‘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.’
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.
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.