May 2019

Practical Cataclysms: Sisters of No Mercy and Highway Bodies

'Speculative fictions like Sisters of No Mercy and Highway Bodies can help us to think in new ways about trans lives and families... They show that the infinitesimal choices of solidarity are ultimately life-saving: we can find meaning and security in the sharpened looks of our peers, in knowledge sharing and maneuvering and organising, and in self-belief.'

Sky News and Compost: David Malouf’s An Open Book

'In David Malouf’s latest two volumes of poetry, Earth Hour (2014) and An Open Book (2018) the dialogue between the world and the mind is an intimate and easeful – though mysterious – exchange, as clear and indefinite as the sky. The volumes are companions, in dialogue with each other and with people, culture and the natural world.'

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

April 2019

Orphans of Empire: Saudade by Suneeta Peres da Costa

Towards the end of the novella Saudade, as the now teenage protagonist Maria-Cristina, the daughter of Goan immigrants in Angola, sits facing the Mozambican family servant Caetano on the eve of Angolan independence, she realizes that they are both ‘orphans of Empire’. The author, Suneeta Peres da Costa, has given us an evocative language for understanding the liminality of these two characters. They are both orphans or soon-to-be orphans, and also abandoned as Portuguese colonial rule crumbles in the 1970s.

When The Manuals Fail Us:
Exploded View by Carrie Tiffany

the manual also represents a system of knowledge, an empirical way of looking at the world, or at least one small part of it, that is rational, logical, complete. It’s a diagram and a schemata, everything accounted for and with a purpose, function, and means of repair. And it’s a system of knowledge that falls down entirely when the narrator tries to transfer it to her wider world – because a family is not an engine, where ‘everything is straight. Everything is clean’, all the parts are ‘gilded, all snug up, side by side’. The parts don’t fit together perfectly, and they don’t add up to something that runs smoothly and well.

Robert Harris Redux

'Robert Harris is an Australian poet of the highest order. He is also a curmudgeon, a contrarian, a nature lover, a working-class Romantic, a navy recruit who detested nationalism, a lyrical memoirist, a historical dramatist and one of Australia’s finest religious poets.' 

Running Man: Coach Fitz by Tom Lee

Lee is by turns satirist and survivor of the New Victorianism. On a jog through Woollahra’s Trumper Park, Tom dreams conventional dreams of a house in the bush, a place for he and a loving partner to raise ‘a number of virile and sensitive children’ with landscape needs of their own. The middle-class dream is out of reach for now, but his religious devotion to physical fitness is the means by which he dreams it. He doesn’t just display the idea that ritual exercise on an organic diet is morally good, he believes it is spiritually good. Wellness, as we now call it—or sell it—is a condition devoutly to be wished, the hard-earned product of what Coach refers to as ‘lifestyle ambitions of a more enduring nature.’

Spooks and Plants:
on the crime fiction of Michael Wilding

'Back in the 1970s Wilding’s column for the alert, even radical, Nation Review was entitled ‘Paranoia’ and delved into possible modes of contemporary thought-control, even at times suggesting material was being ‘planted’ upon authors like himself. In the crime novels the detective Plant seems like his author’s own implantation, not just as the source of a reviewers’ joke, but a seed from which information might slowly burgeon before the reader’s eye.' 

March 2019

At The Limits of Liberalism: The Enigmatic Mr Deakin

Why then is Brett’s new biography important? It is important, because, written with conspicuous skill and economy, it is the leading continuation and affirmation of Deakin’s liberal-progressive life and work in our own troubled times of short parliaments and major geopolitical changes – the rise of China at a time of uncertainty about US leadership in the world today. It is important because, in those ways, it offers the most rational defence of Deakin’s nation against the changes he already saw the need to guard it against. But while the biography presents the face of liberal reason and a sharp, though still sympathetic psychological and political portrait, it generates a certain silence. Its greatest importance may indeed be that it takes us to the limits of its liberal comfort zone. For at that limit, it becomes possible to see how the biography’s minimal history represents the ongoing liberal denial of the geopolitical reality that was a mainspring of federation.

The New Natural Histories of Mushrooms

Fungi are integral to the functioning of ecosystems; we ignore them (and it seems that in our environmental legislation we do ignore them) at our peril. But this ignoring, sometimes bordering on outright hostility, is being slowly, partially corrected by a literature on fungi and a culture of fungal regard emerging (shiitake-style) from the woodwork (a woodwork they will perhaps go on to devour, if they’ve learnt anything from the wood-rotting fungi that Pouliot proudly claims have sunk more ships than all the naval battles since 1600).

Fascist Creeps

‘For once, the person that will be called a fascist is an actual fascist.’ In the manifesto disseminated before his murderous attack on Muslim worshippers in Christchurch, Brenton Tarrant proclaims openly the political tradition to which he belongs. But what, precisely, does it mean to be an ‘actual fascist’ in the second decade of the twenty-first century? We might tease out an answer through a selection of recent books, most of which take as their key reference point the US presidential election of 2016.

Second City

‘The Conundrum of the Instant’: on John Mateer

John Mateer, over a long career, has been a poet of distance and locale, working with a continental sense of poetics, traversing land and sea in an inquiry into the nature of an historically-framed instant.

Everything Is A Sham

What makes Moshfegh an uncommon writer is that beneath the scorn and the dark humour there lurks an authentic Swiftian disgust. Her work has a corporeal, rebarbative, scatological quality. She revels in the grubbiness of the human body, splashes the ordure around like a preschooler in a muddy puddle. Her characters smell bad. And this recurring note of fascinated distaste makes it hard to disentangle their misanthropy from their self-loathing.

Best in Show:
Australian Art Exhibitions: Opening our eyes

'The considerable achievement of this book has been to chart the various curatorial paths and strategies adopted by people working both inside and outside the official art establishment and the discussion of the fascinating intersections between these various paths.'