June 2019

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.' 

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.

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

May 2019

Comfortable and Comforted: The World Was Whole by Fiona Wright

This is a book about the complexities of home, about being unhomed, about the body as home, and about the spaces we work to make home, our dwellings and our neighbourhoods. When life is marred by unbelonging and grief, it is the habits and routines of being homed that bring comfort and even joy.

Flex and Ripple: Geoff Dyer’s Broadsword Calling Danny Boy

When I say that Broadsword is dedicated to describing Where Eagles Dare, I mean it. The book details each scene’s mechanics, its organising principle is plot exposition. It’s as if an electro-magnetic pulse, fine-tuned to wipe out all cinema, had shimmered across the globe, erasing the hard drives and reels. All that remains, in this post-movie world, are Dyer’s memories and his loquacity. The first question that occurs on picking up this book, however, is not ‘What is it for?’ but ‘Who is it for?’

Women Who Write About Their Feelings and Lives

'I go to memoir because there, someone understands what this is like, to be smaller and more fragile and vulnerable to those ‘large, heavy bodies spilling out of doorways’, to ‘feel the micro-aggressions as macro’ (Meera Atkinson), to grow up in a world where even your own father says things like ‘Good day—for a rape’ (Rozanna Lilley) to old ladies, even though he doesn’t mean you, of course not you, love.'

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.'

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.'