August 2019

The War on Life:
Animalia

‘Despite the fact that we, along with the horse, the wood swallow, the bulbine lily or the most invasive of weeds, cannot be excised from a broader universal network of being, there is still no possible escape from our stories being precisely that, our particular stories, endemic, to us. It is through the inexorably networked mechanisms of a French farm, a pig farm in the Tarn et Garonne of central-southern France, to be more precise, that novelist Jean-Baptiste Del Amo attempts to dramatise these distinctions within the context of ‘animalia’, the over arching super-category of inspirited materiality, and survivalism, that unites all animals.’

Urban Ecopoetry:
Michael Aiken

‘Michael Aiken is a unique voice in contemporary Australian poetry, and in our time of ecological crisis he makes significant contributions to the crucial task of reimagining and interrogating the connections between the human and the natural, the urban and the pastoral, human society and the earth’s diverse, dynamic, and fragile ecologies.’

The Chosen Ones

Ambition in twenty-first-century politics has none of the depths of field it acquired in the writings of Shakespeare or Webster. There’s something utterly banal about it, and about those who manage to fight their way to the top of the heap. In the words of one cabinet colleague, Morrison is ‘the sort of guy you would get to do your books, not make Prime Minister.

Imperfect by Lee Kofman

A Wound of One’s Own:
Imperfect by Lee Kofman

'The most affecting aspect of Imperfect is the very opposite of Kofman’s stated intent, that is, her writing about scars can’t help but invoke the sense of woundedness, actual or metaphoric that all women carry. Kofman refuses to conform to the straightforward narrative of a journey to self-acceptance, the ‘Ultimate Healing Act’ and instead acknowledges the complicated quality of her relationship to her body, its inability to be resolved.' 

Breaking Through the Lines:
Crow College by Emma Lew

After you read and re-read awhile, you adjust your first impression about the volatility of Lew-world. You comprehend that she builds most of her poems around verbal devices that serve as vacuum pumps rather than gelignite lumps. There are no fireworks. Instead, a lot of things suck.

The Story Place

‘One essential insight is that the art always means something different to those who made it from what it means to those who buy it; and is understood differently again by those who curate, exhibit, collect, and write about it. Perhaps this is the case with all art, but an added complication with the art of the Western Desert is that there is a secret/sacred dimension to the imagery which may not be disclosed to those without rights to it.’

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

July 2019

No Bouquets, No Touching Up:
Myself When Young

Some memoirs are written in tranquil mood and quiet spaces. Not this one. When Henry Handel Richardson sat down at her desk in September 1942 to contemplate her younger self, the sound of German bombing raids made writing almost impossible. Yet she found the task a welcome escape from the turbulent present. A novel in progress and a short story were put aside. Myself When Young was her last book. Although she did not live to complete it, her memoir opens a door to her past that she had kept firmly closed during her life as a writer.

Bleached Atmospheres of Dread

It is Hill’s capacity to keep broad political structures and the minutiae of personal experience and emotion in her sights at all times that makes this such a unique and powerful contribution to a field of literature which, to our shame, is still only just emerging.

A Fairy’s Tale:
Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl

Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl tells a series of stories that we already know, but it achieves its familiar ends through decidedly unfamiliar means. Andrea Lawlor’s first novel presents us with the queer young adulthood of Paul, who possesses a seemingly magical skill: the ability to change form, to will his body into whatever shape he would like it to take.

Blood Calls to Blood

Faced with the instability of the people closest to her, Laveau-Harvie finds comfort in the mountainous landscape: the predictable changing of the seasons, the beauty of the ‘opalescent’ peaks and even the inhospitable nature of the jagged rocks. Laveau-Harvie calls the Rockies ‘practically a character in the book’. The other prominent ‘erratic’, then, is the Okotoks Erratic, a huge boulder deposited by glacial flow thousands of years ago which cracked and ‘fell in on itself’, and which ‘dominates the landscape’ near her parents’ ranch house. The story is bookended by the geographical and spiritual origins of this fissured rock. It offers hope for stability after a rupture, but is also a reminder of the family’s relative insignificance against the natural history of their home region.

The Revolution Will Not Be Automated

For the social psychologist Shoshana Zuboff, the meteoric rise of the tech industry brings with it worrying developments that should worry us – the general public – a lot more than they do, and the fact that most people are blasé about them is itself a matter of concern. The purpose of her book Surveillance Capitalism is to awaken the reader to a sense of ‘astonishment and outrage’ at Big Tech’s power grab and its effects on society.

The Drug of Otherness: The Returns by Philip Salom

The Returns portrays the acts of creating and engaging with art and literature as distinct modes of understanding. They are presented as processes that are analogous to, and perhaps even synonymous with, the paradox of selfhood, which decrees that we must live in a state of felt incompletion, constantly plunging into an uncertain future, striving towards some form of renewal or escape, but without ever really escaping ourselves, doomed as we are to drag around increasingly cumbersome sacks of old grievances and regrets.

Reading apparently

‘The pregunta’s cube sits in my imagination. It has begun to take on a meaning, a meaning that says, remember what you’re reading here Ali, it’s a poem by Joanne Burns, it can’t be translated, unlocked, puzzled out. It’s not for solving. It’s for reading.’

Cross-Stitch:
Sam George-Allen and Bri Lee

Both George-Allen and Lee are describing their experiences of realisation, of revelation, of feminist wonderment: that the way our culture has been built relies on the systemic mistrust of women.

Desk Work:
A Novel Idea by Fiona McGregor

The work of a novelist is hard, menial and often dull work. Despite this, the work of a novelist at least cuts against the dominant temporalities of work. Through a queer commitment to craft, and by showing us this process in A Novel Idea, McGregor gets us to think harder about what drudgery means, not only for her and her work, or even artists and cultural workers more generally, but for any life and any work.

Strange Things: New Australian Short Fiction

‘Honestly, what kind of topsy-turvy world are we living in?’ queries the narrator of one of the short stories in David Cohen’s The Hunter: And Other Stories of Men. The same thought occurred to me when reading a number of recent short story collections, where the banal gives way to the foreign, the ordinary becomes peculiar.

Living Things:
City of Trees by Sophie Cunningham

With an incremental power, this collection of essays invites us to be present absolutely to ourselves, our environments, our histories and our world. City of Trees is a deeply ethical and thoughtful call to consciousness, a call to see and feel being in and of the natural world.

June 2019

New staff at the SRB

We're absolutely thrilled to share the news of two new staff appointments at the Sydney Review of Books. From 1 July Andrew Brooks and Alice Desmond will start working with our team at the Writing and Society Research Centre at Western Sydney University.

The Banality of Empire

'Overall, The British in India reads not so much as a successful call for more rigorous public engagement with the nuances of empire’s history as it does a retreat back into the arrogant position of a scholar who has never felt it particularly necessary to justify his interest in the everyday lives and literature of white people (racist or not), to the exclusion of all else. His admonishment for postcolonial scholars to spend “more time in the archives” raises the question of which archives he sees as valuable, given the scarcity of Indian voices in his social history.' 

Arresting Images: World War Noir and The Afterlife of Evidence

'The cover image of World War Noir depicts a male corpse, dramatically contorted, at the bottom of a lift well with an empty liquor bottle by his side. It’s an arresting image, but coming as it does from the late 1930s, documenting a death that could have occurred years earlier or later for any number of reasons, it seems to have been chosen more than anything to get the attention of book buyers. Katherine Biber’s In Crime’s Archive examines such photographic material from a far closer and very different perspective.' 

Going Under:
Robert Macfarlane’s Underland

Underland appears at a moment when the impacts of global warming are making themselves evident in tangible, unnerving, and demonstrable ways. For years, writers, humanities academics, artists and activists considered that the supposed remoteness of climate change was one of the greatest stumbling blocks in terms of conveying and apprehending its urgency... Now though, in an eerily poetic, vital and compelling passage early in the book, Macfarlane is able to create a list of great disturbances and ‘surfacings’.

Exhortations to the Resistance

If we take institutional arrangements for granted, do we notice when they cease to work? Here I mean arrangement such as regular elections, democratic legislatures, independent law courts and a free press, which together form the bedrock of democratic politics. All can continue to function as they ought, while failing to deliver what they should. A hollowed-out version of democracy risks lulling us into a false sense of security about its institutions. Democracy could fail while remaining intact.

Sugarcoated: Gingerbread by Helen Oyeyemi

Oyeyemi runs her own race as a writer, making a place for herself without apparent regard to convention or literary fashion. But this is not to say she’s not paying attention. The affection for tangents, parentheses and filigrees is a position, a running-around-waving type of stand taken against the austere and reserved in traditional (white) British writing. Her writing disorients, yes, but it does so in order to upend our assumptions about story and hierarchy.