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With The Woman Upstairs, her fifth book, Messud narrows her range, concentrating on a devastated woman recounting a critical event in her life. Nora is an elementary school teacher living in Cambridge, Massachusetts, who experiences a ‘Lucy Jordan moment’ when she realises at the age of 37 that her life, like that of the ballad’s heroine, looks small and any hope for change is not for her.
It seems to me that Lucashenko writes both with and against the perception that authentic Aboriginality is derived from the maintenance of land-based cultural practices and spiritual beliefs.
One of the strange contradictions of fiction is that immense beauty can often be found in writing about grief and loss. The things we often choose to look away from or avoid in everyday life can, in the hands of a novelist like Ashley Hay, become rich terrain.
When Fallada handed the final draft of Little Man, What Now? to Rowohlt in early 1932 there were eight and half million people unemployed in Germany. By 1933, a staggering 40 per cent of the population was registered as out of work.
The novella konkretion contains the promise of a novel, a dramatic monologue, poem(s) and the ghosts of several lives. It is a matryoshka doll of refracting voices with Meinhof’s story nestled at its core.
There is an irony here. In the attempt to render the writer omnipresent yet invisible every character becomes a version of the writer. But then Belomor is not a piece of naturalistic prose. It is a highly crafted artifice that signals its structural underpinnings and its philosophical preoccupations from the beginning.
Now, we have a new novel with the bizarre title (for Coetzee anyway) of The Childhood of Jesus. It comes with a cover of a young child in sunglasses and dress-up cloak and is like nothing on earth, and not much else in the history of literature.
During my formative years, when I was still a baffled undergraduate, this was a magical name amongst the friends I counted as readers, and even to older acquaintances a generation removed from our contemporary gods but not so dismissive of the notion of greatness as to not bend at the knee to the prowess of a novelist in the highest flight.
Murray Bail’s two most recent novels, The Pages and The Voyage, have a repentant air about them, an acknowledgement of limitation and failure, which is all the more striking when set against the encyclopedic ambition characteristic of his earlier novels.
Among my collection of Alice Munro’s books, the two most prized are the ones that she autographed for me on a visit to Adelaide in March 1979. One was my copy of her first book of stories, Dance of the Happy Shades (1968). The other was the Women’s Press reprint of Lives of Girls and Women (1971), which my students and I were reading as part of a class on women’s writing.
Estrangement and the quest to overcome it are at the novel’s core. It is about communion and connection, about the longing for others and to know others – family, lovers, the divine – and the hard work of living and of making the present while toiling over the stuff of the past.
Belinda Castles’ Hannah and Emil is prefaced by the story of Flora, a newly-pregnant Sydneysider. Flora receives a parcel containing a bequest in the form of her grandmother Hannah’s battered suitcase. It is filled with objects and a ‘mess of loose, crumpled papers, photographs’…
In Street to Street, Brian Castro resurrects Christopher Brennan in all his defensive, creative brilliance and personal and professional failure.
The critical response to Kevin Powers’ The Yellow Birds and Ben Fountain’s Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk – both of which deal with the Iraq war – has been notable for its constant and desperate refrain that a ‘great novel’ should emerge from this conflict.
In a recent interview, de Kretser said, ‘I like three-dimensional novels that are like walking down a corridor and you find a niche in the wall or a door might be open and you can go into a room or peer in, and sometimes the door is closed but you know there is a space in there.’ Reading her work is an experience just like that.
Hobbyist doggerel and Booty Calls: Ben Etherington on Quadrant, government subsidies, and the Books of the Year. Plus a response from Jennifer Maiden.