June 2017

Miles Franklin
Anthony Macris
The 7th Function of Language by Laurent Binet

Semiologists Beware:
The 7th Function of Language

'It would be wrong to regard Binet’s novel as not much more than a sophisticated and hugely entertaining send-up. He sees, certainly, the absurd aspects of semiotics and the other ‘sciences’ his characters profess. But he also registers their allure and fascination. The clue to discovering what that allure and fascination might be has to do with the particular source of his preoccupations. When Theory crossed the English Channel, the Atlantic and then travelled to the Antipodes, it left behind its French playfulness.'

John Clarke: A Postscript

'Perhaps our national mourning has been muted because it’s difficult to be serious about a man who made us laugh and was utterly resistant to celebrity. But in April the front really did fall off for the final time and now John’s life, despite all that he left behind, feels tragically fleeting, and his once inexhaustible creative energy as mysterious as the migratory godwit’s.'

Ghostspeaking by Peter-Boyle book cover

A Kaleidoscope of Experience: Ghostspeaking by Peter Boyle

'In this new work,  Peter Boyle looks away from the centres of Anglophone poetry that so often form the tradition with which Australian poets place themselves in conversation, and instead seeks alternate points of correspondence. The eleven ‘fictive’ poets that he conjures for his reader here are poets that are exist in ‘translation’, from non-existent bodies of work in Spanish and French... The twelfth voice that stitches them together, that of the ‘translator’ we may as well call Peter Boyle, is equally fictive, equally real.'

Blue Skies by Helen Hodgman book cover

The Harsh Light of Day: Blue Skies
by Helen Hodgman

'It is common for Tasmanian literature to be softlit with the kinds of autumnal colours that are so flattering to sandstone convict ruins, a contrast to the red dust and white gums of much mainland Australian writing. Helen Hodgman turns up the intensity, creating a glare under which she examines human desperation and ugliness. It is usual, in writing about Tasmania, for dawns and dusks to proliferate. Instead, Hodgman gives us broad daylight—precisely, a never-ending three o’clock.'

May 2017

Once Upon A Time In The East by Guo Xiaolu

Border Crossings: Once Upon A Time In The East by Guo Xiaolu

'Her upbringing in a tiny village far from China’s urban elite, and her late transposition to Britain, allows Guo to bring a coolly analytical eye to both cultures, dissecting the strengths and foibles of each with wit and precision. In short, the complex process of cross-cultural negotiation Guo traces in her novels makes her a keen commentator on the experience of globalisation for everyday people, and the impact on global culture of China’s opening and rise.'

Michelle Cahill
Cigarette smuggling with a book
The Marketing Was Crap

Cloud Cuckoo Land Pastoral: The Last Garden by Eva Hornung

'In place of the dystopian world of post-Soviet Moscow in Dog Boy, Hornung’s new novel land us in a cloud cuckoo land pastoral. Of course, pastorals, no matter how Arcadian, always have their darker sides. This is no exception. The Last Garden begins with a murder-suicide.'

Old Computer
Charlie Twirl by Alan Gould book cover

Canberra, Schooled

'It would seem then that, after fifty years or so, the so-called ‘Canberra School’ is still loosely ‘conservative’, though that single and somewhat pejorative adjective massively oversimplifies the variety to be found here. These new collections by Alan Gould, John Foulcher, Paul Cliff and Melinda Smith are all fine examples of the strength and diversity of poetry to be found in our capital city (and its regions) at the moment. The ‘Canberra School of Poetry’ may never have quite existed but clearly something substantial has.'

Derelict terrace King Street Newtown
The Secret River by Kate Grenville

Balancing the Books

'The renewal of the interest in direct subsidy to working artists and writers comes in part through the recognition that current government policies about culture almost completely ignore the labour markets of cultural industries. The reason to support artists and writers is simple and immediate: because culture is a good thing, and supporting people to make it will produce more of the good.' '

The Restorer by Michael Sala book cover

Swaying Ground: The Restorer
by Michael Sala

'The Restorer is dramatically immersive, thematically confronting and — despite its flaws — moving. Like The Last Thread, it is in large part about difficult reckonings with family histories, and the challenge of wresting back control of a precariously positioned life. Sala highlights what I take to be a core moral of the story insistently, but perhaps good advice is worth repeating. For most readers, the skilful characterisation will outweigh all instances of heavy-handedness. I only hope that in future treatments of similar themes the vile men are friendly-seeming white collar workers who patronise the arts. I hear they exist. After all, what use is a topical novel unless its readers are made to feel uncomfortably close to—and complicit in—the issue it addresses?'

April 2017

A Change in the Lighting by Amy Witting book cover

A Reckoning: A Change in the Lighting by Amy Witting

‘In capturing Ella, Witting captures how any of us might look or think at our worst, holding ourselves up against any available measure in a desperate effort to find some argument for, some defence of who we are or what we’ve done.’

Paul Auster 4321 book cover

Piling It On For Posterity: 4321
by Paul Auster

'Auster’s attempt to borrow from the chronology and geography of his own life to create a masterful multi-noded bildungsroman is an interesting idea, but 4321 is ultimately far too long-winded and sententious for that idea to properly work.'

The Woman on the Stairs by Bernhard Schlink book cover

Legal Fiction: The Woman on the Stairs by Bernhard Schlink

'The key distinction between The Woman on the Stairs and Schlink’s earlier fiction is that the past acted on those characters in ways that were hidden to them, but drawn out through the narrative. Here, an unspoken past acts on the protagonist and the narrative asks us to believe that his conversion to a man of empathy occurs without any direct confrontation with his personal and national history.'

No Way But This by Jeff Sparrow book cover

What Ghosts We Might Rise: No Way But This

In writing No Way But This Sparrow seeks to reanimate not only the ghost of Paul Robeson but those of his family, friends and comrades. In other words, this book has an avowedly political goal. It revives Robeson as a model of integrity and bravery – someone who, despite the precarity of his social position, risked his life and career for the ideas of workers’ rights, black liberation, anti-colonialism and international socialism.

Pond by Claire-Louise Bennett book cover

No Need Of A Story: Pond
by Claire-Louise Bennett

For as much as this is a book about the way we skirt around the truth, avoiding the secrets and failures, the ordinariness, with which we might be confronted should we approach truth directly, Pond is also about the way we read'

The Free Mind Essays and Poems in Honour of Barry Spurr

Campus Conservative

'Despite all the scandal, this book will be a great contribution to many different levels of thinking and fields of research. I would like to stress the significant contributions on the predicament of the humanities in the universities today. The ‘Barry Spurr incident’ showed how sensitive we still are about the humanities and how precarious and fragile still remains their civilising role in modern society.'

Alfred and Emily by Doris Lessing book cover

Two Lives: Alfred and Emily
by Doris Lessing

'If, for much of our lives, we regard our parents as indispensable to ourselves, defined and understood by their relationship to us – whether loving or fractious, distant or close – then this last work is Lessing’s gift to hers: a belated acknowledgement of Alfred and Emily as individuals, separate from her and from one another. She offers them a world without the war; without each other; perhaps most intriguingly, without their daughter – and by extension, without their author.'