July 2019

No Bouquets, No Touching Up:
Myself When Young

Some memoirs are written in tranquil mood and quiet spaces. Not this one. When Henry Handel Richardson sat down at her desk in September 1942 to contemplate her younger self, the sound of German bombing raids made writing almost impossible. Yet she found the task a welcome escape from the turbulent present. A novel in progress and a short story were put aside. Myself When Young was her last book. Although she did not live to complete it, her memoir opens a door to her past that she had kept firmly closed during her life as a writer.

Bleached Atmospheres of Dread

It is Hill’s capacity to keep broad political structures and the minutiae of personal experience and emotion in her sights at all times that makes this such a unique and powerful contribution to a field of literature which, to our shame, is still only just emerging.

A Fairy’s Tale:
Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl

Paul Takes the Form of a Mortal Girl tells a series of stories that we already know, but it achieves its familiar ends through decidedly unfamiliar means. Andrea Lawlor’s first novel presents us with the queer young adulthood of Paul, who possesses a seemingly magical skill: the ability to change form, to will his body into whatever shape he would like it to take.

Blood Calls to Blood

Faced with the instability of the people closest to her, Laveau-Harvie finds comfort in the mountainous landscape: the predictable changing of the seasons, the beauty of the ‘opalescent’ peaks and even the inhospitable nature of the jagged rocks. Laveau-Harvie calls the Rockies ‘practically a character in the book’. The other prominent ‘erratic’, then, is the Okotoks Erratic, a huge boulder deposited by glacial flow thousands of years ago which cracked and ‘fell in on itself’, and which ‘dominates the landscape’ near her parents’ ranch house. The story is bookended by the geographical and spiritual origins of this fissured rock. It offers hope for stability after a rupture, but is also a reminder of the family’s relative insignificance against the natural history of their home region.

The Revolution Will Not Be Automated

For the social psychologist Shoshana Zuboff, the meteoric rise of the tech industry brings with it worrying developments that should worry us – the general public – a lot more than they do, and the fact that most people are blasé about them is itself a matter of concern. The purpose of her book Surveillance Capitalism is to awaken the reader to a sense of ‘astonishment and outrage’ at Big Tech’s power grab and its effects on society.

The Drug of Otherness: The Returns by Philip Salom

The Returns portrays the acts of creating and engaging with art and literature as distinct modes of understanding. They are presented as processes that are analogous to, and perhaps even synonymous with, the paradox of selfhood, which decrees that we must live in a state of felt incompletion, constantly plunging into an uncertain future, striving towards some form of renewal or escape, but without ever really escaping ourselves, doomed as we are to drag around increasingly cumbersome sacks of old grievances and regrets.

Reading apparently

‘The pregunta’s cube sits in my imagination. It has begun to take on a meaning, a meaning that says, remember what you’re reading here Ali, it’s a poem by Joanne Burns, it can’t be translated, unlocked, puzzled out. It’s not for solving. It’s for reading.’

Cross-Stitch:
Sam George-Allen and Bri Lee

Both George-Allen and Lee are describing their experiences of realisation, of revelation, of feminist wonderment: that the way our culture has been built relies on the systemic mistrust of women.

Desk Work:
A Novel Idea by Fiona McGregor

The work of a novelist is hard, menial and often dull work. Despite this, the work of a novelist at least cuts against the dominant temporalities of work. Through a queer commitment to craft, and by showing us this process in A Novel Idea, McGregor gets us to think harder about what drudgery means, not only for her and her work, or even artists and cultural workers more generally, but for any life and any work.

Strange Things: New Australian Short Fiction

‘Honestly, what kind of topsy-turvy world are we living in?’ queries the narrator of one of the short stories in David Cohen’s The Hunter: And Other Stories of Men. The same thought occurred to me when reading a number of recent short story collections, where the banal gives way to the foreign, the ordinary becomes peculiar.

Living Things:
City of Trees by Sophie Cunningham

With an incremental power, this collection of essays invites us to be present absolutely to ourselves, our environments, our histories and our world. City of Trees is a deeply ethical and thoughtful call to consciousness, a call to see and feel being in and of the natural world.

June 2019

New staff at the SRB

We're absolutely thrilled to share the news of two new staff appointments at the Sydney Review of Books. From 1 July Andrew Brooks and Alice Desmond will start working with our team at the Writing and Society Research Centre at Western Sydney University.

The Banality of Empire

'Overall, The British in India reads not so much as a successful call for more rigorous public engagement with the nuances of empire’s history as it does a retreat back into the arrogant position of a scholar who has never felt it particularly necessary to justify his interest in the everyday lives and literature of white people (racist or not), to the exclusion of all else. His admonishment for postcolonial scholars to spend “more time in the archives” raises the question of which archives he sees as valuable, given the scarcity of Indian voices in his social history.' 

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.' 

Going Under:
Robert Macfarlane’s Underland

Underland appears at a moment when the impacts of global warming are making themselves evident in tangible, unnerving, and demonstrable ways. For years, writers, humanities academics, artists and activists considered that the supposed remoteness of climate change was one of the greatest stumbling blocks in terms of conveying and apprehending its urgency... Now though, in an eerily poetic, vital and compelling passage early in the book, Macfarlane is able to create a list of great disturbances and ‘surfacings’.

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.

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.'