December 2016

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Felix Calvino’s Lost Galicia

'Galicia is made strange through the English language; Australia is made strange by non-native English and a Galician worldview. In this collection, the teeming social world of the village takes over, threatening to spill beyond the boundaries of the short form. This collection firmly establishes Calvino as an English prose stylist. The influence of Anglophone modernist minimalism is apparent and appropriate. Through absence and implication, the stories register feelings of loss the characters themselves often lack the language to articulate. If, as Rosalía de Castro wrote, to sing of Galicia in the Galician language offers ‘consolation against evil, relief from pain,’ to write of it in English implies something else entirely.'

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The SRB is an initiative of The Writing and Society Research Centre at Western Sydney University

November 2016

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Believing in Fairies

'I know this probably makes me a bad reviewer but I am pretty agnostic about the question of literary value. I carry the inherent suspicion of canonicity of my generation of scholars and feminists (and the generation that went just before me). The question of what makes a book important, or even very good, is difficult for me. But to review a novel is to wade into the waters of literary value and try to snag something on your stick. I tend to snag things I have inherited from modernism and its impact on my education as a literary studies scholar: the complexity of the ideas that the book is grappling with, or its awareness of other books, or its ability to do something new. But there are others things to snag, that have tended to be coded feminine: the pleasure of plot, the engagement of complex identification, recognition, thrill (the kinds of things Rita Felski writes so beautifully about in The Uses of Literature).'

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History Is A Many-Sided Thing

'Three new Australian titles from debut novelists prompt just such a consideration of the connection between monumental and historical time, and its relationship to femininity. All three novels bestow a value and significance on women’s experience across two centuries: from the early penal settlement of Van Diemen’s Land in Jennifer Livett’s Wild Island to the ferocious and tragic friendship of two girls at the foot of a lighthouse in Kate Mildenhall’s Skylarking, and a pianist’s entrapment within an Oxford terrace from the 1950s to the present day in Zoë Morrison’s Music and Freedom. These novels all consider the domestic, with a weightiness given to private scenes and the interior – and alongside this, a feeling of movement, of an unsettled and unmoored female independence. Far away from the colonial centre, a certain wildness and abandon comes to the fore. '

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One Tank Of Gas

'There’s the power of glam and androgyny to Forster’s generation, and with it the influence it had on punk and post-punk. There’s the sensuality of experience that lies at the heart of many of Forster’s tales in the book. There’s the setting of the 1970s as a formative period, where music is glimpsed fleetingly on the radio and the ghosts of pre-war life in Brisbane are hovering. And perhaps most tellingly there’s the drama of Forster’s persona, developed over decades of song- and prose writing.'

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Idiot Box

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Photo: Anwen Crawford

Precinct

The Suspended Image

'I stood with my face almost touching a wall of glass, a sheer window looking out into an immense depth, a profound, almost unfathomable dark green chasm girded by sandstone precipices and a halo of mist and cloud. It had been raining all afternoon. In the diminishing light the distant wet cliffs looked dark orange, blood red, gold. A motionless wing of pure white cloud floated over the valley floor like an apparition on a billow of air.'

Joanna Logue, 'Towards the gloaming' 2012 acrylic on paper 72 x 200cm. Image courtesy of the artist.
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Deep Listening

'Two projects of collective authorship, these books interrupt the singular authority that has imposed the Intervention onto Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory and mandatory immigration detention onto asylum seekers who arrive in Australia by boat.'

Image by flickr user Tatters.

North and South

Image courtesy of the Newcastle & Hunter District Historical Society Collection, University of Newcastle (Australia).

October 2016

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Position Doubtful by Kim Mahood

Crossing The Line

'To cross a line can be to start something – a race or a journey – or to breach a boundary. It can also mark a disruption or a transgression. In her new memoir, Position Doubtful, Kim Mahood crosses many lines. She broaches topics that are fraught with ethical, social and intellectual complexities, and while she does so with a confidence earned through experience, she does not relinquish her uncertainties. She questions herself, her right to be doing what she does, her reactions to people and to her situation as a white artist working with Aboriginal people.'

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After the Carnage by Tara June Winch Cover

The Bleeding Edge: new short fiction

The short story is sometimes viewed as an apprentice form, yet the heterogeneity of the stories collected in these volumes attests to its adaptability in structure, style, voice and genre – and to the particular freedoms it offers as a site for experimentation.

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The Writers We Deserve

I suspect that, like me, most readers are inclined to approach any new work of fiction that explores the writing life with a kind of wariness verging on dread, but two recent Australian books prove that metafiction can still be stimulating, and that the Künstlerroman is not yet an exhausted literary form.

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Bob Dylan goes to Stockholm

I would argue that the decision of the Nobel judges is not only courageous; it is also a welcome recognition of the fact that the concept of ‘literature’ is enriched by being understood in a broad and pluralistic way. And on this point, Dylan is a particularly astute choice. The judges’ one-line press release acknowledges that the significance of his work lies in the fact that it is larger than itself, that it acquires its full meaning in the context of the American songwriting tradition. He is, I think, a deserving winner of the Nobel Prize not simply because of the uncommon linguistic facility that his work displays, but because he occupies a unique position in relation to that tradition.

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Image: Kathy Drasky/Flickr
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Such Loneliness in that Gold:
María Kodama on Life After Borges

‘You’re meeting the FIFA of Argentine literature,’ one young Buenos Aires poet said: ‘Watch out she doesn’t sue you.’ María Kodama gave me the best part of three hours of her time, describing her life with Jorge Luis Borges and discussing his work. Her generosity and warmth were at odds with everything I’d ever read or heard about her.

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The School Days of Jesus J. M. Coetzee

Novelist of the Sorrowful Countenance

There are critics who have suggested that J. M. Coetzee’s writing lost its edge when he emigrated from South Africa to Australia.

We are here and we are significant

Long before those postcards of Bondi Beach and Sydney Harbour co-opted our image of Sydney, Parramatta was its watery centre.

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Bad Writer

The universality of bad writing

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