September 2017

The Honest History Book Cover

Trench Warfare: The Honest History Book

'It seems we are living through a near perfect storm of Anzac historical consumption, with a number of factors working in concert. First, Australian historical narratives have been deeply challenged by the emergence and power of Indigenous historical perspectives, especially since the 1970s and 1980s. Australia’s ‘origin story’, once characterised by discovery, nascent democracy and workers’ rights, has been powerfully reimagined by Indigenous writers and rights activists as a narrative of invasion and dispossession.'

Dancing with Strangers by Inga Clendinnen book cover

Origin Story: Dancing with Strangers

'Dancing with Strangers would have an honoured place in Australian historiography by virtue of the skill, intelligence and literary brilliance of its author alone. It is the product of a lifetime spent interrogating first-encounter texts to reveal and make understandable their hidden truths. But what is most remarkable about the book is the invitation it extends to readers to learn and wonder in the company of such a brilliant historian. '

Reykjavík
Some Tests by Wayne Macauley

Not The End: Some Tests
by Wayne Macauley

'Macauley’s novels are often fantastical or absurd in their logic, but the colours and settings seem deliberately banal – focusing as they do on the type of place under-studied in Australian literature. Macauley frames these exurban fringes from vantage points and under circumstances that expose how cold and labyrinthine our modern civilization can be; he sheds light on how unhomely the city is when you’re on the wrong side of a picket fence.'

Living a Feminist Life by Sara Ahmed book cover

Reading Feminist Killjoys

'What is a feminist book? And what are feminist books for? I pose these questions at a time when feminism is currently popular enough to yield bestsellers and when any feminist text, no matter how broadly or narrowly pitched, has to compete with a bottomless supply of high-quality feminist writing available for free on the internet. '

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

August 2017

Terra Nullius by Claire G Coleman book cover

Not As We Know It: Terra Nullius

'Terra Nullius is terra nullius, but not as we know it. It’s colonisation, this continent, time, place, Country, race – but not quite as we know it. Terra Nullius is a work of speculative fiction written by Claire Coleman, a Noongar woman whose people have seen – and survived – the apocalyptic moment for hundreds of years. It is a story, exactly as we know it. No speculation required.'

Lachlan Brown
Old man watching TV
The Bughouse by Daniel Swift book cover

Old Master, Old Monster: The Bughouse by Daniel Swift

'The trouble is that The Bughouse is constantly outgrowing its own status as a work of interpretation without quite turning into the thing it might be – a biography which is also a work of intrinsic literary quality. What we tend to get is a kind of travelogue and personal journey into the environs of Pound’s incarceration.'

Taboo by Kim Scott book cover

Properly Alive: Taboo by Kim Scott

'Taboo is an extraordinary testament to the new energies in Aboriginal storytelling that have emerged since the 1990s, the decade the Mabo decision overturned the legal fiction of terra nullius and recognised Aboriginal land claims in Australian law for the first time. As Scott said in 2012: ‘This is an Aboriginal nation, you know. It’s black country, the continent. Some people are starting to think about: can we graft a contemporary Australian community onto its Indigenous roots?’

Have Been and Are by Brook Emery book cover

An Amazing Shorthand

'Like some austere ancestor, venerated, often denigrated, notoriously difficult and spiky, philosophy has the reputation for being rational and analytic, seeking an entirely objective account of things as they are. Poetry is, for many, the most subjective form of writing, heavily reliant on emotion rather than cool reasoning.'

Genocide A World History by Norman M Naimark book cover

The Crime of Crimes:
Genocide: A World History

'Genocide is distinct from broader terms such as war crimes and crimes against humanity. In Genocide: A World History, Naimark reviews cases of genocide dating to the ancient world, working through the warrior genocides committed by the Crusaders and the Mongols, to the Spanish conquest of the Americas, to what he terms the ‘settler’ genocides that occurred in North America, Africa and Australia.' 

Sydney Cemetries A Field Guide by Lisa Murray book cover

Tending and Attending

'I have paid my respects at Anne Brontë’s grave but not at that of my own great-grandmother. Graves haven’t figured at all in my sense of myself as a person with biological progenitors, yet they’ve played a part in my attempts to connect with individuals whose artistic achievements I admire. '

A Writing Life cover

Love and Rhetoric: A Writing Life

'I had the sensation of ‘growing up’ as a result of reading Brennan’s book. This statement expects no flabbergasted reaction. Many of us know that books have tracked our lives – and with Garner, it is from inner-city, communal living in Monkey Grip, to families in The Children’s Bach, to the enigma of the spiritual in Cosmo Cosmolino, to death in The Spare Room.'

Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty book cover

Elvis and Jane Austen in Monterey:
Big Little Lies

'Madeline Martha Mackenzie, the central character in Liane Moriarty’s best-selling novel Big Little Lies  thinks of Pirriwee, the fictional suburb on Sydney’s northern beaches where she lives, and where the action of the novel takes place, as a "country village". This is a signpost to Jane Austen’s oft-quoted statement "Three or four families in a country village is the very thing to work on."' 

Grand Hotel Abyss by Stuart Jeffries book cover

Politics Without Gasoline:
Grand Hotel Abyss

''Stuart Jeffries’ group biography, Grand Hotel Abyss tells the story of the Frankfurt School, its central figures, and their most significant affiliates. The collective accomplishment of these thinkers, it shows, was to develop a critical theory with which to apprehend what it means to live and think through an historical period during which the left would achieve fewer and fewer victories.' '

July 2017

Bright Air Black

Medea Redux

'Vann’s Medea is complex, but she isn’t unique. She joins a long tradition of depicting Medea as a wild barbarian princess. Medea is always a double outsider, a woman and a foreigner. Sometimes, as with the suffragettes, her position as a representative of the female gender is stressed and Medea becomes the spokeswoman for all women. Elsewhere, including in Bright Air Black, greater emphasis is placed on her alien status.'

Lyrebirds
Winnie Dunn
Rattling Spears A History of Indigenous Australian Art by Ian McLean

The Shimmer of Light: Rattling Spears by Ian W. McLean

'Martin Edmonds on a new history of Indigenous Australian art 'Nothing is simple in this philosophical arena, where rattling spears and tjurunga contend with sextants and theodolites; cans of spray paint with the sepia tones of old colonial photographs. The question is how to make a future. If the Dreaming was always about eternity poured into time, the problem the Enlightenment brought with it—along with its Cartesian accoutrements—was how to protect eternity from time.' '

They Cannot Take The Sky cover

The Greatest Crime: They Cannot Take The Sky

They Cannot Take the Sky gathers thirty-five stories of men and women who have experienced Australia’s detention regime. Some are now living in Australia and others remain locked up. Each oral history, told to one of the book’s editors, transcribed and translated, bears witness to the resilience of the human spirit and to its fragility. Together these stories are a condemnation of the border policies that have permitted the long-term incarceration and criminalisation of refugees and asylum seekers.

A Review of a Review

Sneja Gunew responds to Simon Patton.

An uncertain grace by Krissy Kneen book cover

A Fluctuating Charm:
An Uncertain Grace

'An Uncertain Grace is a strange, daring and clever novel and Kneen’s openness to connections that many other novelists never dream of making is exhilarating. Her characters wreck themselves with sex and science as they seek ways to live with extinctions, inundations and pollution – and yet Kneen is able to salvage optimism from the wreckage. '

Fragments by Antigone Kefala book cover

In Short Measures: Fragments by Antigone Kefala

'The title Fragments refers to more than just the extent of the poems; it also hints at broken-ness, loss, the passage of time that takes us out of life. This is confirmed by the themes Kefala tackles in this collection, most of them pitched in a minor key.'

The Ministry of Utmost Happiness by Arundhati Roy book cover

Love Gets Slanted: The Ministry of Utmost Happiness

'The novel is a genre in the making, this much we know; it is a crucible for metaphysics as well as history; but its heart, its soul lies in itself and in its capacity to undercut monological points of view. Sadly the undercutting is missing in The Ministry of Utmost Happiness and the ideological celebration, the activist impulse, is all one-sided. There is no acknowledgement of a nation desperately trying to hold itself together.'