June 2016

On Happiness: New Ideas for the Twenty-First Century

Not Suffering, Not Melancholy

Happiness, perhaps more than any other experience, is defined in the negative.

James Bradley: Fitting the Pieces Together

‘All books are a combination of R&D and crowd pleasing.’

Ariel by Sylvia Plath

A Note from the Editor

A new website, funding success, and a bevy of emerging critics.

May 2016

The Notebook Trilogy by Ágota Kristóf Cover

Cruelty and Resilience

After learning spoken and then written French, Kristóf began writing poems, then plays for the radio and theater, before arriving, at last, at the novel. Kristóf’s trilogy, The Notebook, The Proof, and The Third Lie —published this month for the first time in Australia and New Zealand by Text—is her masterpiece.

Julian Barnes The Noise of Time Cover

One Hand Behind His Back

'It doesn’t take long to realise that in The Noise of Time we’re not only in Russia, the fabled disnatured Russia of the Soviet and Stalinist dispensation, but in some gulag of the mind, some imprisoning sterility of the spirit. It takes a little longer — but the presentiment grows like recurrent music — and then there is the distinct realisation that we are reading a particular kind of fiction, a novel in which the writer has one hand tied behind his back.'

The Hotel Years by Joseph Roth

Writing About Elsewhere

‘Now that Joseph Roth has been thoroughly absorbed into English, it seems right to ask whether there is a more joyously unbridled – and a more appealing – writer of narrative fiction in the literary tradition.’ Luke Slattery on a new translation of Joseph Roth’s non-fiction.

Consider This: Helen Garner’s Cosmo Cosmolino

‘Helen Garner is known for her shape-shifting – or rather for her genre-shifting. She moves between fiction and non-fiction, making choices about genre in a way that might seem arbitrary to some readers, but to the close reader is most certainly not. Always up for debate is the notion that while a fine fiction writer, Garner does not write novels. This essay is an attempt to engage with this argument, using Garner’s 1992 novel Cosmo Cosmolino as its focus.’

Cosmo Cosmolino
Jack Cox Dodge Rose Cover

Untimely Modernism

How could it make sense to call a novel published in 2016 by a young Australian writer modernist?

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April 2016

The Mastery of π.o.

What is this obsession with facts, so insistent in Fitzroy: The Biography, that their enumeration appears to be fundamental to the composition of the book? One obvious explanation would be that the foregrounding of fact dramatises the encounter with history, which after all presents itself primarily in the form of documents and testimonies. But this can’t be a full answer, first because while the outlines of the featured characters are drawn from historical sources, the facts that embellish them generally are not; and second because Π.O.’s interest in the poetic use of facts and statistics goes back decades, well before the writing of Fitzroy: The Biography.

Gallipoli Reckoning

On Anzac Day, Australian culture anticipates what it confirms: the sending of long-range military expeditions to encourage and support wars in which British or American forces are engaged. Just as there is no serious parliamentary debate over decisions to go to war in the political culture, no interest in ‘war powers’ reform, which might minimise that power in the executive as there has been in Britain, there is little if any questioning of these issues in Australian literary culture either. As Chris Roberts elegantly concludes, Bean’s romance of Anzac excuses our Gallipoli failure by turning ‘failure into heroic achievement’ – or, we could say, by functioning to institutionalise ignorance of our imperial history in a romance that hides behind the false and misleading glory that the nation was born at Gallipoli.

The Grand Deception cover featured

Churchill’s Silver Bullet

‘We all have an idea that the Dardanelles and Gallipoli campaigns did not turn out well. Dealing with that failure has after all helped to shape the Australian identity. It has given us the Anzac tradition, which rests on a story of heroism in defeat. In his new book on Churchill and the Dardanelles campaign, Tom Curran gives us a penetrating new account of the inception and failure of those campaigns, and so takes us into areas Australian historians have tended to overlook.’

Better Living Through Criticism: How to Think About Art, Pleasure, Beauty and Truth by A. O. Scott

Expert Textpert

‘Anyone who has spent some time in a library hanging around in the vicinity of the low 800s will know that, for all their variety and intricacy, methodological arguments about the interpretation of literature invariably organise themselves around a small number of seemingly unavoidable conflicts, which are constantly being reinvented and given different weight by different schools of thought.’ James Ley on new books on criticism by Rita Felski, A.O. Scott. And Damon Young

Vertigo by Joanna Walsh

Paradoxes, Postcards and Porn

‘In the scattered and incoherent set of margin notes that constitutes a critic’s initial response to a text, a certain word can appear often enough to force a method of interpretation. The first ‘paradox’ I scribbled on Joanna Walsh’s short story collection Vertigo appeared on its second page. A second note – this time modified to ‘paradox (again)’ – appeared soon after, in the margins of the second story. Numerous others followed. By the time I’d moved on to the second of three books published by Walsh in 2015, Hotel, I was merely gathering evidence in a case already decided.’