October 2019

Forgive her, for she knows not
what she draws

‘Reading One Good Turn is like getting injected with adrenaline and misandry and good old-fashioned class warfare in one massive hit. It makes my blood boil and seethe and seep. It makes me want to ignite the world with my words, burn it all down. It is infectious, but unlike patriarchy, it doesn’t make me sick. It makes me furious.’

Finding Australia’s
Lost Arabs

‘At times, as Arabs, lost in the world of displacement, marginalised by our dispersal, and racialised as inferior to our Western counterparts, we can become weary of our lived experiences as diasporic subjects. But with writing as empowering, affecting and beautiful as Sakr’s poetry, or testimonials as stimulating as those assembled by Abdel-Fattah and Saleh, can we dare become ‘tired’ of diaspora writing in any of its modes?’

Book cover: Islands by Peggy Frew

Reaching for a Bruised Apple: Sonia Orchard and Peggy Frew

‘When I am at my desk, the visceral voices of my little children call me back into the spaces they inhabit, an impatient reminder that my real life is elsewhere, with them. Or is it? Perhaps, this is what it is to be both a mother and an artist, and the only available consolation: to be perpetually torn, to suffer, but to exalt in the small mercy of being able to articulate well the precise nature of that suffering.’

Autism Aesthetics

A new understanding of literature and rhetoric emerges, as does a new understanding of autism; for as these three books demonstrate in different ways, autistic readers and writers can widen the range and deepen the complexity of human expression.

Cover of The Cherry Picker's Daughter by Kerry Reed-Gilbert

Testimony from the Home Front: Aunty Kerry Reed-Gilbert

To describe this work as autobiography is too limiting. It is a testimony woven through the stories of the lives of two women, Aunty Kerry and Mummy. In a similar vein to the life writings of Glenyse Ward, Margaret Tucker, Ida West, Monica Clare, Doris Pilkington, Mabel Edmund and Ruby Langford-Ginibi, The Cherry Picker’s Daughter brings the past up close and personal and tells first-hand how decisions made by politicians, bureaucrats, educators, health professionals and social workers from a distance impact on the day to day lives of Aboriginal people. But it differs too from these earlier works through its centring of the child’s voice; and for the way in which Aunty Kerry invites the reader into her home.

Book cover: Mouthful of Birds by Samantha Schweblin

Live Birds: Samanta Schweblin’s Mouthful of Birds

‘In a collection of stories where children turn into butterflies, spurned women are exiled to highways, and relationships with mermen are presented as an enticing lifestyle choice, homes and the volatile relationships that unspool inside them remain the wellspring of Samanta Schweblin’s fiction. Rather than functioning as a haven from an unpredictable, barbaric exterior, they are the scene of violent and eerie interactions where cycles are only broken when the world ends.’

Painting: James Bonnici, Building, oil on linen.

She and Her Man: Foe

There are many ways to read Foe (1986), which has a shifting choose-your-own-strange-and-surprising-adventure flavour to it; I’ve tried a few. My favourite is to reverse-engineer Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe from the perspective of the castaway Susan Barton’s account of her very different experience of Cruso in Coetzee’s novel. Putting the chronological cart before the horse (a method that owes something to Jorge Luis Borges’s deadpan comic masterpiece Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote), we realise that Robinson Crusoe would have been a much duller book (not that it is free of unabridged longueurs) if Defoe had not first read Coetzee’s Foe and fictionalised and glamourised Barton’s account of her largely adventure-free time marooned on the island, in order to create a more ripping yarn. 

Secret Poems

Stepping on Rakes:
Terry Eagleton’s Humour
and Peter Timms’ Silliness

‘Humour and Silliness are nostalgias rather than books about humour in 2019. If a book about humour has to be written at all, it probably shouldn’t be by someone in their seventies, unless they’re very online. They’d have to know that the politics of identity are neither to be tip-toed around nor dismissed off-hand, and that if political correctness achieves anything, it’s to purge a lot of cheap, bullying, boring, dead weight from collective humour.’

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

September 2019

Book cover: The Place on Dalhousie by Melina Marchetta

È una casa per la mia famiglia:
A house for my family

‘The different cultures thing,’ as Josie called it in Looking For Alibrandi, has become far more complex and nuanced in The Place on Dalhousie. This novel is still full of driving Nonna to bingo parties and sugo cooking in the kitchen but there is far less overt discussion of the problems of navigating hybridity. There is no pressure to conform to any cultural expectations, in part because Rosie has lost much of that connection to her migrant community through the death of her parents. She is ‘the last Gennaro of her family and the second last on her mother’s side. When Rosie and Nonna Eugenia die, there’ll be none of them left. So much for big Italian families.’

Book cover: The Thinking Woman by Julienne van Loon

All the Feels:
Julienne van Loon and Kate Richards

‘However, while van Loon gifts us with an invigorated capacity to see the ways in which the ascription of femininity is used as a slight in cultural valuation, an alternative approach – a kind of resistance to binaries by seeking out their connections – also emerges in her work.’

The Middle Parts of Fortune

In The Middle Parts of Fortune, Manning extended the technique of dialectic he used in Scenes and Portraits beyond intellectual speculation. The novel counterbalances its contrasting worldviews tightly and with maximum tension, but delicately and plausibly so, without making any of its characters mere mouthpieces for points of view. It also gives us a fleeting view, as if through breaking clouds, of a spiritual promise and a love that the forlorn, desolating inferno of war cannot ever remove or conquer.

Book cover for 'How Labour Built Neoliberalism: Australia’s Accord, the Labour Movement and the Neoliberal Project' by Elizabeth Humphrys

Goodbye to All That:
The End of Neoliberalism?

‘Yet labour’s role in the establishment of neoliberalism in Australia marked both the union movement and the ALP, leaving both of them as hollow shells of their former selves.’’

Disrupting the Colonial Archive

While Archival-Poetics is predominantly text-based, I would not call it a book/s. Like most First Nations knowledge, it does not fit easily into Western categories. To me it felt more like a dream or a deep yarn or a walk through an exhibition – possibly all at the same time. The work is a collection, an archive in its own right, albeit a personal one.

The World The Gulf Has Built

The viewing platform of the Burj Khalifa, currently the tallest building in the world, provides an exceptional view. On a clear day, you can see Dubai’s towers clustered along its highways and the scattering of urban megaprojects giving way to suburban sprawl. But clear days are increasingly rare on the Arabian Peninsula, due to rising levels of pollution—a significant product of this area’s fossil-fueled urbanization and contribution to climate change over the past 60 years.

Nervous Nostalgia

The two authors acknowledge tales of real displaced people, including refugees, as inspiration for their fictional stories. They express gratitude to be able to survive, live and write these books. In their narratives, the quieter moments of survival are most striking: how tasks considered mundane become crucial and inescapable. Robinson and Bishop invite their reader to imagine their own displacement, their own losses and even their own end.

A Breathing Exercise

So what to do with this ever-increasing urgency and anguish circulating in the atmosphere, and what might we learn from the republication of Watson’s book? What work does the wind do? What does it index? And what can a natural history of the wind possibly teach the Anthropocene?

Justin Clemens

Te’Ebrini

Still (and) Moving Images:
The Old Greeks: Photography,
Cinema, Migration

‘Beginning with his mother’s creased identity card from the era when Cyprus was colonised by the British Kouvaros links the great themes of twentieth-century migration to the affective structures provided by both photography and cinema that give a purchase for those lost and uprooted individuals swept up in these global eddies. His relatively short and multi-faceted meditation provides an analytical scaffold as well as a moving response to his own question—what do we owe our ancestors and the dead?’

In Real Life

The Other Way, The Other Truth, The Other Life: Simpson Returns

When we are faced with a world whose problems all seem ‘wicked’ and intractable, what is it that fiction can do? Isn’t it always more useful to confront real instances of the problems we face through journalism, political essays and opinion pieces, or non-fictional representations of lived experiences of all kinds? Won’t those kinds of non-fictional intervention be more useful? At the very least if one is to attempt to engage with these things via fiction shouldn’t the mode the writer uses be sombre realism? Isn’t the mode of satire, which derives its impact in large part through humour (however dark), simply disrespectful of the enormity of suffering that is being experienced? Isn’t it inconsequential in relation to how actual problems might actually be solved?

August 2019

Maggie Mackellar portrait
Sami Schalk Bodyminds Reimagined: (Dis)ability, Race, and Gender in Black Women’s Speculative Fiction

Black Speculation, Black Freedom

Schalk’s captivating and transformative study challenges us to view the fictional worlds, characters, and ‘bodyminds’ generated within black women’s speculative fiction as more than mere escapist fantasy. Instead, the genre issues ‘politically astute’ commentary on our world, challenging the ‘supposedly fixed and knowable nature’ of race, gender, and (dis)ability and helping us to imagine marginalized groups outside of the dominant social and political scripts attached to them.

Whatever Could Have Happened?
John Hughes’ No One

‘What No One evidences is that a story can be told by other means, and that the question of how we narrate the traumas of the past need not be reduced to a choice between silence or speech. Abjuring both of these position, it embodies another form of storytelling that draws on the communicative potential of whispers and the intimations of sounds that inhabit our unconscious lives like strangers buried deep within.’

The Monster is Nobody at All:
Yellow City

‘Ellena Savage’s writing seduces with the masquerade of the conversational, drawing you into the muck of everyday life before unmasking the binds, political and otherwise, our lives are embedded within.’

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.’