October 2018

Crudo by Olivia Laing

Some Devoted Act of Seeing:
Crudo by Olivia Laing

In Crudo, Laing’s most recent book and her debut novel, the ground has shifted again. She is still an outsider – this is, for Laing, the natural position for an artist – but her point of view – an auto-fictional eye, principally narrated in the third person, who borrows from the life and work of Kathy Acker – is directed towards the inner life and the picture theatre of the mind.

The Overstory by Richard Powers

Our Root Problem: The Overstory by Richard Powers

‘Words before words’: in opposition to several hundred years of humanist ideology, Powers’ twelfth novel insists, from its very first page, on meaning as something other than, and more than, the projection of culture upon nature’s blank screen. Trees, we will later be told, are ‘making significance, making meaning, as easily as they make sugar and wood from nothing, from air, and sun, and rain’. Indeed, Powers strives throughout to suggest how the would-be-autonomous sphere of human meaning depends upon those deeper orders that it has, in the modern era, gone to such pains to dismiss.

Intertwining

Jill Jones. Photo by Annette Willis
Heaven, in a way, by Rodney Hall

Little Heart

Warlight by Michael Ondaatje

A Family of Disguises

'This preoccupation with the secret histories woven through the pages of official histories is signalled by the novel’s unattributed epigraph, ‘most of the great battles are fought in the creases of topographical maps’. It’s an extension of Ondaatje’s larger preoccupation with the question of how we understand and imagine ourselves into being, or more specifically, the ways in which that process is always provisional, subject to change and able to be shed, sometimes more than once. As Olive Lawrence tells Nathaniel and Rachel, ‘your own story is just one, and perhaps not the important one. The self is not the principal thing’.'

Fieldwork

What are we doing here? by Marilynne Robinson

Attack of the Numinous

Robinson may be the moderate face of American religiosity, but she takes some pretty wild swings. The more you read her essays, the more it becomes apparent that she is positing a few simplicities of her own. Whatever manifestation of modern thought she happens to be criticising, her argument is basically the same: she proposes, in essence, that such thinking is too narrow, that it ignores or denies aspects of lived experience, and that its understanding of human nature must therefore be considered inadequate. She returns again and again to the core claim that modern thought is, as she puts it in Absence of Mind (2012), a ‘closed circle’ — by which she means, quite specifically, that its assumptions do not and indeed cannot account for her personal experience of religious belief, her intuition that the universe is a place of wonder and abundant meaning.

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

September 2018

Saint Antony in his Desert by Anthony Uhlmann

Desert Time

'Anthony Uhlmann has long been interested in the philosophical function of literature – not only its capacity to contain philosophical discussion, but the formal unfolding of the literary work itself as a philosophical act. St Antony in His Desert, Uhlmann’s first foray into fiction, is an unapologetically cerebral book, incorporating a key debate in the early twentieth-century clash between philosophy and physics.'

Wade in the Water by Tracy K. Smith

Silhouettes

Smith’s biggest achievement in Wade in the Water is her effort to stay true to all the different music she heard through writing the book and to reflect that in the sound of this book. The book is a gathering, and a chorus.

No Friend but the Mountains by Behrouz Boochani

A Place of Punishment: No Friend But the Mountains by Behrouz Boochani

'pro-refugee sentiment within Australia has tended to find institutional expression in particular pockets of liberal sentiment – one of which has been the infrastructure of Australian literature. That’s the context for Boochani’s book, a text that emerges from a scaffolding of literary activism that it itself helped facilitate.'

Whispering in the Wind by Alan Marshall

Great Galloping Bush Whiskers

'Like any self-respecting once-upon-a-time story, this one takes place in a world that is both strange and familiar, where the commonplace becomes magical and the most remarkable things are normal. Our hero, Peter, is a young boy who dwells in a snug little bark hut deep in the bush with Crooked Mick, an old bushman and the greatest buckjump rider in all the world.'

Dyschronia by Jennifer Mills

The End of the World As We Know It

'From Armageddon to Ragnarok and the Rapture, humans persist in imagining the end of the world. The religious term is eschatology, and the literary terms are many. Some are jocular (Disaster Porn), or precisely denote a sub-genre (Post-Apocalypse, Solarpunk). Climate change or Anthropocene fiction is the latest variant on the theme, and if we believe our scientists — and woe betide us if we do not — these may be the final words.'

Iain Sinclair’s Archive

'Now, in The Last London: True Fictions from an Unreal City, Sinclair declares himself done with London as subject. These will be his last dispatches on and from the city which has made his name. The Last London is bracketed at beginning and end with the words of Great Fire of 1666 diarist John Evelyn: ‘London was, but is no more.’ In making this analogy with the disaster that razed seventeenth-century London, Sinclair affirms that twenty-first century London, too, has been destroyed. This time by a crew of gentrifiers, property developers, politicians, hyper-affluent transplants, and the creative classes. '

The Death of Noah Glass by Gail Jones

Figures in Geometry: The Death of Noah Glass by Gail Jones

'What we have entered here is a mise-en-abyme of ekphrasis: the text and images of one book, and the description of a painting in a notebook, all contained within another book, call up a cascade of images for the reader of this novel about art.'

The Day the Sun Died by Yan Lianke

Waking Up: Yan Lianke’s The Day The Sun Died

'Although the year in which the novel is set is not specified, it is tempting to view the work’s thematization of dreams in the context of the popular political slogan, ‘the Chinese Dream,’ which Chinese President Xi Jinping first proposed in late 2012, declaring that ‘everybody has their own ideal, pursuit, and dream. Today everybody is talking about the Chinese Dream. I believe the greatest dream of the Chinese nation in modern history is the great renewal of the Chinese nation.’ In The Day the Sun Died, Yan Lianke focuses on what may be seen as the nightmarish underbelly of this emphasis on progress. In his novel, dreams are not equated with an optimistic faith in future development, but rather symbolize the way the individual and collective past continues to haunt the present.'

A Book Is A Good Place To Think

It has at times been distressing to witness the media coverage of Kate and Rozanna Lilley’s story, as the intelligence, courage and nuance of their own accounts are temporarily obscured by blunt angles and agendas, by media interest driven in part by celebrity and the tropes of news, in part by various investments held in culture wars positions. But Kate Lilley writes poetry, and poetry offers a space for subjectivity that is not bound to the implied causality of narrative. Poetry can disrupt, evade, and effloresce.

August 2018

Wedged Between the Old and the New

In the career of a poet, the third and fourth books are usually where a certain maturity of voice and style is reached, and a staking out of key thematic ground is achieved. Chong’s formal mastery, her stanzaic control, the deft handling of lyric form, and the use of understated narrative, qualities evolved from the first two collections, are more fully honed in Painting Red Orchids and Rainforest. In a time when younger poets favour ellipsis and discontinuity, when there prevails a distrust of autobiography and narrative in poetry, Chong has, over a quartet of books, crafted a fragmented narrative of migration and settlement, and made of the lyric form a vehicle for the quest for home and belonging.

The Drover's Wife edited by Frank Moorhouse

An Ocean and an Instant

Grief teaches us that time is plastic. A lifetime is an ocean and an instant.

MONA tunnel

Notes on a Track

Once, not so long ago, I walked the South Coast Track in Tasmania.