all sit here waiting. We know it's coming...

Katie Haegele, in "The Philadelphia Inquirer", also takes a long look at Lanagan's story collection, and finds that even though more there one story has a male protagonist "there is something darkly feminine about each of these 10 stories. Lanagan's language has a searing poetry to it, and many of her images are both vivid and fearsome...None of these stories is easy, by which I mean they don't show their faces right away, as many young adult books do -- or even most fiction for adults, for that matter. At the beginning of each I wondered where on earth (or elsewhere) we were, and where we were going. A couple of the shorter stories felt a bit stunted, like false starts, but the language and setting of the others opened like a flower, satisfying to discover."

In "The New York Times", Dinitia Smith finds that, rather than being a Brothers Griim-style fairy tale, "The Mascot: Unraveling the Mystery of My Jewish Father's Nazi Boyhood, by the Australian writer Mark Kurzem, is a true story. Part mystery, part memory puzzle, it is written in the polished style of a good thriller, and it is spellbinding...This is a book to keep you up at night."

The "Chicago Sun-Times" says of Shaun Tan's The Arrival: "Tan's rendering of immigrant experience is moving, accessible and full of graphic detail worth spending hours pouring over...Tan makes you feel the central dislocation of those who must leave behind all they know. This is destined to be a classic."

And of the same book, the "Toronto Star" concludes that "The pictures-only aspect of this story (and its stories within the story) recreates what it's like to live without understanding the words around you -- a potent experience that resonates with the foreign but also with the problems text can present. A story to tell and to talk over, as well as to pore over, this is a powerful, thought-provoking work."

Reviews of Australian Books #67

Donna Rifkind reviews Janette Turner Hospital's latest novel Orpheus Lost, for the "LA Times": "Although she often follows the conventions of modern international conspiracy thrillers, Hospital is as consumed with the cultural past as she is with the topical present. Due Preparations for the Plague ricocheted with echoes of Defoe, Camus and Boccaccio as it chronicled the ongoing political and psychological fallout of an imagined 1987 terrorist hijacking. This reconnaissance into the storehouses of artistic tradition and the trenches of fearful contemporary life is even more expertly accomplished in Orpheus Lost."

If we all keep going on like this Shaun Tan is going to be voted some high political office he is certainly not seeking. "The New York Times" has now starting singing his praises with a review by Gene Luan Yang, who shows some detailed knowledge of his past work: "Tan has been walking the fine line between picture books and graphic novels for years now. The Rabbits (2003), written by John Marsden, has a fight montage that reads like a comic, using panels and captions to advance the action. And The Lost Thing (2004), both written and illustrated by Tan, could also be classified as a graphic novel. Although the story's prose bears almost all the narrative responsibility, the interplay between text and image, and the paneled layouts, foreshadow Tan's eventual headlong leap into the medium of comics. With The Arrival, Tan the graphic novelist has finally arrived....Reading The Arrival feels like paging through a family treasure newly discovered up in the attic. However, the sheer beauty of Tan's artwork sometimes gets in the way of his narrative. His panels, like the best photographs, capture the timelessness of particular moments, which can inadvertently endanger the illusion of time passing that a graphic novelist strives to create. The Arrival would almost rather be looked at than read."

Mireille Juchau, an Australian writer with whom I am not familiar, has her second novel published. On the "PopMatters" website, Ella Mudie looks at Burning In from Giromondo Press, a "remarkable second novel from up and coming Australian writer Mireille Juchau, takes what's admittedly familiar territory, an aspiring antipodean artist moves overseas, and applies a psychological insight so penetrating the novel actually succeeds in illuminating the dilemma in some surprisingly fresh, and by equal turns disturbing, new ways...Her first novel Machines for Feeling drew praise for being freshly imaginative and poetic and Burning In seems consistent with that work. Its themes, though, are in line with those shared by many young Australian artists and writers today. The themes are a feeling of homelessness in the world, which is made even more intense through the experience of travel. This anxiety over belonging and identity is surely a universal experience and can't be claimed as being uniquely Australian. However the geographical isolation of the country does explain why the preoccupation persists, sometimes annoyingly, in so much of the work produced there."

Reviews of Australian Books #66

Ursula K Le Guin reviews Heaven's Net is Wide by Lian Hearn in "The Guardian", and finds it a satisfying historical fantasy. "My interest in her Japanese saga became personal as I discovered its nature, since I too have written imaginary history (set in central Europe), have been caught in the strangling noose of genre authorship, and have refused to accept condescending notions of genre quality. My sympathy is strongly with her on all counts...A lucid and pleasant style, a beautifully realised setting, action and romance played out across a couple of generations, a high-class voyage to the long ago and far away -- Lian Hearn has written a saga that will continue to give pleasure to many."

Jessica Mann tackles the same book in "The Telegraph", and is equally as impressed: "the setting is beautiful and beautifully described, and the story clicks into place perfectly, not an afterthought but an indispensable introduction to a remarkable saga. I was spurred into re-reading the whole thing. It was pure pleasure."

On the "SubversiveVoices" weblog, Doug wonders if Carpentaria by Alexis Wright might a Great Australian Novel: "It is a big novel - big in all the senses that Tim Winton's novel Cloudstreet is big - length wise, in its tackling of large subjects and in its portrayal of the physical landscape and sea as vivid characters in their own right...I am still trying to put my finger on why I kept thinking of Winton's writing, particularly in Cloudstreet as I got totally aborbed in Wright's book. Probably the connection is that in their different ways Wright and Winton refuse to allow the material world to be disconnected from the world of spirit."

Angela Meyer reviews Australian books for "Bookseller + Publisher" magazine, and reprints her review of Matthew Condon's novel, The Trout Opera, on her weblog: "[the] characters and others come together in a vividly descriptive and masterfully constructed narrative with questions about personal and collective history, the potency of place, and the disturbance and rapidity of change. The novel honours simplicity, substance, and peace, and laments the loss of closeness in a moment of quiet. An insightful, brilliant Australian novel, destined to become a classic. For fans of literary Australian fiction."

Ford St Publishing is a new publishing house formed by writer and editor Paul Collins. One of the first books to emerge from the company is Sean McMullen's Before the Storm, a young adult time travel fantasy that uses the opening of Australian first parliament in 1901 as its pivotal history point.

Sue Bursztynski has a look at the book on her weblog, "The Great Raven": "Sean McMullen is best-known for his adult science fiction; most of his books have become international bestsellers. In his first book for young people, the Quentaris novel Ancient Hero, he showed that he has considerable ability in writing for younger readers. With Before The Storm, he's confirmed he can do it and it's to be hoped that he will continue along this route and write some more YA fiction. The universes of his adult books are highly complex and they require a lot of concentration to read, but when writing for children or teens, a writer needs to refine his or her universe and tell a story that the young reader can enjoy without having to worry about complexities. In this one, and the previous story, Mr McMullen has shown he can keep his story simple and keep it going."

Reviews of Australian Books #65

In "The State", out of South Carolina, USA, Claudia Smith Brinson is impressed with Jannette Turner Hospital's latest novel, Orpheus Lost, which she finds to be "beautifully written and disturbing". There are some problems though: "An Australian native who is Carolina Distinguished Professor of English at USC, Hospital sounds a bit tone deaf when it comes to Promised Land, S.C., where the blacks speak colloquially but their white neighbors don't. And she's a tad too fond of poetic language that enraptures but does not develop character." In the end, however, "she deserves great and sustained attention for the fine eye and mind she turns to the problems of our times. We should listen to her music."

Colleen Mondor has a look at a number of different short story collections in the October edition of the "Bookslut" magazine, including Margo Lanagan's Red Spikes: "Margo Lanagan is an utterly unique writer and her new collection, Red Spikes is further proof that her surreal and rather uncomfortable stories stand alone on the YA shelves. Weird stuff happens here, but it is a Lanagan-weird and thus provocatively entertaining."

Jesse Karp takes on one of the hardest reviewing jobs in tackling Shaun Tan's The Arrival. He handles the job pretty well though: "Using the tools of sequential art like a life-long pro, Tan employs visual metaphor, panel size, lighting and color to make the archetypal experience of an immigrant leaving his family and coming to a new land personal, emotional, heart-breaking, breathtaking and joyful. The fantasy landscapes Tan depicts are both terrifying and awe-inspiring for their size and complexity, and every person the immigrant meets tells an involving tale of his or her own. We are drawn into this journey, into this land as if we ourselves were the arrival, unable to read the writing, understand the traditions, comprehend the complexity of the city, heart-broken over the departure from our family. And Tan does this all without using a single word."

Reviews of Australian Books #64

In the "Guardian", Kathryn Hughes relishes Sophie Gee's novel The Scandal of the Season, which tells of the events leading up to Alexander Pope's poem "The Rape of the Lock". The reviewer finds many similarities between the goings-on in early 18th century England with that country today: "Here, then, is a strong reminder that historical fiction, no matter how hard it tries to situate itself in the documented material past, is always engaged in an act of mediation between then and now. Just as Beardsley re-drew "The Rape" for the absinthe generation, Sophie Gee has rewritten it for the kind of people who keep up to date with the Prince William/Kate Middleton saga, even though they pretend otherwise."

Adam Bresnick attempts to come to grips with Cultural Amnesia by Clive James, in "The Times Literary Supplement". He has some trouble determining the book's audience: "At first glance it is hard to know for whom this book was written, as scholars will most likely find its courses too brief and too allusive, while laymen may well experience a certain bewilderment in the face of so much information." As one such "laymen" I've dipped into the book and haven't been bewildered. Overwhelmed, maybe, but not bewildered. But, generally, Bresnick does a pretty good job of reviewing the book: looking at James's cultural coverage, his writing style and his politics. It's a big book and needs a fair bit of reviewing. "James's volume is an exercise in what the psychoanalysts call 'anamnesia', or unforgetting, his attempt to present and preserve what he has found most vital in the culture and history that he and the rest of us have, to a greater or lesser extent, lived through over the past decades. That Clive James remembers it all so well and rescues so much that has often been forgotten is a testament to what an excellent, passionate reader he continues to be."

David Malouf's latest, The Complete Stories, is spreading out all over the US and reviews of it are popping up here and there. The latest is from "The Deseret Morning News" based in Salt Lake City. Susan Whitney finds that the stories build "an entire world, a richly described and fascinating world."

Reviews of Australian Books #63

In "The Times Literary Supplement", Elizabeth Lowry takes a detailed look at J.M. Coetzee's latest two books, Diary of a Bad Year and Inner Workings: Essays 2000-2005. She finds the novel "differs from almost all of Coetzee's earlier fiction in being laced with a dry, self-deprecating humour...Diary of a Bad Year proves that Coetzee remains the master of the brutal, the unpoetic, the relentlessly real, in the modern sense, unfailingly setting up an equation between the form of the prose itself and the desolation of the experience it describes." On the other hand, the essay collection "is a superbly well-informed and always lucid body of criticism that is never less than scholarly, but nevertheless fails to make the pulse race. Coetzee's alertness to form as something that is crucial to the purposes of literature is as keen here as it is in his fiction, and he is unfailingly perceptive when pinpointing influences."

Quercus, in the UK, continues its association with Text Publishing by releasing Adrian Hyland's Diamond Dove. In "The Guardian", Matthew Lewin calls it "a startling, confident first novel." And, in another short review, Susanna Yager in "The Telegraph thinks Hyland "is definitely a writer to watch".

Eva Niessner is quite taken by Sonya Hartnett's novel, Surrender, in "The Herald-Mail" from Hagerstown, Maryland. She finds it a great story, but dark and gritty: "Surrender is an incredible book for young adults, and I would give it the highest rating possible."

Mitchell Jordan, in the "Epoch Times", tackles Hartnett's latest, The Ghost's Child, and is similarly captivated. "This glittering writing, coupled with evocative imagery and metaphors makes reading the book a positive and uplifting experience for audiences of any age, who are unlikely not to be charmed by a tale which proves that love really is the most important thing. "

Reviews of Australian Books

In a comment to a post here concerning recent internet reviews of Australian books, Genevieve asked: "it looks like you are finding more reviews of Oz books on weblogs than in the paper at present - would that be a reasonable assumption? or is it just a lean couple of months for publishing down here? Care to take a guess?"

A big topic. Firstly, we need to be aware that a lot more Australian books are gaining a foothold in non-Australian markets these days. Twenty years ago it would have been possible to count the number of Australian sf or fantasy writers on the fingers of one hand. Now they number over 50. Similarly in the crime genre. So the sheer quantity of Australian books finding their way into foreign markets has increased. Secondly, the number of literary weblogs has climbed dramatically since I started Matilda three years ago, therefore the number of possible web-based reviews has also risen. Thirdly, it's now easier to find these reviews with the advent of Google Alerts.

I don't think the number of reviews of Australian books has changed all that much in the mainstream media in the past few years, at least on a year-by-year basis. There is, as best I can see, a distinct seasonal aspect to publishing in this country. Which, I suppose, is merely a reflection of what happens in the US and UK. But we do have some strange scheduling arrangements that have an affect. You might be aware that if a book is published in a non-Australian English-language market it must then be published in Australia within, I think, 30 days or else booksellers are free to import it. This means, for example, that the major UK novels become available here within a month of their original publication. So Ian McEwan's, or Salman Rushdie's, or even Beryl Bainbridge's latest will be in our bookshops very quickly. A few years back they might well have been held over for the Christmas market, and therefore not available until well after the Man Booker longlist/shortlist reading period. I can remember in the mid-1990s struggling to get copies of books on the Booker shortlist as they just weren't available here.

I may be going out on a limb here but it seems to me that books in the UK follow a distinct prize and seasonal publishing schedule according to genre. Big genre novels, or "airport" novels, will be published in time for the summer holiday season. "Literary" fiction is published in time for Christmas (presents and winter), autumn in time to be eligible for the Man Booker prize, and spring because that's all that's left.

That reads as a rather simplistic view of the schedules, and I may well be completely wrong, but it fits my experience. Over the past 10 years or so I've been compiling, during the year, a list of novels that might make the Booker shortlist (see my woeful selection for 2007). Each entry is accompanied by a note indicating the month of first publication. I have been meaning to go back over this data, at some time, to try to figure out some sort of pattern. If I get a free week I might have a chance. I think it might have an interesting tale to tell.

Reviews of Australian Books #62

The "Australian, New Zealand Crime Fiction " weblog is pretty impressed with Frantic by Katherine Howell: "Combine the unusual and well handled perspective of the paramedic, with a fast paced, tightly told thriller, and a brave and well executed finale to the story and FRANTIC was a great book - you know you're onto something good when you start a book on Saturday afternoon, finish it on Sunday night and feel somewhat disappointed that the next book - PANIC - won't be available until 2008."

It's taken kimbofo two months to finish her review of Peter Temple's The Broken Shore, not, it seems, from lack of interest, more from a lack of energy and an attempt to work out what was so enthralling about it: " a whole The Broken Shore is a refreshing take on crime fiction, both in setting and style. Temple nails the melancholy nature of small town Australian life -- it's petty grievances, its politics, its sense of community -- sprinkles a healthy dose of humour throughout and offers some brilliant dialogue that is so spot-on you can almost hear those flat, Australian accents reverberating off the page. In fact, this novel is such a realistic portrayal of my homeland I'm not ashamed to admit that it made me feel just a wee bit homesick in places..."

In "The New York Times" Walter Kirn finds that J.M. Coetzee's "Inner Workings is [the author's] master class, and he honors us, too, by letting us sit in on it, despite our spotty preparation and the hasty ways we may use it. Knowing something about W. G. Sebald feels a lot better than knowing nothing --particularly when the little knowledge one does have comes from a source as reliable as Coetzee and inspires one to make time to learn much more."

Graeme Flory seems to be finding Australian sf and fantasy novels everywhere he looks these days, "Let me say right now that this is not a bad thing!" He is particularly taken with Karen Miller's debut novel The Innocent Mage and thinks the author may be the best of the current Aussie bunch: "The story itself is told in a deceptively simple style that makes it easy for you to get into the book and then to just keep reading until you're done. I polished this one off in a weekend and I'm keen to see what happens next. Like I said, The Innocent Mage isn't the most original work of fantasy that you'll ever read but after you're done you will have enjoyed it too much to care. An assured debut which promises good things to come."

Flory is only talking about novels in his review, which is why Margo Lanagan doesn't get a mention. Compensation appears with a conversational review of Lanagan's short story collection, Red Spikes, by Eisha and Jules on their "Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast" weblog. "Speaking of things that stay with you... oh yes, Lanagan's writing has that going on. I've read all three of her short story collections published in the US, and I have been consistently blown away. She's brilliant at creating original worlds and compelling stories. But the haunting quality of her best stories has to do, I think, with the believability of the characters and the intense emotional connection they forge with the reader."

Reviews of Australian Books #61

The Complete Stories, a 508-page volume containing the entire body of short fiction by David Malouf has been published in the US, and is reviewed in "The LA Times" by Art Winslow: "it is clear ... that a writer of enormous seriousness and compassion has been laboring in the harsh sunlight of that nation-continent for a generation. Malouf may not be as well known in America as his countrymen Peter Carey and Thomas Keneally, but the release of his Complete Stories brilliantly illustrates his range and the adhesive quality of his prose and characters, which stick in the mind as if, as one of his characters puts it, nothing is to be forgotten: 'Not a soul. Not a pin.'"

Sam Sacks also looks at Malouf's collection in "Open Letters: A Monthly Arts and Literature Review": "The colonization of a wild continent offers an irresistible metaphor for the writing of fiction: in both, through the dedicated work of husbanding, shepherding, the building of some manner of infrastructure, and the establishment of comprehensible codes and rules, the task is to impose a viable -- and moreover, meaningful -- order on otherwise chaotic and indifferent elements...But at least we can say that the dueling social impulses of growth and destruction will cause a profound imprint on anyone caught up in them, and any writer who comes to maturity in the midst of an active colonization will have special insight into a powerful and expansive artistic motif. This has certainly been the case for David Malouf, of Brisbane, Australia."

Damien, on the "Crime Down Under" weblog, is impressed with All Those Bright Crosses by Ross Duncan, as am I: "When searching for a few words that might effectively describe All Those Bright Crosses I considered mystery, and there is a hint of a mystery within, but more definitively this is a psychological struggle reminiscent of that which is seen in a noir novel. It is a contemporary story of hope and forgiveness found after a battle with the compulsions that threaten to consume you."

Max Barry's novel, Company, hits home in Santa Cruz where it is eyed with some alarm by Bill Condy: "Author Barry, 34, a former Hewlett-Packard employee, bites gently but he draws blood. He deals with some heavy stuff in this, his third novel, but his quick pace and casual, almost breezy writing style refuse to be weighed down. You may finish this book in a long weekend, but it's the kind of read that sticks with you long after the last page." The title of the review calls it "A Dilbertian sature".

In "The Washington Post", Ron Charles contemplates Sophie Gee's novel, The Scandal of the Season, and is quite taken with it: "To every slump-shouldered geek who ever had to watch the glitterati at the prom, Gee offers a delicious cup of revenge. [Alexander] Pope promised that 'charms strike the sight, but merit wins the soul,' and The Scandal of the Season offers both charms and merit, an extravagant costume drama infused with the poet's incisive wit and moral

James Bradley's novel, The Resurrectionist, has now been published in the UK and it is given a brief review this week in "The Daily Telegraph" by Jeremy Jehu (third item down): "James Bradley's classically claustrophobic Gothic chiller is a brooding memento mori about the fragility of life and our most modest expectations from it. Only the most insanely cheerful reader should underestimate the gloom-inducing power of his sombre, lyrical, opium-trance prose."

Reviews of Australian Books #60

Not so much a review of the book as a commentary on its contents - yes, I do see a difference there - Hugh Brody's examination of Sven Lindqvist's Terra Nullius in "The Guardian" comes to no real conclusions about the book. As a guide, Lindqvist is a Swedish writer who travelled to Australia to examine the plight of the Australian indigenous peoples, and to try to determine how they got there. "His starting point is the hideous notion that Australia, at the time of first colonisation, was terra nullius, the land of no one. This colonist legal myth established that here were millions of acres available for European settlement. The actual owners and occupiers, the people lumped together under the term Aborigines, were not human enough, or present enough, to be someone." I suppose we have to remember here that Brody is writing for a non-Australian audience so terms such as terra nullius have to be explained, though the length of that explanation appears to squeeze out other commentary. Brody goes on to state: "Lindqvist's new book is also a reflection on guilt and responsibility: many Australians have welcomed the idea that the nation as a whole has to say sorry for what has been done to the Aborigines, while no government in power has allowed any such official apology." Lindqvist comes down on the side of an apology, as you might expect, and with which I have no qualms whatsoever. The problem with this review is that it gives the impression that the book would be quite short - given that only a couple of topics are tackled in the review - but it runs for 272 pages. I think I might quite like to read this book, though I can't really tell from this piece. I'll put it down to space constraints. Anything else and this reviewer will need to have a long think about what constitutes a review and what its readers would hope to take away from it.

Matthew Tait welcomes Sean Williams back to his roots in a review of the author's new novel, Saturn Returns on the "Horrorscope" weblog: "After the debacle of the Books of the Cataclysm, Sean has revisited the path where he started -- and, dare I say it, where he belongs." The reviewer found himself "electrified".

Reviews of Australian Books #59

As the paperback edition of Tim Flannery's The Weather Makers is released in the UK, two years after the hardback version, Nick Claxton is still impressed with the work: "Although there has been some movement, especially in offsetting carbon emissions, since the book was first published, Flannery's criticisms of Australia and America in particular largely remain. And on a broader scale, the issues he raises are still as urgent as ever - and The Weather Makers is still excellent as both a Cliffs Notes for concerned readers to get their facts straight and an impassioned call for action."

The Literate Kitten, on her eponymous weblog, really enjoyed Disgrace by J.M. Coetzee, but is decidedly unimpressed by the two subsequent novels: "JM Coetzee's novel Disgrace was one of the best I've read in a decade. Unfortunately, the two novels I've read subsequent to Disgrace thudded in my sensibilities like drinking Kool-Aid after a glass of Reserve Napa Valley Cabernet." Not a big fan of meta-fiction it seems.

Eric Brown runs a brief review of Sean Williams's novel Saturn Returns in "The Guardian" (second item): "In the first book of the Astropolis trilogy, Williams renders the passage of aeons, and the rise and fall of civilisations, with cosmic poignancy."

Les Murray's poetry crosses all boundaries and can speak to a wide variety of peoples. John Freeman, in "The Star-Tribune" from Minneapolis-St. Paul in Minnesota, certainly seems to think so: "A great many gravel roads in his Australia are convict-laid, the assist-maker of first encounters between conqueror and conquered. Not surprisingly, the outback appears frequently in his work, especially in this volume. Even the poems that aren't about landscape manage to evoke it...Much of Murray's work feels like this -- weary of human folly, but not so jaded as to preclude wonder, and shot through with a frisson of violence. The Biplane Houses, named for an architectural style common in his part of Australia, toes a delicate line between these poles." (Last item in the combined review.)

Thrillers and crime novels, it seems to me, don't have to work as hard as poetry to be accepted in foreign lands. But that is not to say they don't have to be pretty good to rise up out of the pack and be noticed. In "The LA Times" Timothy Rutten thinks Michael Robotham's latest novel does exactly that: "The Night Ferry is an altogether superior thriller: intelligent, morally concerned, skillfully told and deeply respectful of both its readers and its characters. It is what Graham Greene used to call 'an entertainment,' which is a fairly serious compliment."

Reviews of Australian Books #58

Miranda France, in "The Telegraph", is quite taken with Sorry, the new novel by Gail Jones, but implies that a tighter editorial hand might have resulted in a better book: "Any novelist who takes risks with language deserves to be celebrated. Jones has the nerve to use constructions that feel both arcane and new. There is no doubting her descriptive powers. However, in some passages, words grow so luxuriantly over the story that linguistic secateurs would have come in handy...This is Gail Jones's 'sorry' to her aboriginal compatriots. I admire her for it, but for all her sincerity, her afterword elucidating the word in the context of Australian politics strikes a pious note. [The novel's protagonist] is a powerfully drawn character, sympathetic and convincing enough to speak for herself. There was no need for the author to step in."

I might well have done three years of German at high school, but that was so long ago it might as well have been another lifetime. So, other than the fact that I can tell that this is a review of Peter Temple's The Broken Shore on the German weblog "Krimi-Couch", I have no idea of what it's trying to say.

Amy Freeman, an Australian author of young adult novels, has released a new book titled Mister Doppelganger, which is given a short, but appreciative review on the eMediaWire website. Hadn't heard of this one - looks good.

Jules, on the "Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast" weblog, nominates Steven Herrick's verse novel for young adults, By the River, as the blog's Wicked Cool Overlooked Book entry for the month.

What is it about Australian novelists/poets and verse novels? Not that I'm complaining, I juts find it weird that we seem to produce so many.

Reviews of Australian Books #57

On the "Crime Down Under Website", Damien reviews Matt Rubinstein's A Little Rain on Thursday, which "was the runner-up for the 2001 Australian / Vogel Award, an award for unpublished manuscripts by writers under 35 years of age, entered under the title Vellum. It is full of symbolic beauty, an insidious darkness and dangerous paranoia, but it is also slow to develop and difficult to fathom the ultimate destination."

He follows this up with a review of Peter Corris's latest Cliff Hardy novel, Appeal Denied. It appears that times are changing in the Hardy universe: "The style of Peter Corris is essentially economical with a lean, clear emphasis on the plot, allowing the mood to be relayed to us through Cliff Hardy's state of mind. It's obvious that events are beginning to take their toll on Hardy with more frequent reflection on the changes in his life and a questioning of his best way forward from here. He has always been an independent, lonely character but there is an even greater impression of a desire by him to move on...There is a marked difference in that the story is tinged with far greater emotion than you usually see from a Cliff Hardy mystery."

I'm starting to wish Damien would slow down a bit, he's starting to give the rest of us a bad name.

"The Complete Review" looks at The Biplane Houses by Les Murray, rating it a B+, "a slightly uneven mix, but much that impresses."

Philip Hensher, in "The Telegraph", is impressed with Clive James's work in his book Cultural Amnesia: Notes in the Margin of My Time but wonders is it actually amounts to much: "I like James's evident curiosity and his cheerleading for language-learning, and how, like few people now, he leads us to some unexpected places through his readerly energy. But I wish I understood why, at the end of 876 pages of argument, what I had mostly found out was what I already knew. And most of that was about Clive James in any case."

In the same paper, David Runciman reviews Shane Warne: Portrait of a Flawed Genius by Simon Wilde, and finds that Warne had just the one strategy for cricket and for the rest of his life: "Simon Wilde's fascinating biography treats leg-spin as the key not just to Warne's celebrity but to his personality. Leg-spinners are often fragile souls, because it is such a difficult art, and the fact that you are bowling the ball slowly means if you get it wrong, you are going to get hit out of the park. Early on, Warne lacked confidence, despite his prodigious gifts. He soon learnt that the secret was not to think too hard about what could go wrong. So that he could do what came naturally, introspection was banished from all aspects of his life."

Reviews of Australian Books #56

Damien finds much to admire in his review of Shane Maloney's new novel: "Sucked In is typical Shane Maloney which is to say, endlessly entertaining, wryly amusing and totally original. Murray Whelan remains one of the good guys, untainted by corruption, unscarred by cabinet brawls and ready to fight the good fight for mates and constituents alike."

"The Washington Post" has worked its way round to a review of Richard Flanagan's novel The Unknown Terrorist, which continues the interesting record of favourbale reviews overseas and not so favourable ones here: "Flanagan's tightly crafted narrative is akin to the oppressive power of Kafka's Trial, or Capote's In Cold Blood, stark realism revealing underlying sickness. His prose glitters and shrieks with spare vitality.."

Teresa looks at Careless by Deborah Robertson on her weblog "Black Marks on Wood Pulp" and, while she thought it "an excellent account of contemporary Australia", she found something unfulfilling in the book.

Sarah Weinman, proprietor of the "Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind" weblog, and crime reviewer for "The Baltimore Sun", is impressed with Peter Temple's The Broken Shore (last item): "Temple's previous efforts -- especially the Jack Irish novels -- amply illustrate why he's one of the best reasons to be thankful to Australia. But The Broken Shore takes his work to a richer, darker place, taking the conventions of crime novels and expanding them to incorporate the idiosyncrasies and unique traits of Temple's native country."

Reviews of Australian Books #55

John Simon reviews Clive James's non fiction collection, Cultural Amnesia in "The Washington Post". "Let us concede some things to Clive James right away. He is, or can be, a brilliantly original thinker; he is, or can be, a brilliant writer. He has read voraciously and multifariously on any number of subjects and put it all to excellent use. He has taught himself several languages, including some Japanese, by means of serious reading with the dictionary by his side. And having journeyed all over the world and sojourned in many places, this Australian is truly cosmopolitan." Which reads like a set-up for a harsh put-down later, but it doesn't appear. Simon has some quibbles though not a lot.

Damien is maintaining his high review rate of Australian crime fiction on his "Crime Down Under" weblog, and recently looked at The Shadow Maker by Robert Sims, a thriller set in Melbourne. He's pretty taken with it right off the bat: "A good thriller will grab your attention early on with a memorable hook and maybe an unusual twist that sets the story apart from the many others out there. That probably has to go double if it's a debut novel. Robert Sims appears to have taken this mantra to heart in no uncertain terms in his highly impressive psychological thriller The Shadow Maker." And that feeling continues on till the end: "As an action-based psychological thriller, The Shadow Maker succeeds in delivering a power-packed story. And although the main characters are still as largely unknown quantities at the end of the book as they are at the start, there is a sense that there will be more to come featuring the strong-willed, but enigmatic, Detective Sergeant Rita Van Hassel."

Susanna Yager makes a brief mention of Peter Temple's novels An Iron Rose and Black Debts, in "The Telegraph": "The laconic dialogue in both books is terrific and the characters are brilliantly realised."

Sorry by Gaul Jones has now been published in the UK by Harvill Secker and is reviewed by Maya Jaggi in "The Guardian", who finds that the "influence of theory is occasionally obtrusive. Yet when characters and events are left to speak for themselves the story proves powerful and poignant."

Reviews of Australian Books #54

Karen Chisholm takes a look at the third of Leigh Redhead's series of detective novels featuring her ex-stripper Simone Kirsch. She finds that Cherry Pie "takes a slightly darker, more edgy direction than the first two...we're definitely moving from totally light, funny and riotous into something slightly edgier and harder. Both Peepshow and Rubdown were great books, Cherry Pie is hinting at an even more interesting future."

You would think that Dorothy Porter's new verse novel, El Dorado, would have received more reviews by now. Maybe reviewers baulk at the idea of having to examine such a hybrid, thinking it toohard, or inaccessible. Anyway, Maggie Ball has taken up the challenge on the "M/C Reviews" website, and finds it "a linguistically powerful novel, which is both internally effective and at the same time, greater than the sum of its parts."

In the Online edition of "Greater Kashmir", Kala Krishnan Ramesh enthuses about Margo Lanagan's short story collection, Black Juice: "Only rarely does the writing inside books actually warrant the fulsome praise lavished on it by blurb and shout lines; as far as Margo Lanagan's Black Juice is concerned, 'breathtaking', 'dazzling', 'wonderful, 'exceptional' don't exaggerate. Lanagan's way with words is breathtaking; she spells them into magic, she cajoles them into chores, she commands them into soldiery, she sings them, she speaks them, she dances them, and they in turn cast an unfaltering spell over the reader. It is impossible not to recognise Margo Lanagan as a words-person who has laboured long, intent and persistently at the craft of languaging stories."

Reviews of Australian Books #53

Arabella Edge's novel, The God of Spring is reviewed by Stephen Peterson who finds a lot to admire: "Edge's research is evident on nearly every page of this book--she spent four years examining Géricault's life, his work, and the account of two survivors of the shipwreck. She has filled the interstices with fiction that, while sometimes forced, is never dull...In prose that is often as muscular as Géricault's painting, The God of Spring gives a detailed account of a miraculous period in art history. Further, you have an abiding sense that the same problems that plagued artists in the 19th century are still around today--a thought of simultaneously boundless comfort and depthless horror."

Somewhat later than most reviews, Mai Wen has a look at Tom Keneally's novel Schindler's Ark (the title was changed on a lot of editions after the release of the Stephen Spielberg film): "By the end of the book I was attached to the characters and Schindler and was finally feeling the emotional pull that the movie had invoked throughout. While the book isn't written in the descriptive manner that usually pulls the emotions from me, the facts are strong enough to stand on their own and to pull the feelings from your soul. Overall, Schindler's List is a strong and educational read. Something I think everybody should read because although I've read many fiction novels about The Holocaust, I learned more about it than with any other book while reading Schindler's List."

In "The Independent", John Tague examines Richard Flanagan's The Unknown Terrorist and finds a lot of emotion: "Richard Flanagan, it seems, is an angry man, and The Unknown Terrorist is a very angry book. The Australian writer has turned his back on the playfully sophisticated structure of his last work, the excellent Gould's Book of Fish, and taken a jaundiced look at contemporary society. He doesn't like what he sees. His new novel forgoes the complex structural games of his previous work and instead launches a stinging attack on the powers that foster and prosecute the so-called 'war on terror'. This is a bitter polemic brimming with a disbelieving contempt for the cynical maneouvering of those in authority. You wouldn't exactly describe it as a happy-go-lucky read."

In other reviews of Richard Flanagan's novel The Unknown Terrorist, "The LA Times" describes him "as the premier artist of brutalized flesh in our era"; "The Sunday Book review" from BlogTo out of Toronto says: "To call this book a thriller is to diminish it. It does thrill but it's much more like 1984"; and "The Phoenix" from Boston finds it "little more than a simplistic fable". So the reviews are as mixed overseas as they were in Australia.

Reviews of Australian Books #52

In "The Guardian", James Buchan runs with the idea that Richard Flanagan's novel, The Unknown Terrorist, is a variant on Heinrich Böll's The Lost Honour of Katharina Blum, and thinks he's done a pretty good job of it: "Richard Flanagan, the Tasmanian author of the prize-winning Gould's Book of Fish (2001), acknowledges his debt to Böll but moves the story from West Germany in the 1970s to the Sydney of today in a holy funk about Islamist terrorism. It is a terrific novel, maintained at fever heat but never straying beyond the bounds of the possible or even the likely. Actually, it is more plausible than its model."

In the same newspaper, Nicholas Lezard is quite impressed with Gideon Haigh's new cricket collection Silent Revolutions: Writings on Cricket History. "Of course, many Guardian readers will be familiar with Haigh's work and style. It is the latter that gets people excited about the former. Haigh is, if we want to cram in a cricket metaphor, a master of a certain kind of loop and flight in his sentences...It's a shame that this collection hasn't been able to take on board the latest World Cup and the shocking death of Bob Woolmer. Haigh's previous collection, Game for Anything, had much on corruption that should be required reading for anyone who hopes to get to the bottom of that scandal. This is lighter-hearted, on the whole; but there isn't a single article in here that isn't a joy to read."

Constance Burris loves a good villian, so was looking forward to reading Catherine Jinks's YA novel Evil Genius, and she found she was not disappointed: "Catherine Jinks has a great writing style and I was hooked from the beginning...I highly recommend this book for anyone who remotely liked Harry Potter and especially for anyone who secretly (or not so secretly) dreams of being an evil genius!"

Karen Chisholm has got in early with her review of Janette Turner Hospital's Orpheus Lost, though she might raise some eyebrows by declaring it a crime novel. Anyway, she has some reservations: "Where Orpheus Lost becomes less of an interesting book is in a device that the author uses a lot -- where characters move rapidly from real life events into dreams / dream sequences / imaginings of events. There is certainly a lyrical flavour to these sequences but they also jar within the pace of the general book - driving the reader out of the story. This is likely to make the book less appealing for many readers, and it's a pity because the basic premise is very clever and extremely well executed, the 3 main characters very sympathetic and interesting and the supporting cast well drawn and involving."

Damien, on the weblog "Crime Down Under", is pretty impressed with Michael Rowbotham's latest The Night Ferry:
"The plot itself is an intriguing one dealing with a form of exploitation of women that is not only extremely unusual but also extremely disturbing. The action moves quickly from London across to Amsterdam's red-light district and back again (and, yes, a ferry is involved that travels after dark). It's tightly plotted, the characters are fresh and alive and the story is stingingly relevant." Rowbotham's previous novel Lost, won the 2005 Ned Kelly Award. If this one is as good it will also be in the running for the same award next year.

In "The Epoch Times", Mitchell Jordan finds much to like about Love Without Hope by Rodney Hall: "Those who believe that Australian writing is second-rate need only read Rodney Hall to be quickly persuaded otherwise. The two times winner of the Miles Franklin award has always been praised for the sheer beauty of his work, and his latest, Love Without Hope is no exception...Mr Hall's novel is at once universal and intrinsically Australian, reminiscent of other local writers such as Peter Carey and Sonya Hartnett. The complexity of themes and ideas which Mr Hall explores will prevent Love Without Hope from being completely accessible and enjoyed by the majority, but this is a moving account of life and longing which keeps him at the forefront of Australian writing."

Reviews of CBCA - Book of the Year Shortlisted

Katherine England is a vice president of the Children's Book Council of Australia's SA branch, and, in "The Advertiser" from Adelaide, has reviewed each of the shortlisted works from the Children's Book Council of Australia - Book of the Year Shortlists. And excellent short reviews they are too.

Reviews of Australian Books #51

"Pure poetry" says Tee Shiao Eek, in a review of David Malouf's short story collection Every Move You Make. "In each story, Malouf's characters are commonplace people, captured at a special moment in their lives and immortalised by his elegant prose...As each story ends, you breathe a slow sigh, sharing Malouf's sense of closure. For his characters, another day hovers on the horizon...They float towards it, somehow knowing that even when they are gone, some things will remain forever."

Damien, on his weblog "Crime Down Under", extols the virtues of a new crime novel, An Easeful Death by Felicity Young. The author "manages to set up an array of plausible suspects who all come under close scrutiny as possible killers without ever giving away the identity until she's well and truly ready. I reckon this is an under-rated aspect of good mysteries, but Felicity achieved it with style." The author hails from Western Australia and this is her second novel after 2005's A Certain Malice.

The first novel by Carol Lefvre, Nights in the Asylum is reviewed by Mary Manning in "Eureka Street". "In Nights in the Asylum, Lefevre handles themes of grief and loss, displacement and memory with authority and confidence. As the title might suggest, the novel concerns characters at low points in their lives. However the book is saved from being a dark novel by moments where care and love bring positive change: an asylum seeker is given asylum, a grieving mother is comforted and a victim of domestic violence is sheltered."

J.M. Coetzee's Inner Workings: Literary Essays, 2000-2005, has made its way to India and is examined by Aveek Sen in "The Telegraph" from Calcutta. The reviewer makes damn good point about the book early on, one that could only be gleaned by a familiarity with the author's previous works. "'Too many continents,' explains J.M. Coetzee's eponymous, Australian writer-heroine in Elizabeth Costello. Elizabeth is trying to tell her sister, a nun in Africa, why she, Elizabeth, is so exhausted: 'Too many continents,' she repeats. 'Too many burdens.' There has been no dearth of continents in Coetzee's own life, fiction and critical writing. Yet, it is difficult to imagine such an utterance made by the writer himself in his own voice. Coetzee, one feels, would never allow himself such a lapse into self-pitying, self-revealing fatigue." And while the rest of the review shows similar evidence of research it ends abruptly, with not much of a conclusion and no summing up. Pity, one more paragraph and this could have been a quite excellent piece of work.

Reviews of Australian Books #50

Colleen Mondor reviews Kittyhawk Down by Garry Disher in the Spring 2007 edition of "Eclectica Magazine" (about half-way down the page). The reviewer calls it a "classic police procedural" which "works very well": "Kittyhawk is a relatively dark tale with more than one murder and even a missing child worked into the breakneck plot. Along the way author Garry Disher reveals much about each of the cops, including who is having a family crisis, who is having a personal financial crisis and who is having questions about his manhood and morality. Pile on all of that Challis and his own romantic issues and you might wonder how Disher holds together so many different characters with so many different problems. Fear not, though -- he's just doing something that very few mystery authors do; he's giving the reader a team approach for the good guys as they face a slew of seemingly unrelated crimes perpetrated by an unknown number of bad guys."

Two Australian sf novels are reviewed by Sue Bursztynski, Prisoner of Quentaris by Anna Ciddor, and Hal Spacejock #3: Just Desserts by Simon Haynes. Both are books in continuing series, with the only difference being that the Quentaris novels are written by a number of different authors. Of Ciddor's novel, Bursztynski says: "The entire series is great fun and the book covers feature gorgeous art by Australia's top cover artists. It introduces children to fantasy without patronising them. Best of all, the books are stand-alone and don't have to be read in any particular order...This is a delightful addition to the series. Children love series fiction and there are, so far, nearly two dozen in this one. They are not only a good introduction to fantasy, but a good introduction to the authors, if the young readers haven't discovered them yet." Hal Spacejock is, as you might expect, a comic sf series in a mildly "Red Dwarf" vein, peopled by space truckers, robots, and human baddies: "The universe of this series features no super-villains in breath-masks, no Dark Lords trying to take over the universe or Imperial Storm Troopers, only multimillionaires trying to become even wealthier and the thugs they employ to help them in their plans to rip off everyone. People are still people and just as likely to be fooled. All Hal wants, in this book, is a cup of coffee and a sweet snack, but it's not to be."

In "The Guardian", Peter Conrad reviews Richard Flanagan's latest, The Unknown Terrorist, and finds that, while it doesn't change the landscape of the novel like the author's Gould's Book of Fish, it "is an exercise in genre fiction - a thriller that, I am glad to say, happens to be genuinely thrilling."

Tom Keneally's The Widow and Her Hero is rated below his best by Ed Lake in "The Telegraph": "Keneally can be a bit of a hack, and his work here bears marks of haste...Even so, the novel comes off. It evokes something of the magnificence of heroism, and more of its awfulness. For that, it deserves a salute."

Reviews of Australian Books #49

Christopher Sorrentino reviews Richard Flanagan's latest novel, The Unknown Terrorist, and is quite taken with it. "You could argue that by populating his novel with puppets, Flanagan demonstrates our susceptibility to the fear that authority encourages, our blindness to the opportunism lurking in that encouragement...[but] Flanagan's strident presentation of a society passively following the marching orders issued by the government and its media accessories can be stunning".

Also in "Bookforum", Richard Locke takes a long look at Cultural Amnesia by Clive James, and finds that it only skims across the surface: "In the end, James's refusal to pay more precise attention to the lives and works of his 107 iconic figures -- most of whom, be they world-historical geniuses or scholars or tyrants or the nearly unknown, do indeed abundantly provoke our interest -- amounts to a dereliction of intellectual duty. For all its admirable, generous curiosity, its comedy, its defense of uncompromised and unfettered cultural variety, and its essentially celebratory energy, Cultural Amnesia conveys the sense not of delight but of frenzy, not Swift's saeva indignatio but slick wit, not learning but polymathy." It strikes me that Locke has missed the point completely. Another example of a critic reviewing what he wanted to receive, rather than what he actually got.

James Bradley reviews Tom Keneally's latest, The Widow and Her Hero, for the "Times Literary Supplement": "An unflinching clarity and moral purpose has long given shape and purpose to Keneally's fiction; it is what lifts it above the narrow territory of the historical novel. Without it, the considerable number of his books which follow history closely would be little more than the faction Schindler's Ark has sometimes been accused of being."

In "The Telegraph", David Robson also has a look at Keneally's novel, and, while he doesn't think it's up to the author's best, he stil thinks it's pretty good: "In terms of its overall effectiveness, The Widow and Her Hero is probably a notch or two below Keneally's very best work. The narrative is neatly constructed, but the scenes in the Far East lack a certain immediacy: you should be shocked by the beheadings, so redolent of modern Iraq, but they do not reverberate through the story as much as perhaps they should. But any new work by this master of moral complexity is a matter for rejoicing. He looks into the heart of the human condition with a piercing intelligence that few can match."

Peter Temple's novel, The Broken Shore, has been released in the US and is tarting to pick up some good reviews there. It's certainly interesting to see a different take on what most of us would consider to be an "Australian" novel. And yet Keir Graff can see similarities to the Australia, as depicted by Temple, and the American West: "Substitute Indians for Aborigines, and land-use issues for land-use issues (Australia has lots of coastline, but waterfront property is waterfront property), and you have a familiarly troubling tale of race and class conflict -- with an even darker crime at the heart of it all. Temple's novel
racked up the awards in Australia, and it's easy to see why: this deeply intelligent thriller starts slowly, builds inexorably, and ends unforgettably."

Reviews of Australian Books #48

The novelist Justin Cartwright reviews J.M. Coetzee's latest collection of essays, Inner Workings, in "The Independent": "It is literary criticism of the highest order. And the title is apt, because what Coetzee does is never superficial or opportunist; this is a close examination of the way the writers he is discussing work, and the historical and cultural context in which they work, and it is informed by a breathtakingly wide understanding of their influences and preoccupations." Cartwright then goes on to opine that reading these essays has given him a greater understanding of Coetzee's own fiction. Be aware that these critical essays are just that, not insubstantial book reviews but full-blown pieces for "The New York Review of Books".

Tom Keneally's latest novel, The Widow and Her Hero, appears to have been published almost simultaneously worldwide. Or, maybe, that should be Commonwealth-wide. Anyway, the novel is reviewed this week in "The Independent" by James Urquhart, which he finds "is a morally charged narrative familiar to regular observers of Keneally's fascination with orchestrated violence and private morality. Two decades ago, Schindler's Ark famously explored complex matrices of loyalty, bravery and compassion but, in more recent years, The Tyrant's Novel imagined the uncomfortable slide from personal integrity to irreversible complicity with an oppressive authority...The Widow and her Hero reads enjoyably well because of Keneally's solid research and assured, intelligent style, but it has less gravitas than these recent works."

Lucinda Byatt also looks at the new Keneally in "The Scotsman".

I missed "The Sydney Morning Herald" review of Garth Nix's latest YA novel, Lady Friday, on the weekend so thought it best to include it here. This is the fifth book of seven in Nix's series "The Keys to the Kingdom", and the reviewer, Mark McCann says "It's an engaging and playful work that rewards the reader's participation in its unfolding design with increasingly odd vistas and eccentricity on a cosmic scale. It's a quest and a game, an adventure and an inquiry; the somewhat obsolete designation of 'an entertainment' describes it beautifully...The writing is crisp and clean, the action is rapid and satisfying and parts of the view are most passing strange. This is a thoroughly diverting tale that should well satisfy the legions of fans who await it."

Reviews of Australian Books #47

The first novel in D.M. Cornish's fantasy series, Monster Blood Tattoo: Foundling, is reviewed in "The Guardian" this week by Philip Ardagh. He is pretty impressed by the work, though he has some quibbles: "What slowed this reader down most of all, though, was Cornish's habit of quoting speech in the vernacular. The story is littered with dialogue of the 'it'll be trouble to 'im all 'is life if 'e don't get shrewder and tougher, just mark me' variety, and the first 40 pages are extremely heavy going. Thereafter, things get better as characters bed in and the action picks up pace...Stripped to its bare essentials, book one of Monster Blood Tattoo is a strangely plausible human story with some interesting characters and a wide-open ending hinting at more. But then, there has to be more to justify even a third of the background information. Foundling promises much."

Arabella Edge's novel, The God of Spring (aka The Raft), has been reviewed by Ron Charles in "The Washington Post": In her second novel, The God of Spring, British author Arabella Edge tells the engrossing story of how Géricault produced this painting ["Raft of the Medusa"], one of the most famous of the 19th century. Though she stays close to the survivor's testimonies and other contemporary histories, Edge wears her scholarship graciously; she has trimmed the record, streamlined the complex political context and taken a few liberties with the chronology to produce a gripping novel of artistic obsession."

Shameless, a New Zealander living in France, has a look at J.M. Coetzee's Slow Man, from a year or so back, and a pretty interesting point is made right up front: "I believe that someone like J.M. Coetzee has earned a kind of carte blanche when it comes to his writing, especially after winning the Nobel prize for literature. Being established, he can afford to take risks and play around with the whole notion of what we expect from a novel. Other lesser-known writers wouldn't have this luxury...Slow Man is a perfect example of a novel that starts out as a cosy blanket, but then quickly shakes the reader out of bed! Coetzee is playing. I believe he deliberately wanted to sound the alarm clocks at dawn, regardless of how we all react!"

Carole Wilkinson's young adult novel, Dragonkeeper: Garden of the Purple Dragon has been published in the UK and Amanda Craig reviews it in "The Times", and is quite taken with it: "Carole Wilkinson's Dragonkeeper series, about a Chinese girl's attempts to protect the last Imperial dragon, is one of the best adventures anyone over 9 could find...The author's feeling for the Chinese landscape and culture is particularly interesting, given that she is an Englishwoman living in Australia. As Lian Hearn captured the essence of medieval Japan, so Wilkinson conjures a convincing landscape, both cultivated and wild." She also thinks Hollywood should be queuing up for this type of novel.

Karen Chisholm thinks that the latest novel from Garry Disher, Chain of Evidence, is his best yet, which certainly bodes well. "There is a deftness in the drawing of the two separate plots, and the characters that gave this book a real focus and tension...Chain of Evidence flags a strong shift of focus from a series concentrating on Hal Challis, with a touch of Ellen Destry on the side, to a combined focus as both characters take centre stage, albeit in different investigations and in different states. This bodes very well for the ongoing development of this series." Which strikes me as one of the most diverse entries I've compiled in this series: young adult, literary, crime, and a novel by a Nobel Prize winner. There must be something there you'd like.

Reviews of Australian Books #46

Sue Bursztynski reviews books for "January" magazine, and has posted two new reviews to her weblog, as it will be some time before they appear in the printed edition. The books under review are The Taste of Lightning by Kate Constable, and Elysium by Catherine Jinks. I had thought that reviews of Peter Carey's novel Theft must be coming to an end by now, but they keep on turning up in the strangest places.

Hephzibah Anderson reviews the novel in "The Buffalo News": "Right from its opening sentence, this novel wryly assesses Australia's cultural inferiority complex."

On the "BlogCritics Magazine" website, Katie McNeill is very impressed with Garth Nix's novel Sabriel: "I haven't read such an original fantasy novel in a long time. The world is solid, whole and deftly constructed, you feel as if you would meet the people who live there and find them no different from yourself. The characters, especially Sabriel, are strong, three-dimensional people you are involved with from the first page on."

"Eureka Street" has published a combined review, by Tony Smith, of three recent crime novels, one of which is Peter Corris's The Undertow. "Corris always says that he writes a pastiche of crime stories from the middle of the twentieth century and denies any literary pretensions. The success and longevity of the Hardy series suggests however, that he is doing what he does pretty well. It is true that most of his plots are resolved not just in, but by violence."

Reviews of Australian Books #45

Sally906 reviews Farewell My Ovaries by Wendy Harmer and rates it a "C". She details why she dislikes the main character and then poses the question: why did she finish it? "The book is funny - and well written - and in many ways this character matched my initial feelings of confusion and search for meaning at what I thought was the end of my womanhood, instead of a new phase of being a woman."

Sue Bursztynski is very impressed with Margo Lanagan's short story collection, Red Spikes which she reviews n "January" magazine. "The author admits, in her afterword, that she was strongly influenced by others in the writing of her tales, and reading them, the influence is fairly clear. Which doesn't make them any less fascinating. There isn't a dud story in the collection, although I have my favorites...All in all, well worth buying, whether for yourself or the teenager in your life."

A few weeks old now, but worth mentioning anyway, is Jules's review of Sonya Hartnett's The Silver Donkey on the "Seven Impossible Things before Breakfast" weblog: "I should say right off the bat here: Hartnett is one of my top-five favorite authors. And, once again, she didn't let me down with this middle-grade title, which is profound and graceful and intense all at once. Hartnett seems to be writing in the tradition of the classics of children's literature here (think turn-of-the-last century children's titles) --
persuasively and strikingly so."

Reviews of Australian Books #44

Deborah Robertson's debut novel, Careless, has been published in the UK and Rachel Moore in "The Guardian" is quite moved by it. As Moore puts it, the author "is fascinated by ways we memorialise the dead...[but]...the author does not dwell on death itself, rather on the care and responsibility that people do or don't exercise towards one another in life. She is best as a miniaturist, in the style of Helen Dunmore, her observations as carefully chosen and charged with feeling as pebbles placed on a grave...Careless is an elegy for the lost and the grieving, but it also offers hope."

On the weblog "Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast", Eisha is hugely impressed with Margo Lanagan's short story collection White Time. "Let's face it - a lot of writers have good ideas. What's great about Lanagan, though, is that her creativity is matched by her skill with language. Each story-world has its own land, each character its own voice."

Thomas Keneally's A Commonwealth of Thieves is reviewed in "The Jerusalem Post" by Meir Ronnen: "This book is a
great read, but I object to its title. Australia was never a commonwealth of thieves. It had no more of its share of burglars and desperadoes than other poor countries."

Reviews of Australian Books #43

In some ways I hope David Malouf isn't reading all the reviews, of his short story collection Every Move You Make, coming out of the UK. Helen Brown's piece in "The Telegraph" would be enough to turn anyone's head: "'Meticulous' is a word that occurs often in reviews of Malouf's work. And, true, he gets words right and makes detail matter. But it is too small and inhibited a word for the broad scope of humanity he welcomes into his careful craft. He lets characters get on with their own thoughts which he transcribes for them like a sympathetic and secular sort of recording angel."

Diamond Dove, the debut novel by Adrian Hyland, has attracted some good notices since its release by Text Publishing in the middle of last year. Peter Rozovsky continues that trend: "I read so few mysteries that I'm always pleasantly surprised when I find myself in the middle of a good unabashed amateur-sleuth whodunit that works seamlessly as character study and as portrait of a setting that is probably unfamiliar to many Australians, much less to readers like me on the other side of the world."

Dean, on his "Happy Antipodean" weblog, has been reviewing up a storm of late. Of the Australian books he's read recently, he was very disappointed with The Service of Clouds by Delia Falconer ("I felt abandoned by the writer, cast adrift on an ocean of metaphors without a paddle"), and very impressed with David Malouf's Conversations at Curlow Creek ("There's plenty here to satisfy the most demanding reader").

Clive James reviews Robert Hughes's memoir, Things I Didn't Know, in the January 11 2007 edition of "The New York Review of Books". While that review is not on the NYRB website, you can find it, printed in full, on James's own. The NYRB has a reputation for picking just the right person to write their reviews, and that reputation is only enhanced here. James attended university in Sydney with Hughes and has stayed in contact since both left Australia at
different times in the 1960s. Normally you'd think that such a review would be an obsequious crawl-job or a chance to settle some old scores. This is neither. It spreads the praise where it is required and is equally willing to point out the memoir's short-comings.

Reviews of Australian Books #42

Will Elliott's novel, The Pilo Family Circus is reviewed by Rebecca Pearson in "The Independent" this week, and she much more upbeat than the "Guardian Review" notice last week. Even though the book has a fundamental flaw in the narrative, "I couldn't put Elliott's debut novel down. It's fantastic," she says.

Also in "The Independent", Lesley McDowell looks at Rachel Seiffert's second novel, Afterwards. She thinks that the author may have moved away from her main abilities as a writer: Seiffert is keen to play everything down: her prose is bare, emotions are held in check, the plot eschews suspense, flashbacks are kept to a minimum. This is understandable given the message at the heart of the novel about the problem of communication, even in the most intimate and revealing of relationships. But it is a mistake to do this. Seiffert is not a sensual writer, yet she has placed a sensual relationship at the heart of her story. It plays not to her strengths, but, rather, exposes her weaknesses."

The reaction to David Malouf's short story collection, Every Move You Make, continues to be positive, with the latest review coming from Tom Deveson in "The Sunday Times": "Time and place are defined throughout with attentive care...Malouf is now in his seventies. It's natural that memory and death should be interwoven on many pages...Malouf presents many kinds of people in many kinds of mood, but he doesn't judge them...Malouf is also a poet, and his writing here has a fine descriptive delicacy and sensory exactness that act as guarantees of the stories' truth and the authenticity of the experiences they embody."

For the first time that I can remember, Markus Zusak's novel The Book Thief is on the receiving end of a non-complimentary review, this one from Stuart Kelly in "The Scotsman": "The Book Thief is not a bad book, just a problematic one. Despite its eerie narrator and the horrors it unfolds, there is an iron-hard streak of sentimentality running through it. Perhaps the witty conceits might have been better deployed against a different historical backdrop...Zusak is an interesting and inventive author, and hopefully the hype around The Book Thief will spur him on to greater things. The only thing robbed by The Book Thief, however, is the reader."

Slate writer Mia Fineman reviews Robert Hughes's memoir, Things I Didn't Know, and quite taken with it she is too: "Hughes is a bravura performer, both on the screen and on the page. He writes with astounding verve, in a voice that slips easily between boisterous vulgarity and polished eloquence...Hughes' writing is muscular and dazzlingly lucid; he refuses to indulge in sublime metaphysical musings or languid adjectival swooning, opting instead for precise, verbally nimble descriptions of art's effects."

Reviews of Australian Books #41

Elena Seymenliyska reviews Will Elliott's novel, The Pilo Family Circus, in the "Guardian Review". She doesn't seem that impressed by the work: "...his gripe seems to be with 'ordinary' life, as lived by regular pie-munching breeders, but his critique gets lost in complex confabulations of alternate universes, mind-altering substances and shape-shifting characters." Sounds like another case of a reviewer being dazzled by the light-show and unable to see the work underneath.

In the same paper, Diane Samules is very impressed by Sonya Hartnett's The Silver Donkey: "Hartnett uses space as eloquently as she uses words. Her writing effortlessly touches on themes of great complexity without a hint of gravitas. Each character is vividly evoked with brushstrokes as light and clean as the illustrations...Every syllable crackles with meaning, encouraging the reader to reflect and contemplate, while the narrative compels you to read on. And the pleasure of holding this small volume affirms the special joys of having a hardback, too."

A bit old now, as it was written in August 2006, but worth a mention - Ken reviews Sean Williams's novel The Crooked Letter on his weblog, "Neth Space": "Imagine a classic, cliché fantasy beginning; now imagine it being turned upside down, inside out, twisted, altered, and finally you're left an alien hallucination flavored with almost recognizable myths from the world over. This is a good start for realizing The Crooked Letter by Sean Williams...It is as dark and gritty as a Miéville novel, as strange as Steven King, and more accessible than either." Ken later goes on to suggest that maybe the book should be nominated for a Hugo Award later this year.

David Malouf's new short story collection, Every Move You make, is reviewed on (second item), which seems a rather strange place for it. "The seven tales in David Malouf's new collection traverse the Australian continent, conjuring up an equally diverse cast...These plangent tales of longing and the consolation of passing time brim with ethereal mischief..".

Peter Bulkeley is impressed with Richard Flanagan's latest novel The Unknown Terrorist in his review of the book on his weblog, "Aussie Values". In particular, he draws attention ot the political side of the novel: "We have sacrificed so
much of what we say we are protecting and in the case of Iraq, trying to export. Flanagan has shown us this in clear relief. Politicians, police, journalists, bureaucrats - those who are supposed to be the 'goodies' have succumbed and have compromised their own values to create an Orwellian world where the forest has been overtaken by the trees."

Reviews of Australian Books #40

The UK reviews of Markus Zusak's novel, The Book Thief continue with Philip Ardagh in "The Guardian" stating that everyone should read it: "This is a beautifully balanced piece of storytelling with glimpses of what is yet to come: sometimes misleading, sometimes all too true...Unsettling, thought-provoking, life-affirming, triumphant and tragic, this is a novel of breathtaking scope, masterfully told. It is an important piece of work, but also a wonderful page-turner. I cannot recommend it highly enough."

Lisa Tuttle, in "The Times" considers a "new departure" for Juliet Marillier, with the publication of her new novel, Wildwood Dancing: "Teenage girls are the target audience, but this may please anyone who enjoys a well-told fairytale. Fans of Marillier's historical fantasy may be disappointed, but the Transylvanian setting lifts it out of the ordinary - and who could fail to love Gogu, the telepathic frog?"

David Malouf's latest short story collection, Every Move You Make, has now been published in the UK and Anna Scott in "The Observer" comes to grips with it: "Emitting a quality of timelessness, the savage beauty of Malouf's native Australia is omnipresent. Brought to life with poetic elegance the vast uncharted territory becomes a metaphor for the human psyche and provides a fitting backdrop to the bemused wanderings of characters trying to make sense of their lives...At times unsettling in the intensity of their vision, Malouf's stories provide a deeply intelligent meditation on the unknowability of the self and 'how small the pressures might be that determine the sum of what is and what we feel'."

Also reviewing Malouf's book is Jem Poster in "The Guardian" who calls it an "outstanding collection".

Reviews of Australian Books #39

Donna Marchetti, in the "St. Paul Pioneer Press", looks at The Turning by Tim Winton: "Much depth is packed into Winton's spare but beautiful prose. Critics have compared this celebrated Australian's writing to John Steinbeck's in its ability to probe the frailties of ordinary people."

In "The Independent", Marianne Brace reviews The Book Thief by Markus Zusak, as it is published in the UK in both adult and YA editions. The review compares the book to Mark Haddon's successful The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time: "While ambitious and knowingly post-modern - it includes typographical symbols, illustrations and handwritten passages - The Book Thief has an innocent sensibility. There are no hidden depths. It wears its heart on its sleeve, which feels entirely appropriate for a novel about a child."

Bryce Courtenay's novel Whitethorn is reviewed by Toby Clements in "The Telegraph", who compares it to the author's previous work: "It is fair to say that if you enjoyed The Power of One or, even better, if you have forgotten how much you enjoyed The Power of One, you will enjoy Whitethorn. Courtenay is a terrific storyteller and, of course, fairly well-practised at telling this particular story. If the plot ain't broke, don't fix it...Right from the start he grabs your attention in a no-nonsense fashion, like some sort of brutal wrestling hold, pitting good against evil, innocence against corruption, Briton against Boer, so that you are more or less left with no choice but to follow and find out what happens (although, if you are familiar with Courtenay's earlier work, you already know what happens)."

Sally, on her weblog "Books and Musings from Downunder", is disappointed with Chris Nyst's novel Crook as Rookwood. You might remember that this novel was announced as the co-winner of the 2006 Ned Kelly Best Novel Award (the other novel was The Broken Shore by Peter Temple). "This was not the greatest read for me. It is an Australian book - and it is written in the same style that a lot of Aussie writers think they need to write in - humorously boring. I just don't like this style and there are quite a few Aussie writers who write this way." She gave the book a D rating.

Reviews of Australian Books #38A (Numbering error)

In "The Guardian", Matthew Lewin briefly looks at the re-released novel In The Evil Day by Peter Temple: "The characters are real, the action convincing and the writing style satisfyingly literate."

Ken Parish reviews Best Australian Essays 2006 edited by Drusilla Modjeska, on the "Club Troppo" weblog. "If I want a piece of didactic, ideologically loaded writing, I can always read the op-ed pages of any newspaper, or for that matter most blog posts. An essay needs to be more reflective, teasing out nuances of a topic in a way that surprises and delights (or frightens or saddens)...Quite a few of the essays in BAE 2006 are of that sort, but quite a few disappoint. BAE 2006 is a literary curate's egg: good in parts."

In "The Daily Yomiuri" from Japan, Stephen Taylor reviews Clive James's latest memoir, North Face of Soho: "The Antipodean's anecdotes are humorous without being too lightweight or frothy and, though an index would have been useful, North Face of Soho is a fascinating journey through the British media and literary world from the late '60s to the early 1980s."

Reviews of Australian Books #38

Shannon reviews Murray Bail's novel Eucalyptus on the weblog "I'll Have My Cake and Eat Yours Too". "The book is full of beautiful imagery, using words to tell multiple layers of a story, like bark on a tree."

Somewhat behind other UK newspapers, "The Guardian" has Andrew Motion run an eye over Robert Hughes's memoir, Things I Didn't Know. As much as he is impressed with this work he is already looking forward to the follow-up. "Readers of Hughes's mature work know that the best is yet to come - his most vibrant essays, and the great foundation stones of his reputation: The Shock of the New, The Fatal Shore and American Visions. Inevitably, this has its frustrations. More importantly, though, it means we can trace the evolution of his guiding principles without being distracted by celebrity."

Dealing with the same book in "The New York Times" is the "interesting" critic Michiko Kakutani who finds it rather "uneven". "Introspection does not come naturally to Mr. Hughes, the reader suspects, or else he is ambivalent about the enterprise of making such personal investigations public. As a result the camera lens used in these pages seems awkwardly trained on the middle distance: individuals he knew back in the day come sharply into focus, while the young Mr. Hughes and the larger world of Australia after World War II remain fuzzily indistinct."

Reviews of Australian Books #37

After the early newspaper reviews of Clive James's new memoir, North Face of Soho, now we start to get the longer, dare I say "more considered", reviews in the journals and magazines. Such a review is Christopher Hitchens's in "The Times Literary Supplement": "The great Peter De Vries, when asked about the nature of his ambition, replied that he yearned for a mass audience that would be large enough for his elite audience to despise. In this latest volume of his tragicomic autobiography, Clive James admits twice to a similar aspiration."

Peter Carey's True History of the Kelly Gang gets a brief mention by Ann on the "Bibliog" weblog, which includes links to the Sacramento Public Library catalog. "Carey chose to tell the story from Kelly's point of view, mimicking the style of Kelly's own writings, as preserved in the Jerilderie Letter, for example. Once you get past the unusual and colloquial language, the images he draws of life in those times are riveting and appalling."

In the "Bulletin" magazine, it's all cricket books as far as the eye can see: Ashley Hay just lists them; Gideon Haigh looks at Records are Made to be Broken: The Real Story of Bill Ponsford by John Leckey; and Andrew Stafford probes a bit deeper - but not much - into Captain's Diary 2006 by Ricky Ponting and Silent Revolutions by Gideon Haigh. Well, Haigh couldn't review his own book, could he?

Reviews of Australian Books #36

Lisa Hilton reviews Lian Hearn's new fantasy novel, The Harsh Cry of the Heron, in "The Telegraph": "From The Lord of the Rings to Malory Towers there is a fascination in a certain type of children's literature with hierarchy and organisation, and the first 300 pages of this latest instalment of the popular 'Tales of the Otori' saga can make heavy going as the warlords, mystics and even the horses of Lian Hearn's mythicised Japan, the Three Countries, are wheeled onstage to have their purpose explained...Once the story hits its stride, there is much to enjoy - treacherous plots, possession by the spirits, some cracking battle scenes, and Lian Hearn writes with a delicate attention to detail that creates an all-encompassing world around her characters."

Alan Brownjohn welcomes the latest poetry collection from Les Murray, The Bi-plane Houses, in "The Sunday Times". "It is rare to find a writer who carries the reader along with such exuberant delight in the art, even through a number of defiantly puzzling passages. Some excellent poets can be difficult to quote from. Murray provides an embarrassment of choices: on animal noses ('no stench is infra dog'), or money ('The more invisible the money / the vaster and swifter its action'), or dolphins ('like 3D surfboards / born in the ocean, (they) curvet / around fenced oyster gardens')...Murray is not an easy poet; yet he can be amazingly rewarding in poems where you have to work a bit to match the complexity of his images with the landscapes he is trying to capture in them."

We don't often get new reviews of very old Australian books, so I was interested to come across Jonathan Scanlon's review of William Lane's The Working Man's Paradise: An Australian Labour Novel. "Originally published in 1892, it was written to explain unionism and 'socialism' to all who were interested, and to raise funds for the release of gaoled unionists. Since then, it has become part of Australia's literary heritage, and I relished reading every passage of this fine work of propaganda." In this day and age, the title comes across as very ironic. The book, by the way, is in the public domain, and you can download a PDF eBook of the text from The University of Sydney.

DLanguageArchitect in Singapore, provides a short review of Kate Grenville's The Secret River, suggesting that "The first few pages remind me of Conrad's Heart of Darkness."

If you haven't had enough yet of David Thompson's Book Nicole Kidman, then I suggest you hie yourself over to to the metacritic website for their round-up of reviews of the book. Their final verdict: 44 out of 100 - no so flash. Reviews range from Tim Rosenthal in "The Independent": "This is the most illuminating book about a film star that I've read."; to "The New Yorker" review: "What begins as an analysis of stardom ends up as a case study of fandom."

Reviews of Australian Books #35

Alex Peake-Tomkinson reviews the new paperback release of Robert Drewe's novel Grace, in "The Guardian" (3rd item down): "Drewe is unafraid to explore debates on colonialism and creationism, debates that centre on Grace's father, a controversial anthropologist who has founded his career on discovering the remains of the 'first modern woman'."

David Thompson's Nicole Kidman has been followed by a biography , Kate: The Woman Who Was Hepburn by William J. Mann, which allows James Christopher to compare the two women and the two books in "The Times": "Both are described as tall, angular, unconventional and ambitious. Both had middle-class backgrounds. Both were made to feel gawky and uncomfortable at school. Both had high- profile relationships with dotty stars. Both made ghastly mistakes. Both had stage hits on Broadway. Both have been hounded by the paparazzi. Both command the highest prices Hollywood is prepared to pay. And both are, or were, obsessed by the currency of their public image."

Theft: A Love Story by Peter Carey, is reviewed by Subash Jeyan in "The Hindu". The review starts with a great opening paragraph: "We have been reared culturally to appreciate art in isolation, to conceive of art as a transcendental object, cut off from the hustle, bustle and sweat of life as it is lived every day. A novel or book comes to us neatly packaged, a whole industry of assorted talents behind the packaging, so that when we hold that beautifully designed book in our hands, it tells us nothing of the lives behind that book, nothing of the vast infrastructure and the industry, with all its machinations and politics, that made possible that particular book perhaps at the cost of many others. Similarly with a painting. Sanctified, put up in a frame and spotlighted, it stands in splendid isolation from its circumstances, transcending them if you will. All you are made to see is the talent that shines through. Not the slime it has had to wade through." The reviewer isn't overly enthusiastic, but interested enough.

Graham Beattie, former Managing Director/Publisher of Penguin Books NZ Ltd., and Scholastic NZ Ltd looks at Clive James's latest memoir, North Face of Soho, which he calls "Entertaining, thoughtful, engaging,". In the process, he revisits two of James's epic, comic poems published in the 1970s.

Reviews of Australian Books #34

It's been over a year since Tom Keneally's history of Australia's first settlement, The Commonwealth of Thieves, was published here in Australia, yet it only now seems to be getting an airing in the US. Wendy Smith reviews it in "The Washington Post", and finds that while "... Keneally paints an impressionistic picture of a society in the making", his "evocative narrative is at times a bit too novelistic."

In Canada's "Globe and Mail" Douglas Bell is not very impressed with Things I Didn't Know by Robert Hughes. "The memoirist, having scraped and clawed his way out of the post-colonial hole to which fate had consigned him rises high above the little people and their little quibbles and points out (really for their own pimply-faced good) how small they really are. Of course, it's all a hopeless cause since, so tiny are the wretched little ants, they cannot make sense of his genius any more than the blind man can sense the proportion of the elephant: more to be pitied than disparaged." While it's fair to say that reading only one review of a work is not a good way to get a detailed view of it, this review from Canada deserves more scrutiny than many others. The Canadian temperament and geography are probably closer to Australia's than anywhere else. And this is the first time I've seen Hughes compared to Conrad Black.

Reviews of Australian Books #33

After the flurry of activity surrounding the Man Booker prize shortlist, and Kate Grenville and M.J. Hyland's appearance on it, it's all James and Hughes at the moment. Martin Gayford reviews Things I Didn't Know by Robert Hughes in the "Telegraph", who finds that "...cantankerous and occasionally inconsequential though Hughes can be, you're always on his side. This is, as you'd expect, a hugely entertaining book."

In the same newspaper, Anthony Quinn also reviews it, noting that "Things I Didn't Know ends in 1970, with Hughes appointed art critic on Time magazine, leaving his later years, presumably, for volume two. If it can match the eloquence and fearlessness of this book, it will be worth waiting for."

And still in the "Telegraph", Nicholas Shakespeare nails Clive James and his new memoir North Face of Soho pretty well: "One problem with a life of humour is that you never really get where you're going to. It is an elaborate tango: one step forward, one back. James knows how to scale the heights of comedy, but not always what to do once he has got there. He can reduce the reader to a state of pants-wetting helplessness, prepared to be led anywhere, only to abandon him a paragraph later, his antennae atwitch for the next perfect gag or aperçu or 'spellbinder sentence'. His focus is onwards and upwards but seldom downwards. Despite his claims that 'my stuff depends on being presented as a serious argument', he does not take himself seriously enough to remain serious for very long."

Les Murray's latest poetry collection, The Biplane Houses, received a lot of coverage here in Australia when it was published earlier this year, but I didn't really expect it to receive much interest in overseas markets. Now it has been published in the UK, and this week it is reviewed in "The Guardian" by William Wootten. He's impressed: "There's humour here, of course, but Australia's most renowned living poet is very much in earnest about his exploration of how the sensory world shapes understanding and what it might be like to have apprehensions different from our own."

Peter Conrad in "The Observer" may be one of the few reviewers not overwhelmed by Robert Hughes's memoir. He's intrigued by it, to be sure, but "A memoir, however, should be more than an anthology of anecdotes or a digest of rankling grudges. 'Know thyself', the command of the Delphic oracle, is the autobiographer's injunction. That self may be one of the very few things that the polymathic, uproariously eloquent Hughes does not know."

Reviews of Australian Books #32

Under the title "Wizards of Oz" (gee, that's original) Christopher Bray reviews Things I Didn't Know by Robert Hughes, and North Face of Soho in the "New Statesman". He calls Hughes "Argus-eyed" (whatever that means), and concludes "Were it not for Hughes's existence, James would be a shoo-in for critical stylist of the age."

In "The New York Times" Janet Maslin looks at Bad Faith: A Forgotten History of Family, Fatherland and Vichy France by Carmen Callil, which "becomes a quietly devastating history of Vichy France's anti-Semitic machinations."

Things I Didn't Know by Robert Hughes is reviewed by Waldemar Januszczak in "The Sunday Times", who finds it "a picture of an angry scrapper, a man capable of scary ruthlessness, an autodidact whose faults, when he turns to an art criticism, don't seem to be faults at all."

In the same newspaper, DJ Taylor casts an eye over Clive James's North Face of Soho. Taylor identifies "James's abiding flaw as an anecdotalist, that odd and faintly gratuitous sense of performance, in which the reader is forever bidden to admire not so much the work set out before him as the spectacle of the writer writing it. Style-wise, too, James is moving into what - to borrow Philip Guedella's joke about his namesake Henry - might be called his 'Old Pretender' phase, all dangerously extended metaphors and descriptions that, despite their freight of top-grade adjectives, fall short of describing the object under review."

Reviews of Australian Books #31

I've mentioned over the past couple of weeks that Lian Hearn's novel The Harsh Cry of the Heron been receiving some positive reviews, and this trend continues with Tim Martin in "The Independent". Though his review is (how can I put this gently?) a strange mixture of styles: "The moral atmosphere is chilly and remote and the austerity of style invests both the peripatetic story and its arresting set-pieces with a palpable sense of destiny at work...It's rare, too, that such an extended narrative, especially one sustained over more than a single volume, plays out so gratifyingly." Those two sentences are separated by no more than a paragraph break. But urine-extraction aside, the review does end well for Hearn: "The Otori sequence is already a considerable achievement. Cheeringly, it looks as though it will only get better."

"The Daily Telegraph" tackles, along with just about everyone else, David Thomson's bio of Nicole Kidman: "It's not uncommon for a biographer to fall for their subject. But it's rare they declare their lust as frankly as David the book progresses so Thomson's hold on reality seems increasingly wobbly." Which should give you a decent idea of the book's problems, at least as perceived by Catherine Shoard.

Clive James has released the fourth volume of his autobiography, North Face of Soho, but, according to Nicholas Clee in "The Times"' he really shouldn't have bothered: "His prose, once so lively, is flat." The volume covers the period from he arrival in London from Cambridge, through to his appearance on Parkinson to publicise the first volume, Unreliable Memoirs. Now, there's a book. Fantastic stuff.

Reviews of Australian Books #30

In "The Daily Telegraph", Lorna Bradbury briefly reviews The Harsh Cry of the Heron by Lian Hearn, which is the sequel to her "Tales of the Otori" trilogy: "This is an involving (and long) adventure, with slick fight scenes, and complex characters. For readers of 12 and above."

Alexis Wright's new novel Carpentaria is reviewed in a profile of the author in "Time" magazine - South Pacific edition.
"Wright's gift to Australian literature is Desperance. A fictional port town bypassed by history and even the tides, which have left it high and dry, Desperance embodies the roots of its name: despair and hope (espérance in French). Wright says Desperance could stand for any Australian town, or Australia itself. And it's her uncanny ear for the particularities of local language and eye for striking symbolism that could carry Carpentaria into the classics sections of bookshelves in years to come. There it would sit comfortably alongside Xavier Herbert's fictional study of Australia's Top End, Capricornia. But where Herbert looked at race relations with colonial distance in 1938, Wright mucks in with postcolonial glee."

A Man Booker Prize shortlisting will tend to raise interest in a novel, and so it has proved for Kate Grenville and her novel The Secret River, which is reviewed in Cleveland's "The Plain Dealer" by John Freeman, who is president of the National Book Critics Circle. Freeman is pretty impressed with the book, calling it "elegant" and "powerful". I wasn't so sure about one statement of his, however: "It moves on gusts of foreboding, not unlike a horror novel." He should have read James Bradley's latest.

Metacritic have finally got around to summarising the reviews for Peter Carey's Theft, probably only the second or third Australian novel to get the treatment. They gave it a score of 74, which is pretty good. They listed "Outstanding" reviews from "Daily Telegraph", "The Guardian", "Booklist", "Kirkus Reviews", "Library Journal" and "Publishers Weekly". There were also a number of "Favorable" and "Mixed" reviews listed. No "turkeys".

Reviews of Australian Books #29

Last week Lynne Barber in "The Telegraph" wasn't all that keen on David Thomson's Nicole Kidman, and this week we have the opposite end of the spectrum with Tom Rosentahl in "The Independent" calling it "... the most illuminating book about a film star that I've read." Though, on second thoughts, that might not be as much high praise as I originally perceived.

Austlit, "The Resource for Australian Literature", lists Michel Faber, author of The Crimson Petal and the White, so I feel safe in being able to include him in this section. He's now published The Apple, a collection of stories which can be read as a sequel, of sorts, to his earlier novel. David Robson reviews it in "The Telegraph" and finds good and bad in the end result: "This may be an unsatisfactory curate's egg of a book, but Faber remains an unrivalled master of his subject."

Also in "The Telegraph", Katie Owen has a brief look (10th item down) at the UK paperback edition of Kate Grenville's The Secret River: "A family story on an epic scale, made all the more absorbing by Grenville's loving evocation of her native landscape."

And Stephanie Cross follows up, on the same page, with a note on Slow Man by J.M. Coetzee: "A light comedy of manners is also a touching study of human vulnerability."

Peter Conrad in "The Guardian" wonders whether David Thomson is wandering a tad close to pornography in his biography Nicole Kidman: "Thomson has written some of the best books about film; Nicole Kidman is, I suppose, a forgivable bout of elderly nympholepsy. But he is lucky to have such an understanding wife."

As is his wont, Jonathan Yardley has written a long, detailed and definitive review of Robert Hughes's new memoir, Things I Didn't Know in "The Washington Post". "Now Hughes has turned his hand to autobiography, with predictably and gratifyingly rewarding results. His has been a writer's life, and, like most such lives, it has been primarily a life of the mind. Such drama as he has experienced -- two unhappy marriages before a lucky third one, the suicide of his 33-year-old son, a terrible auto accident that brought him within a breath of death -- certainly has been painful, but except for the accident, he devotes relatively little space to these matters in this memoir, preferring reticence over display where private business is concerned, a merciful choice in this age of self-servingly confessional memoirs that attempt to cash in on real or fancied business of the most intimate nature."

In the same paper, the reviews of Thompson's Nicole Kidman continue with Louis Bayard finding that the author "wants Kidman, in short, to be the alabaster emblem of the cinema's own contradictions, but the more he plumps for her larger relevance, the more he reinforces how private his obsession really is."

I'm not sure if the new review of Geoffrey Robertson's The Tyrannicide Brief in the "San Francisco Chronicle" indicates a new paperback edition, or a long-delayed initial publication. You'll recall that it tells the story of John Cooke, the man who prosecuted Charles I of England for treason. Both died at the executioner's hand. Robertson "gives us a tragic hero: a man whose intelligence and devotion to fairness can't save him from being swept up by the tornado of revolution." That's Cooke, not Charles.

[Update: I've fixed the spelling of Michel Faber's first name.]

Reviews of Australian Books #28

While not exactly an Australian book, in that it is published in the UK and written by a leading British film reviewer, Nicole Kidman by David Thompson does at least have an Australian subject. Lynne Barber in "The Telegraph", however, wonders whether the subject of the book is more Thompson's obsession for an ideal rather than the actress herself. She certainly makes the book out to be a strange little piece of work.

You can read the first chapter of this book over at "The New York Times".

Also in "The Telegraph" the paperback editions of Kate Grenville's The Secret River and J.M. Coetzee's The Slow Man are reviewed briefly.

Joel Rickett, in "The Guardian", reports that Peter Temple's novel The Broken Shore, is the best-selling work for UK publisher Quercus. Which isn't a strictly a review, but let's not quibble about it.

David Weaver also looks at David Thompson's Nicole Kidman over at "The Globe and Mail", and maybe he nails it perfectly: "So with the greatest respect for David Thomson's considerable abilities as a writer, it's my suggestion that his secret ambition is to direct a film, a film that would quite obviously have to star Nicole Kidman. This book is sometimes a poor substitute for that ambition."

Les Murray's poetry collection, The Biplane Houses, is reviewed in "The Scotsman" by Richard Price: "Murray is a public poet, unabashed at producing a kind of teacherly polemic and determined to tell Australians (and others) his versions of their history. He is more garrulous than his cautious contemporary, Seamus Heaney, though similar in drawing morals from agricultural sources."

Reviews of Australian Books #27

Thomas Keneally's The Commonwealth of Thieves is reviewed this week in "The Telegraph" by Saul David: "It is an incredible tale, but one generally told from the perspective of the white settlers. Thomas Keneally redresses the balance by also recording the disastrous impact the settlement had on the Aborigines...This is a fascinating study of a unique social experiment. If Keneally relies a little too much on published sources, he more than makes up for it with the felicity of his prose and the broadness of his perspective. The penal colony might have been a success, he reminds us, but for the Aborigines it was a disaster."

Garry Disher continues his run in the US with a review of his novel, Snapshot, in Pennsylvania's "TimesLeader" ("classic police procedural - slogging, methodical investigation set against the backdrop of farm, forest and sea in peninsular Australia"), and one in "The Philadelphia Inquirer" ("The author...has packed this police procedural with the kind of detail that enthralls fans of the genre and with deftly sketched characters. The men are engrossing but largely despicable, the women tougher and for the most part good-natured.")

Reviews of Australian Books #26

Nicholas Shakespeare reviews Tasmanian Devil by David Owen and David Pemberton, in "The Times Literary Supplement" this week. "Written in folksy, accessible prose, Tasmanian Devil makes a valuable and long overdue contribution to our knowledge of this marsupial."

Theft by Peter Carey is reviewed by "The New York Review of Books" but the piece isn't available on the website. Which raises the question: which other Australian author of fiction would be reviewed in the NYRofB? Maybe Malouf, but that'd be about it.

Reviews of Australian Books #25

A couple of Australian crime novels are getting some notice in overseas newspapers.

Susanna Yager, in "The Daily Telegraph", continues the UK's infatuation with The Broken Shore by Peter Temple: "This is a very fine book. Characterisation, dialogue and the quality of the prose are all top-class and Cashin, a quiet, solitary man with a wry sense of humour, constantly tormented by his responsibility for the death of a colleague, is instantly likeable."

And across the water, Marietta Dunn, in "The Philadelphia Inquirer", is impressed with Garry Disher's Snapshot, the third in his Hal Challis novels: "While many readers want their thrillers with gouts of gore and endless gunplay, for me, a writer like Disher - old-fashioned in the best sense of the term - is the most satisfying. The humanity that his officers bring to the story, their interactions, their doggedness and determination, are the real reasons to give his series a try."

This is the second Disher title to be published by Soho Press this month, and it's good to see them looking down this way for some of their foreign crime titles.

Reviews of Australian Books #24

Peter Temple's book The Broken Shore is reviewed this week in "The Times". The reviewer, Marcel Berlins, is pretty impressed: "The Broken Shore portrays a community in thrall to long-established prejudices and passions. It is also about the inner destruction of families: raw, cruel and moving. Congratulations to Quercus -- a recent addition to crime publishing -- for bringing this to English readers."

In "The Sunday Times", Peter Carey's book, Theft, is chosen as one of the 50 novels for their readers to contemplate on their summer holidays: "Artifice and deceit are the themes of Carey's marvellously enjoyable novel about a faded painter caught up in art forgery."

Reviews of Australian Books #23

The Broken Shore by Peter Temple has now been published in the UK and is starting to garner some reviews. In "The Independent" Mark Timilni is certainly impressed with the book: "The Broken Shore is a sad, desolate novel, as Temple chronicles the death of an area, on the down for the locals, but the up for the rich who come to play. It's a stone classic. Hard as nails and horrible, but read page one and I challenge you not to finish it."

In "The Daily Telegraph", Siddartha Deb finds a lot to like about Theft by Peter Carey: "Theft is a work of art that successfully reflects upon the conditions in which art is created, and one can't complain if it demands of the reader an ability to separate the slightly derivative skin from its pulsating, inimitably authentic, core."

Kate Grenville reviews Tom Keneally's The Commonwealth of Thieves in "The Guardian": "For anyone who has an uneasy feeling that their grasp of early Australian history is less than absolutely firm (and that includes a great many of us), The Commonwealth of Thieves is a great bluffer's guide. The book gives an overview and makes a clear sequence out of all the many different sources...[the book] is a great read and a useful scholarly resource. Excellent chapter notes, an extensive bibliography and the index make Keneally's journey transparent, and allow further exploration in the sources for an interested reader."

Keneally's book is also reviewed in "The Times" by Carmen Callil: "Keneally has always had a grand talent for the telling of a tale. His rattling account of the genesis of his native city is one of his very best."

Tim Flannery's book The Weather Makers is still attracting reviews with Richard Girling, in "The Sunday Times", casting an eye over the book, in tandem with two others on global warming: "Flannery's book is nothing less than a user's manual for the planet... He is a master of cause and effect, explaining, for example, why the warming of the Indian Ocean causes drought in the Sahel. Along with the horror, he serves a generous helping of fine-grained detail that improves our understanding of the natural world even as it increases our anxiety for its future."

Reviews of Australian Books #22

Nicholas Shakespeare reviews Tom Keneally's book, The Commonwealth of Thieves, in "The Daily Telegraph" over the weekend. "Australia is lucky to have Keneally. Few writers have a public voice that one wants to follow into the bedroom. He combines Tom Wolfe's expansiveness with the uncorkable energy of Anthony Burgess. At 70, the historian and the novelist are in perfect balance. His work has the integrity of a good floor...It is one of Keneally's virtues in The Commonwealth of Thieves that he gets down and dirty with his characters from their perspective at the time."

Also in the "Telegraph", Diane Cilento's autobography, My Nine Lives is reviewed by Roger Lewis. "Like [Shirley] MacLaine, Cilento was versatile, full of beans, and could be very beautiful when she put her mind to it...Zero Mostel saw her and was hit by a bus."

It must be Australia week in the "Telegraph" as Kate Grenville is interviewed by Helen Brown. "History for a greedy novelist like me is just one more place to pillage. What we're after, of course, is stories, and we know that history is bulging with beauties. Having found them, we then proceed to fiddle with them to make them the way we want them to be, rather than the way they really were. We get it wrong, wilfully and knowingly. But perhaps you could say that the very flagrency of our 'getting it wrong' points to the fact that all stories - even the history 'story' - are made. They have an agenda, even if it's an unconscious one. Perhaps there are many ways to get it right."

In "The Times", the 21st anniversary edition of Germaine Greer's The Female Eunuch is reviewed by Margaret Reynolds. "The need for The Female Eunuch has never gone away. The emphasis, however, is different. In 1970, Greer encouraged women to value their sexuality - today she promotes their right to safe sex or chastity. In 1970, she was writing for middle-class women - today she is more worried about the poor and the dispossessed."

The Bride of the Son of "Theft Continues in the UK"

I can't seem to read another online newpaper, or magazine, without coming across a review of Carey's Theft. If his publishers are keeping track of the review clippings then they're doing a pretty good job. It's turning into a hefty volume.

The latest one to come to light (to me at least) is one of the best: a James Wood review in "The London Review of Books". I don't see much point in commenting on this one, I'll just pick a few highlights.

"As he did in his last novel, My Life as a Fake, about the Ern Malley hoax, Carey delights in stripping authorship of authority, and in floating the heretical notion that the reader - or the market - may be the final author of the work."

"Carey likes these intricate, spangly plots, with their outrageous truancies from verisimilitude and their lizard-like velocity; he is one of the most fantastical storytellers in the language, and yet the stories are not unreal, and this is partly why readers can never decide who he is like: is it Dickens, or Joyce, or Kafka, or Faulkner, or Nabokov, or García Márquez, or Rushdie? Two of the realisms that ground these dense fantasies are Carey's ability to animate even minor characters with a flick of novelistic attention, and his great interest in the warped reality of spoken language. One of the great familiar pleasures of his new novel is the way the language recklessly mixes different registers into a vivid democracy, now high and now low, but always interestingly rich.."

"The jovial cynicism of Theft, and its poststructuralist scepticism about the necessary presence of the author in a work of art, seem rather easy achievements for Carey, not least because he dealt with them so nimbly in My Life as a Fake. As in that book, the real subject - Carey's abiding subject, addressed in novel after novel - is the hoax of Australian identity, and its self-tortured relationship with the rest of the world."

Reviews of Australian Books #21

In "The New York Times", William Grimes has a look at In Tasmania by Nicholas Shakespeare, but isn't too impressed by what he finds: "If only Mr. Shakespeare, a limp, reticent tour guide, could drop his English reserve, the book might have done justice to the place. Tasmania screams out for lavish, Technicolor physical description. It begs for a writer willing to sink his teeth into the place as if it were a juicy steak. The anemic Mr. Shakespeare specializes in meaningful pauses and cryptic silences. A pastel watercolorist, a stylistic vegetarian, he is inadequate to the task...Mr. Shakespeare should have spent more time chatting with the locals and feasting his eyes on the world around him. Less time spent in the archives, and carefully polishing each of his lapidary sentences, might have served his purpose better."

Scott Westerfeld is another author we've adopted, this time from the US, and his latest novel, Pretties is enthused over by Amanda Craig in "The Times": "Westerfeld has created a gripping thriller about a dystopia founded on ideas of beauty, with all the gadgets, urban planning, moral dilemmas and medical disasters of superior science fiction."

The Son of "Theft Continues in the UK"

Ali Smith gets into the Theft reviewing act with a piece in the "Daily Telegraph". She appears a little smitten by the novel: "Imagine a cheerful Faulkner, or an even earthier Nabokov. Not possible? Peter Carey is the embodiment of what seems such a literary impossibility, and a writer like no one else in the merry infectiousness, the persuasive relentlessness of his literary energy...A critique of both the art business and the business of love, this is a funny, gorgeous steal of a book."

Theft Continues in the UK

Theft by Peter Carey is reviewed in "The Independent" by Tom Rosenthal who starts by providing a decent potted history of artists portrayed in novels, which is a bit different. He then goes on to say: "Despite the difficulty of visualising unpainted works of art, it's probably easier, and at least a preferable act of creation, to invent artists. You don't have to worry about libel if the artist is alive, or damage to a whited sepulchre reputation if dead. And it's often more fun to create a rogue or a wild man than a person of perfect moral rectitude...Carey's jaundiced eye on the contemporary art scene is wonderfully and destructively satirical and the humour robust and farcical but never crude. It would be entirely unsurprising if Carey becomes the first ever triple Booker, or Man-Booker, winner."

In "The Times Literary Supplement", Ruth Scurr also reviews Theft by Peter Carey and is the first, as far as I am aware, to catch a foretelling of the novel from The Tax Inspector, an earlier work of Carey's. She also raises some points that are interesting, and new: "Inheritance - personal, cultural, historical - has been central in Carey's fiction from the beginning. It is almost always ambiguous: something overwhelmingly defining from which, nevertheless, one would prefer to escape." She concludes: "Sexually excited by a criminal, responsive to wealth, cynical, broken, angry - all the things Maria Takis feared at the end of The Tax Inspector, happen to Butcher Bones in Theft. Yet this time the ending is wonderfully executed: 'slow-drying, ambiguous, a shifting tide between beauty and horror'. There is still a question left hanging: 'How do you know how much to pay if you don't know what it's worth?'. We must hope that, one day, in a different novel, the brilliantly restless Peter Carey will return to answer it."

"Peter Carey's marvellously enjoyable new novel is - like his last - preoccupied with themes of artifice and deceit, so it's good to record that he has once more written the real thing." So says Tom Deveson in his review of the book in "The Sunday Times". "Carey sets many challenges, expecting us to pick up scatological Australian idioms, hidden quotations from Bob Dylan, references to Clement Greenberg and Henri Gaudier-Brzeska. He has earned the right to do so. There is a flow of comic incident as the story withholds what it shows and winds around itself under the author's blissful control. Readers can gratefully share both his high seriousness and his exhilaration."

The novel is ranked at 2,212 at Amazon in the UK, and at 246 at in the US.

Theft All Over

With the publication of Theft by Peter Carey just about attaining total global domination, the reviews have started to roll in from all over. The site has a good list of them, mainly from the US, but they miss John Updike's review of the book in "The New Yorker". (Chances are this last one will disappear quite soon.) Updike's conclusion: "Theft is not a superb novel; there is something displaced at its heart. Its colorful means keep us at one remove from the central action, which, in retrospect, is perfidious and shocking...Hugh, the lumbering epitome of Australian backwardness, runs away with the novel, while the expertly researched and caricatured art scene hangs flat on a well-lit wall."

Reviews of Australian Books #20

Following on from the interview/profile by Graeme Blundell I mentioned yesterday, Kathryn Fox's first novel, Malicious Intent, is reviewed in this weekend's "Washington Post" - second item down - by Philippa Stockley. She thinks the book is "oddball but brilliant", and concludes: "If you like a tale written like a violent film, this fast-paced novel will do the job." I missed this one on the weekend.

[Thanks to Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind for pointing it out.]

Reviews of Australian Books #19

In "The Guardian", Joanna Briscoe considers In My Skin by Kate Holden a "glittering story of addiction and prostitution". She states: "There's now a big market in the kind of grief porn that provides the reader with a sensation of shock and pleasant superiority; but again, for all its degradations, In My Skin challenges such a response. It makes for discomfiting, illuminating reading."

Paul Gray reviews Theft by Peter Carey in "The New York Times". While his generally impressed with the novel, Gray thinks that a complicated subplot "which eventually becomes the main plot and culminates in a murder, is engaging enough, but seems more suited to a seasoned writer of thrillers -- Michael Crichton comes to mind -- who wouldn't bother to scumble the hard, factual surface of the narrative with irrelevancies like atmosphere and characterization...Carey, a different breed of author, can't resist these temptations, and the best parts of Theft: A Love Story can be found in the lulls between its hectic events, when the novel truly sings."

Sophie Ratcliffe also looks at Carey's novel in "The Times": "If his last novel, My Life as a Fake, showed a touch of postmodern exhaustion, forever circulating around ideas of writing and authenticity, Theft still seems to sacrifice the odd character for the sake of a narrative line. It matters less, here, for the two main speakers are so brilliantly drawn. As it draws to a close, it seems clear that the strongest love story is the tale of affection between the two brothers. It’s a narrative that sustains this impressive novel to its close."

Reviews of Australian Books #18

Justine Larbalestier's second novel, Magic Lessons, the sequel to Magic or Madness from 2005, is reviewed in "The Washington Post this week (second item down).

"Larbalestier's portrayal of magic as a curse is a refreshing alternative to the conventional depiction of young wizards as a lucky elite. A rigorous, almost science-fictional emphasis on the mechanics of magic (Reason interprets magic as a branch of mathematics) shapes the often amorphous subject matter into a fascinating discipline."

And keeping it in the family, Larbalestier's husband, Scott Westerfeld has his novel Blue Noon, the third in his Midnighters series, also reviewed in the same column.

"Possessing the hip rhythms and dark humor of 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer,' the creepy eldritch frissons of an H.P. Lovecraft or Fritz Leiber novel, and the dissonant outcast camaraderie of Brian Vaughan's comic book series Runaways, Westerfeld's trilogy blends pure wish-fulfillment with hard-edged physics. Unafraid to bring this invented world crashing down about his characters, Westerfeld unleashes a succession of heart-juddering climaxes right up to the very end."

Reviews of Australian Books #17

Ruth Scurr reviews Carry Me Down by M.J. Hyland in "The Daily Telegraph": "It is difficult to combine realism and surreal interludes in a single narrative structure, but Hyland manages this effortlessly in what is only her second novel. The graceful poise of her prose has attracted praise from J M Coetzee and Ali Smith, but the contemporary writer she most brings to mind is A L Kennedy. They share a fondness for quietly, relentlessly shocking the reader; and redemption, if it comes at all, is costly."

In "The Independent", Randa Abdel-Fattah's novel Does My Head Look Big in This? is reviewed by Sarah Cassidy. The reviews of Peter Carey's Theft are starting to come in from the US with the first I've seen appearing in "The Washington Post": "Given his devious trajectory, a novel about modern art seems like an inevitable destination for Carey. Could there be any more irresistible house of mirrors for an author fascinated by deceit and subterfuge? Fortunes rise and fall in a haze of aesthetic jargon spun by a few collectors and dealers. So strange is this phenomenon that if we didn't have the modern art market, Peter Carey would have to invent it."

Reviews of Australian Books #16

Arabella Edge's new novel is reviewed in "The Daily Telegraph" by Claudia FitzHerbert. It appears the UK title for the novel is The Raft, while the Australian version was called The God of Spring: I prefer the original version. Not that this bothers FitzHerbert at all: "This is a marvellously rich, florid and pacy novel about the gestation of a masterpiece."

Review of Dreams of Speaking by Gail Jones

Lucy Daniel reviews Dreams of Speaking by Gail Jones in "The Daily Telegraph": the novel " layered with stories of what friends, families, and city-dwellers can and cannot say to one another. These stories are beautiful and honest, even though their communication is muffled by peripheral noise."

Reviews of Theft - First Cut

Now that Peter Carey's novel, Theft: A Love Story has hit the Australian bookshops we will be getting a number of reviews published over the coming weekend. Just so that they don't get lost in the rush I offer the following two, already out there.

In "Time" magazine, Michael Fitzgerald is quite taken with the book: "... Carey shifts his magpie gaze to an art world overflowing with unscrupulous dealers, avaricious collectors and modernist forgeries, but ... the question of creative worth would seem to resonate strongly with the Booker Prize winner...Theft should sweep Carey's writerly anxieties away. After the chaotic excesses of My Life as a Fake, his new narrative grabs you by the throat and proceeds with a comic urgency not seen since True History of the Kelly Gang."

In contrast, Rosemary Sorenson, in "The Courier-Mail", is not so sure the book works: "As always (except when he's long-winded, Oscar and Lucinda a case in point), he entertains, but he infuriates rather too often for this 'love story' to be rated one of his best." And the novel's characters "...are not characters made for loving. That wouldn't be a problem if it weren't for the fact they are not made properly for living either...That is, they don't come fully alive in Carey's ferocious, exhausting, adrenalin-rush blast of a novel."

Reviews of Australian Books #15

Hot on the heels of Matilda rescuing the novel from the depths of the worthy but unnoticed (cough!), "The Daily Telegraph" has Patrick Ness reviewing Carrie Tiffany's Everyman's Rules for Scientific Living:

"Carrie Tiffany's first novel shares its thematic heart with Patrick White's The Tree of Man, also about a husband and wife building a life on a farm in rural Australia. But where White made the quotidian universal, Tiffany is after more personal and domestic quarry, watching it unfold with a wry and shrewdly observant eye.

"Although sometimes too modest, this is a noteworthy debut."

And the rise and rise of Markus Zusak continues with the review of his novel, The Book Thief, in "The Washington Post":

"Knopf is blitz-marketing this 550-page book set in Nazi Germany as a young-adult novel, though it was published in the author's native Australia for grown-ups. (Zusak, 30, has written several books for kids, including the award-winning I Am the Messenger.) The book's length, subject matter and approach might give early teen readers pause, but those who can get beyond the rather confusing first pages will find an absorbing and searing narrative."

Review of Passarola Rising by Azhar Abidi

Along with being a damn good weblog Bookslut also publishes an online monthly magazine, and this month their resident sf/fantasy reviewer takes a look at Passarola Rising by Azhar Abidi.

We can argue till we're blue in the face as to whether or not the novel falls into the fantasy category and the reviewer, Colleen Mondor, even acknowledges the problem: "Passarola Rising might seem more like a historical novel or mainstream adventure story, but at its heart it is about an amazing flying machine. The fact that the man who designed this craft was real only makes it that much more wonderful and certainly a title that any fan of Jules Verne (or H.G. Wells) must certainly grab a copy of." And then goes on to say: "Passarola Rising is an old fashioned fantasy, one that embraces the fantastic elements posed by the early 18th century."

Which pretty much allows it to be read anyway you want. And a good thing too.

The Weather Makers by Tim Flannery

Carl Zimmer reviews Tim Flannery's new book The Weather Makers in "The New York Times", in concert with Field Notes From a Catastrophe by Elizabeth Kolbert. Both books are considered "important" and "Their books do not merely satisfy scientific curiosity. Whatever their flaws, with any luck they may help force us to take more responsibility for our collective actions." This comes on top of the recent book launch at St Paul's in London, which also featured a talk by David Attenborough.

Reviews of Books by Australians

Tim Martin, in "The Independent", thinks DBC Pierre's Ludmilla's Broken English is a transitional work. He's hoping Pierre's next will live up to the high promise of parts of this one.

John Sutherland thinks the allegory in the novel is laid on a bit too thick, in "The Times".

Also in "The Times", Morris Gleitzman's Once is praised by Nicolette Jones.

Sean O'Brien finds a lot to like about The Secret River by Kate Grenville, but also thinks that she "doesn't trust her art, or the reader's wits, enough to let the writing do its work without some moral nudging."

The Secret River by Kate Grenville

Kate Grenville's latest novel, The Secret River, has now been published in the UK and is starting to garner reviews.

"The Guardian" calls it " outstanding study of cultures in collision".
"The Observer" acknowledges that "Following The Idea of Perfection was always going to be a tough call", and finds that "Grenville writes exactingly and with passion about the Australian landscape: the bright light, the skinny, grey-green trees that refuse to shed their leaves, the cliffs that tumble into the river through snaking mangroves...The Secret River is a sad book, beautifully written and, at times, almost unbearable with the weight of loss, competing distresses and the impossibility of making amends."
"The Times" combines its review with some comments on the perception of Australian fiction in Britain: "With some exceptions, Australian fiction can be overlooked here, perhaps because the British feel it is alien or parochial. This is a pity. It has much to teach us, not least about the shadow side of 'civilisation' and 'the things not spoken of' that flow in the lives of those who made, and were made by, it. Splendidly paced, passionate and disturbing, The Secret River is just such a novel."

Doubtless others will follow in the coming weeks.

Reviews of Australian Books #14

Hazel Rowley's Tête-à-Tête: The Lives and Loves of Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre is reviewed in "The Guardian" by Todd McEwen and Lucy Ellmann: "The lack of authorial comment on these shenanigans [their sexual activities] makes Tête-à-Tête strangely uninvolving. But more alarmingly, Hazel Rowley has decided not to talk about Satre and De Beauvoir as writers. They worked like dogs all their lives, to a punishing schedule, bouncing ideas (and 20-year-olds) off each other. Their partnership and their love existed most vividly in their literary work. Without an acknowledgment of its meaning, and its place in their lives, this book descends into a litany of dreary hangers-on, telephone calls, appointments in cafés, plane trips and girls, girls, girls."

Eliot Perlman's collection of stories, The Reasons I Won't be Coming is reviewed in this week's "Washington Post". Seems rather late for publication there. Maybe it's riding on the back of his recent novel Seven Types of Ambiguity. Anyway, the reviewer John McNally, is rather ambivalent with the result: "My chief complaint with these stories is that their endings are more inevitable than surprising. The revelations aren't always as startling as we were led to believe, and so the stories read like domestic fiction written by Edgar Allan Poe."

Andrew McGahan's The White Earth is starting to get reviews in the US, with SF Gate and Powell's delivering this week. Doubtless there will be more to follow.

Reviews of Australian Books #13

Nicholas Shakespeare reviews Murray Bail's Notebooks 1970-2003 in "The Daily Telegraph". His first statement in the review, "There is nothing so stimulating as a good writer's notebook", leads me to the conclusion that this review is by a writer about a writer for writers. I like Bail's work but can't see myself doing anything other than dipping into this book at the library.

James Ley is impressed with Louis Nowra's collection of essays titled Chihuahuas, Women and Me: "...which collects some of Louis Nowra's occasional writings from the past six years, is wonderful. I even enjoyed his essay about chihuahuas. I hate chihuahuas."

Malicious Intent by Kathryn Fox

Susanna Yager, in the "Daily Telegraph", reviews Malicious Intent by Kathryn Fox. The main character "is a likeable personality and the intriguing mystery is notable for its originality, except, alas, for its ending; sending the unsuspecting heroine into the villain's lair to contrive an exciting climax has - so to speak - been done to death. But all in all it's an accomplished debut and a very enjoyable read."

The Tyrannicide Brief by Geoffrey Robertson

The openDemocracy website carries an extract from Geoffrey Robertson's book The Tyrannicide Brief. In addition, Robertson talks to Charlie Devereux about why he considers John Cooke (who prosecuted Charles I of England) a hero of our time and what can be applied from his story to the prosecutions of Slobodan Milosevic and Saddam Hussein.

Charlie Devereux: What parallels do you draw between Charles I's trial and Saddam Hussein's?

Geoffrey Robertson: You have a dictator and an absolute monarch, and a war waged by both men against their own people, civil wars that were waged to prop up their power and their right to absolute rule. Saddam Hussein was charged with summary execution. In the case of Charles, the evidence suggested that he supervised the torture of prisoners of war. It is fair to say that the parallels are by no means exact; by the standards of European rulers of the age, Charles's alleged crimes are less brutal than those alleged against Saddam Hussein.

Collins: The Story of Australia's Premier Street by Judith Buckrich

As I've said previously, it's not often that Australian books feature in the newspaper outside of the book review pages. Today in "The Age", Judith Buckrich's new book Collins: The Story of Australia's Premier Street, is given a look over by Carolyn Webb. "Dr Buckrich has written a 'biography' of Collins Street, which she says retains its more-glamorous-sister status over Bourke. "She dares to subtitle the book 'Australia's Premier Street'. "'It's still the only street where you can really sense the smell of money very clearly,' she said yesterday at the book launch. 'And it still is the most architecturally and culturally interesting street in Australia.'" Oh, okay: shopping and architecture. That explains it then.

Reviews of Australian Books #12

Hazel Rowley who wrote biographies of the writers Christina Stead (Australia) and Richard Wright (USA) has now turned her attention to Simone de Beauvoir and Jean-Paul Sartre. Her new book, Tête-à-Tête is reviewed in "The Washington Post" by Michael Dirda. "As she explains, this isn't a full-fledged biography of France's dynamic duo, nor is it a re-examination of their ideas; instead, she resolutely focuses on the men and women with whom the pair fell in love. "The result is an enthralling book, almost a highbrow Francophile edition of US Weekly. But instead of Brad and Jen and Angelina, here we find an ugly, walleyed existentialist philosopher, the elegantly beautiful author of The Second Sex and the Gallic equivalent of a bevy of young starlets who share the bed of one or the other -- or sometimes both. Readers
will turn these pages alternately mesmerized and appalled."

Robert Hanks reviews Geoffrey Robertson's The Tyrannicide Brief in "The Independent." "The fact that he is a spare-time historian does show in The Tyrannicide Brief. He has clearly done his reading around Cooke [the subject of the book and the man who prosecuted Charles I of England in 1649], but the context often has a tossed-off feel, as if rehashed from secondary sources. I imagine academic historians won't take kindly to his lack of objectivity, a determination to put Cooke's actions in the best light, which at times leads into what amounts to special pleading. He says, 'The wonderful thing about writing history, as opposed to writing law, is that you look forward to having your mistakes pointed out'. I'll bet historians of the period will be itching to oblige." The Better
Half is reading this at present.

The Turning by Tim Winton

Tim Winton's latest book, The Turning, hit the shelves in the UK on April 1 this year, but his US readers will have to wait till September 13th. I have no idea of why this has occurred. The book is currently sitting at number 9,131 on Amazon's UK sales ranking and, given his worldwide standing, you'd think there would be some attempt at a simultaneous publication. After all, it was released in Australia in October 2004. Anyway, it's Tim's birthday today so I thought I'd have a look at how his book is being received overseas.

The two reviews I've linked to previously both appeared in the UK Daily Telegraph a week apart: Lewis Jones found that the stories were: "Vivid, elegiac and humorous, they are told in a relaxed prose that frequently strikes sparks - 'the hard laughter of ducks,' for example, 'like mechanical clowns in a sideshow.' Unusually, I think, they bridge the gulf between short story and novel."

Ian Thompson was quite taken with the book: was quite taken with the book: "Winton likes to confront dark themes - a betrayal of friendship, an old love dangerously rekindled - yet the collection is so exquisitely written, so precise in its construction, that it is a joy to read." He does refer to Winton as "Australia's best-loved young writer" which the author should feel happy about, now that he has hit 45.

In other UK reviews, Lindsay Pfeffer in "The Observer" states that: "The beauty of Winton's work lies not in the hope to which some characters awaken, but in his skill at making grief palpable to readers who may be unscathed by the agonies that his characters suffer."

John Kinsella in "The Scotsman" compares Winton to Angela Carter in the way "Winton creates a world that works painfully towards resolutions, and no matter how much darkness or grotesquery interrupts the quest for light, awareness ultimately surfaces." Not having read any Carter I can't comment. Yes, yes, I know. Just another show of my appalling ignorance of modern English literature.

Reviews of Australian Books #11

Worth the Wait by Darren Lehmann, ex Australian Test cricketer and now television commentator, is reviewed by Derek Hodson in "The Independent": "...above all this is the life and times of a turn-of-the-century Aussie cricketer, one of a renowned band treated like royalty - no queuing, free drinks all night - at home."

Reviews of Australian Books #10

The Book review Website Metacritic has examines the reviews of two Australian books recently: March by Geraldine Brooks and Wrong About Japan by Peter Carey. March was rated a pretty decent 75 on the Metacritic scale, based on 14 reviews from such places as "The Washington Post" and "Publishers Weekly" which both rated it Outstanding, to "The New York Times Book Review" which panned the novel. As a gauge of where the novel stands, the new novels by McEwen and Ishiguro were each rated as a 79. Wrong About Japan didn't fare as well, getting a rating of 58. Which puts it firmly in the middle of the pack. "Publishers Weekly" and "The Economist" praised the book, but "The New York Times" and "The Globe and Mail" gave it the thumbs down.

The Great Inland Sea by David Francis

"The Denver Post" reviews The Great Inland Sea, the new novel by David Francis, an Australian lawyer living in Los Angeles. The review refers to the book as a "magically lyrical effort", and later goes on to conclude that it is "a truly rewarding, literary find." Not too shabby, then. It's books such as this that can slip under the radar and I'm grateful that Mark Sarvas, on his lit blog The Elegant Variation, brought it to our attention. But a question: Francis is referred to as a first-time novelist, yet a check of Austlit would suggest that he published a previous novel, Agapanthus Tango, in 2001. Just a slip by the reviewer, or a case of mistaken identity somewhere?

Reviews of Australian Books #9

Lewis Jones reviews The Turning by Tim Winton in this weekend's "Telegraph" from the UK. Jones is at first a tad bemused by the collection, harking back to an earlier misconception on his behalf about another book, but he soldiers on and comes to appreciate the way Winton has worked the stories together: "Vivid, elegiac and humorous, they are told in a relaxed prose that frequently strikes sparks - 'the hard laughter of ducks,' for example, 'like mechanical clowns in a sideshow.' Unusually, I think, they bridge the gulf between short story and novel."

A week ago, Ian Thomson reviewed the same book in the same newspaper. I'm not sure why the paper would want to do that, especially given the number of new books that appear each week demanding attention. Anyway, Thomson was quite taken with the book: "Winton likes to confront dark themes - a betrayal of friendship, an old love dangerously rekindled - yet the collection is so exquisitely written, so precise in its construction, that it is a joy to read." Hmmm, I'm guessing Thomson doesn't read much in the horror genre then.

Reviews of Australian Books #8

Following the success of her first novel, Year of Wonders, Geraldine Brooks has published March, which tells the story of the absent father from Louisa May Alcott's novel Little Women. Karen Joy Fowler reviews the novel in this week's "Washington Post" and concludes that "March is an altogether successful book, casting a spell that lasts much longer than the reading of it."

You can also read an excerpt from the novel. Kathy Weissman, at, enthused about the novel as well, but had a few misgivings: "MARCH is beautifully written, cleverly conceived, and dramatically plotted; my one complaint is that the central figure doesn't entirely come alive."

Reviews of Australian Books #7

Shane Maloney's Stiff is given short, but complimentary, treatment by Susanna Yager in her roundup of recent UK crime releases in this weeks' "Telegraph" - scroll down to the eighth book. Her major gripe being that the Murray Whelan books have been published out of sequence - shades of Henning Mankell. Conclusion: "Maloney's lively narrative and witty descriptions give an indication of the stronger books to come."

Twilight of Love: Travels with Turgenev by Robert Dessaix is reviewed in "The Guardian" in concert with To Travel Hopefully: Journal of a Death Not Foretold by Christopher Rush - the English half of the equation. Fortuitously both books feature writers following in the footsteps of two very different 19th-century authors: Dessaix with Turgenev and Rush with RL Stevenson. The reviewer, Larushka Ivan-Zadeh, enjoys both for different reasons but comes to the same final understanding: "The harder we search for someone else, the more likely we are to find ourselves."

Reviews of Australian Books #6

The two books by Australian writers that have been getting a lot of review time around the world so far this year have been: Wrong About Japan by Peter Carey, and Seven Types of Ambiguity by Elliot Perlman. You can understand Carey receiving this attention, he's a world-class writer who's won the Booker prize twice. Perlman, on the other hand, is just starting out, and this is only his third book, and second novel. I've covered the Carey here from time to time, though if you want a good smattering of the reviews all in one spot then I'd suggest checking out The Complete Review - they rated it a B, which seems about right to me.

Given that Seven Types of Ambiguity is an Australian novel it seems only fair that it should have been published here first, though it might come as a bit of shock to some people to consider how long ago it first appeared. Peter Craven led off the review rounds of the novel with a major piece published in the "Australian Book Review" (scroll down a fair way) of November 2003. Craven is not one to beat about the bush hinting at his opinions - he tends to come straight out and state what he thinks. And, on this occasion, he leaves you in no doubt right from the off by titling his review "A Blander Shade of Grey".

It was a bit ridiculous that a book of fiction [Perlman's previous novel Three Dollars] of rather manifestly modest literary ambitions should be published as the crême de la crême of literary fiction and then pretty much accepted as such. Perlman's new book confounds the pretension and makes it well and truly the author's own by purloining the title of one of the twentieth century's greatest works of literary criticism and adding insult to injury by calling the protagonist's dog Empson.
And after that Craven really lets rip, referring to the "monstrously bombastic writing" and calling it "an overblown example of popular writing." He's not a happy reviewer and leaves you in no doubt of where he stands.

"The New York Metro" considered that "Elliot Perlman's Seven Types of Ambiguity, which comes to us hailed as 'Australia's equivalent of Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections, is so bad, so incompetent, and so long, there must be broad historical currents involved." Hailed by the publishers methinks. Are reviewers believing publishers' blurbs now?

And continuing the negative reviews, "The Seattle Times" came to the conclusion that "Perlman's people are so damn miserable: self-involved, repressed, eady to blame anyone but themselves - or, the flip side, damaged saints in modern clothes." "The Washington Post" tends to be a little more balanced: "By its final chapter, Seven Types of Ambiguity seems to realize that it has indulged its metafictional fetish at the expense of its obligation to tie up loose ends. Resolution comes hurriedly -- perhaps a shade too hurriedly given our 600-page investment. At the same time, the reader can't help but be impressed. Elliot Perlman has many things working in his favor as a novelist: curiosity, erudition, daring and a gift for seducing readers into going along with him for the ride. He'll get you where you want to go, eventually, but you'll have to forgive him his scenic detours."

"The International Herald-Tribune" finds that "...the reader plunges into Seven Types of Ambiguity braced for cleverness, acuity and innovation. And Perlman fulfills some of these expectations. He also circles endlessly around the same ideas, events and characters until the repetition becomes more exhausting than illuminating."

To finish off on a higher note, "The Guardian" enthuses that "Perlman's novel is a colossal achievement, a complicated, driven, marathon of a book." And Kirkus Reviews sees "Constant love in the face of terrible odds - such is the old-fashioned but deeply satisfying theme in a thoroughly modern Australian import...Long enough to tell everything that needs to be told, but never ponderous and never overdone. George Eliot down under."

Reviews of Australian Books #5

Aileen Reid reviews John Baxter's latest We'll Always Have Paris: Sex and Love in the City of Light for "The Daily Telegraph". Baxter moved to Paris in 1989 to be with the woman who was later to become the mother of his child and his wife. The book details his first few years in the city as he tries to come to terms with Paris and Parisians.

Threaded through all this are entertaining insights into the perils of being an expat in Paris: the ton of turds deposited on the streets every day by disgusting little rat-dogs which are allowed to roam anywhere they want - restaurants, delicatessens, you name it; or the stream of visitors from down under. Baxter gets a desperate phone call from one couple: "There's a big church... Two towers?... Yair... That's Notre Dame... Oh. Marlene wants to know if there's a dunny in there. She's busting."
Her final evaluation: "All in all, We'll Always Have Paris is dirty, untidy, romantic and in equal parts charming and irritating...So, en effet, it is much like Paris itself."

Tom Payne achieves something quite strange with his piece on Twilight of Love: Travels with Turgenev by Robert Dessaix, also in "The Daily Telegraph": a review which offers no opinions whatsoever. Oh, okay, maybe just the one: "There are times when he writes of love and is cooking with gas. He suggests that Turgenev wanted a love that transcends time, that comes like a ray of light through a wall." I've read the review twice now and still don't know if, as a casual reader, I would want to read the book or not. Is this what reviews are coming to? I sure hope not.

Reviews of Australian Books #4

In "Philosophy Now", Scott O'Reilly reviews Peter Singer's review of George W. Bush's statements on ethics. He finds that in The President of Good and Evil "Singer is very much performing the role of a modern day Socrates, asking common sense questions, applying clear reasoning, and using his interlocutor's own words as the standard by which they are judged. And like Socrates, Singer makes for a rather formidable gadfly." As you might expect, if you've been following any of Singer's statements over the years, that he is not a bit fan of George W., going "so far as to to speculate that Bush was intoxicated, on drugs, or perhaps out of his mind." Regardless of whether or not Singer makes a cogent argument against Bush, and I believe that he does, you'll like this book if you hate Bush, and vice versa.

Robert Dessaix's latest, Twilight of Love: Travels with Turgenev is reviewed by Stephanie Merritt in the "Guardian". She finds that "His knowledge of Turgenev's work is encyclopedic and enthusiastic and his central investigation - what love could have meant to his idol - is thoughtfully treated." But she feels that Dessaix imposes himself on the narrative too much. Maybe it's just a matter of determining what the book is about: if its aim is to deal with Dessaix's journey to discover Turgenev then this seems quite reasonable; if it's to introduce Turgenev to the reader then it probably isn't. Julian Barnes got over this problem 20 years ago in Flaubert's Parrot by turning the quest for the French author into a novel: fiction allows for more literary options. Barnes gets a mention in Merritt's review as well in that a recent short story of his tackles similar ground to Dessaix's. Merritt is of the opinion that Barnes did it better.

Marcel Theroux reviews Wrong About Japan by Peter Carey in the "New York Times". (This review is accompanied by a photo of Carey and his son - neither of whom look like they're having a good time.) Theroux comes to the conclusion that, as a writer of non-fiction, Carey makes a good novelist. Which is certainly the impression I got from Carey's earlier book 30 Days in Sydney.

Michael Robotham is mistaken for a Brit in Patrick Anderson's review of his book Suspect, in "The Washington Post". Robotham lived in London for a number of years making his living as a "ghost writer" for celebrities but has recently returned to live in Sydney, so Anderson can be forgiven this assumption. A little bit anyway. He finds the book to be "gripping", "taut and fast-moving" which is decent praise for a thriller.

[My thanks to Sarah Weinman's weblog for the link.]

Australian Cook Books

Occasionally "The Age's" Epicure section contains some reviews of cooking and food books along with its recipes, restaurant, wine and beer reviews.

Liz Cinotta applauds Moroccan Modern by Hassan M'Souli with: "It was refreshing to find a cookbook that included a mix of the author's original creations as well as the traditional ones with which we might be more familiar." As to the details there's "an impressive chapter on vegetables and salads...Tagine recipes include Moroccan meatballs, sweet lamb, fish and the ubiquitous chicken with preserved lemon and olives." My wife and I are big fans of the Moroccan cooking style as we find it gives us a lot more variations on the standard lamb fare we are used to - and the kids will eat it as well. So this might just be the book for us.

Richard Cornish has some reservations about Spice: The History of a Temptation by Jack Turner. While providing a lot of historical and technical detail Cornish finds it lacks a focused narrative. Given its wide subject area (both in terms of geography and carpology) this is hardly surprising. This appears to be a good companion volume to Ian Hemphill's Spice
from 2000.

Reviews of Australian Books #3

"The New York Times" leads off a large review of Eliott Perlman's latest novel The Seven Types of Ambiguity by Daphne Merkin with:

It feels distinctly odd -- almost surreal -- in this fragmented, self-consciously wink-wink, nudge-nudge, deconstructed post-Derridean moment, to come upon an enormous and enormously time-consuming 19th-century novel, informed by up-to-the-minute issues like pederasty and rampant consumerism, that is prepared, in all its sweaty aspiring, to take on the world whole-cloth. It makes you wonder about the nature of literary ambition and the immense vulnerability of any writer who attempts not just to describe the cacophonous everyday universe we live in but to impose a pattern -- a semblance of meaning -- on it.
The review heaps a lot of praise on the book while at the same time stating that Perlman isn't quite "there" as yet. This might just be his breakthrough. Keep an eye out for the film version of his earlier book Three Dollars featuring David Wenham and Frances O'Connor, which has just completed filming here in Melbourne.

Justin Cronin reviews Michael Faber's new book The Courage Consort in "The Washington Post". This is a collection of three novellas which wouldn't have difficulty in a genre such as science fiction, where the novella has a long and distinguished tradition, but is the "misunderstood middle child of the literary world" according to Cronin. After his previous sprawling novel The Crimson Petal and the White maybe Faber just needed a bit of a break.

Peter Singer's book Pushing Time Away: My Grandfather and the Tragedy of Jewish Vienna is reviewed by Jeremy Adler in "The London Review of Books", but the full review doesn't appear on the website.

Reviews of Australian Books #2

Peter Conrad reviews Peter Carey's Wrong About Japan in the "Guardian", and isn't too impressed with it as he calls it a "disengaged feat of thumb-twiddling".

In Tasmania by Nicholas Shakespeare is reviewed by Penny Green in the "Guardian", who finds that "Tasmania is an enigmatic place and Shakespeare captures it with an appreciative eye".

Boyd Tonkin in "The Independent" says: "It's hard to think of a more fiercely imagined novel about a place in recent years than Michelle de Krester's The Hamilton Case".

Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts is getting a lot of attention around the world, and this week Carole Burns reviews the book in "The Washington Post". Her verdict: "Roberts's writing is never understated. He sounds sometimes like Raymond Chandler, with that noir mix of toughness, sentiment and bravado. This style threatens to tip over into the overwrought, and sometimes it does." But for a first-time novelist he doesn't seem to have done too badly.

DBC Pierre's Vernon God Little (which is rising up the to-be-finished pile) gets a somewhat belated review by "The Yale Review of Books". I mean the book came out almost two years ago and won one of the major book awards. Did it really need to take that long to find that the book is "like nothing more than watching the most simplistic of TV-movies: a stereotypical, sensational, and self-congratulatory caricature geared towards triggering the right snickers at the right times."

Reviews of Australian Books #1

Although it was published in early December and won't be up on the website for to much longer, I wanted to bring to your attention Anita Desai's review of The Hamilton Case (by Michelle de Krester) published in the 2 December 2004 issue of "The New York Review of Books". They don't review much Australian fiction so this is a pleasant surprise. De Krester's previous work was the well-received novel The Rose Grower.

The Etched City by K.J. Bishop, is reviewed in the "Washington Post Bookworld". An impressive achievement for a first sf novel by an Australian. The review says: "The Etched City is a philosophical novel and a surrealist tour-de-force filled with beautiful, sometimes harrowing imagery....K.J. Bishop is an important new voice in contemporary fantasy, and her potential seems virtually limitless. It will be interesting and instructive -- to see where she goes from here." The Library Journal described the book as: "Reminiscent of Stephen King's Dark Tower series and the works of China Mieville, Bishop's first novel combines the action-based atmosphere of a Western with the headiness of magical realism to forge a unique, visionary tale."

Anthony Thwaite reviews Wrong About Japan by Peter Carey, in the "Daily Telegraph".

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