March 2017

Extinctions by Josephine Wilson book cover

Monster or Mohican

'John Mohegan’s tragedy is that all of his family and his tribe have died. The tragedy of Frankenstein’s monster is that he never had either to begin with. These two tropes of Romantic agony lie at the heart of Josephine Wilson’s Extinctions, a novel about Australia’s Stolen Generation, but also about migration, gender, and the deep traumas of family life.'

Aboriginal Art and Australian Society Hope and Disenchantment by Laura Fisher book cover

Sheer Pleasure

'This is not a study of Aboriginal art but of the way that Aboriginal art has been written and spoken about, mostly in Australia, since the 1970s. Fisher’s object is not only ‘art criticism’, as that phrase is usually understood, but also policy discourse in which Aboriginal art is understood to be a means to an end.'

The Populist Explosion by John B. Judis Book Cover

Bad Hombres

'Why did people vote for Trump? That is the question we should be asking ourselves, and it’s one that’s given extra urgency by the fact that his ascendency is not an isolated case, but the most spectacular instance of a more general phenomenon. In Europe, a veritable basket of deplorables is now angling for the votes of the disaffected. If liberals and leftwingers are serious about wresting momentum from them, they will have to understand their appeal.'

Thermometer sculpture
Showpony Sheriff - Man on horse-back beside tree with ocean waves crashing on rocks in the background
CSIRO Image Burning as Land Management

February 2017

Macintosh Classic 2. Photo by Danamania https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:Danamania

Writing on the Precipice

'For writers and artists these challenges are particularly acute. Not only must we confront the inhuman scale of the transformation that is taking place around us, its temporal, physical and moral enormity, we must find ways of making sense of its complexity and interconnectedness. '

Quelccaya Glacier located in southern Peru in the Cordillera Vilcanota.
The Vanquished Why the First World War Failed to End, 1917-1923 by Robert Gerwarth Book Cover

The Long First World War

'The recent victory of nationalist parties in Hungary and Poland, with their anti-immigrant rhetoric, has emboldened the likeminded in their western neighbours; they eagerly await coming elections while entreating Australia’s hardline refugee policy. They have already set the agenda with Brexit and in the United States, where rightwing populism prevails. Liberal and leftist pundits are plundering European history for analogies to understand these developments, invoking the German template in particular. Is Trump a fascist, indeed a Nazi? Or, if not, at least some (or many) of his supporters? Reading The Vanquished suggests that excessive attention is paid to Hitler and the 1930s, the politics of which were over-determined by the Great Depression. To understand the fragility of parliamentary regimes and the authoritarian appeal, we need to return to the origin of the interwar conflicts in the years covered by this book.'

The Invention of Nature by Andrea Wulf book cover

Wild Things

'It doesn't matter that Wulf's The Invention of Nature is a bit breathless in keeping up with its dazzling hero, and a bit coy about his relationships, because above all the book is intelligent, an optimistic history, well researched, well written, and an ecological cri de coeur.'

Crimes of the father by Tom Keneally Cover

Children of the Church

'A continued exploration of how mortal weakness, religious ideals and institutional tyrannies are enmeshed has constituted the core of Tom Keneally's art over a long career.'

Desert Writing Stories from country Edited by Terri-ann White book cover

Centre of the Story

'Desert Writing brings to readers stories of desert communities and the individuals who form part of them that are not often featured in literature or media. Train lines have been built, and airports made but the places aren’t any closer; these are remote places – far away from Australia’s heavily populated coastal cities, far from major centres; and far from the imagination of the mainstream population. This distance is what makes these places so interesting, their pasts and futures significant.'

December 2016

Four book covers in a row
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead cover

Injuries and Usurpations

'There is no subject that exposes the tensions, hypocrisies and flat-out contradictions of the United States’ defining myths – manifest destiny, individual liberty, self-reliance, exceptionalism – as starkly as that of race. It is hardly surprising that some of the most trenchant critiques of the nation’s problematic relationship with its own ideals should be found in the work of African-American writers. Colson Whitehead’s The Underground Railroad and Paul Beatty’s satire The Sellout are unalike in almost every respect, but on this point they share a consciousness, if not exactly an attitude. They have a common set of underlying preoccupations, which follow from the obvious historical fact that the institution of slavery made a mockery of the nation’s declared allegiance to the ideals of freedom and equality. What both novelists address, in their very different ways, is the problem of a nation divided against itself, not simply in a material and tribal sense, but on the fundamental level of its founding ideology. Both recognise that its history of conquest, exploitation and systemic inequality generates a profound cognitive dissonance.'

Fight Like a Girl by Clementine Ford Cover

First Person Feminism

Feminist books pitched to a broad audience, whatever their contents, inevitably face the same criticism: okay, what are the solutions then? This charge could be levelled at Ford’s book, in which apart from the injunction to ‘fight like a girl’, hearty encouragement to masturbate as often as you desire and to find a good girl gang, does not offer much in way of a roadmap forward. Certainly, it would have been illuminating to read about feminist campaigns that need more attention and support and to introduce readers to some impressive feminist thinkers who deserve a wider audience. Yet this criticism also strikes me as a little beside the point. The authors of feminist blockbusters have always been better at diagnosis than they have at cure and such books are still necessary, including to help prompt the ‘light-bulb’ of recognition that moves feminist identification along.

On The Cartographer’s Curse

'Each participant brought a certain cultural heft to this collective, creative, and collaborative writing process.'

Zainab Kadhim the poet
Lancelot Brown and the Capability Men cover
Do not say we have nothing by Madeleine Thien book cover
So Much Smoke by Felix Calvino cover

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.'