May 2017

Once Upon A Time In The East by Guo Xiaolu

Border Crossings

'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

'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 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

‘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

'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 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

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

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.'

Staying with the Trouble Making Kin in the Chthulucene by Donna Haraway book cover
Alfred and Emily by Doris Lessing book cover

Two Lives

'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.'

March 2017

Extinctions by Josephine Wilson book cover

Monster or Mohican

'John Mohegan’s tragedy is that all of his family and his tribe have died. The tragedy of Frankenstein’s monster is that he never had either to begin with. These two tropes of Romantic agony lie at the heart of Josephine Wilson’s Extinctions, a novel about Australia’s Stolen Generation, but also about migration, gender, and the deep traumas of family life.'

Aboriginal Art and Australian Society Hope and Disenchantment by Laura Fisher book cover

Sheer Pleasure

'This is not a study of Aboriginal art but of the way that Aboriginal art has been written and spoken about, mostly in Australia, since the 1970s. Fisher’s object is not only ‘art criticism’, as that phrase is usually understood, but also policy discourse in which Aboriginal art is understood to be a means to an end.'

The Populist Explosion by John B. Judis Book Cover

Bad Hombres

'Why did people vote for Trump? That is the question we should be asking ourselves, and it’s one that’s given extra urgency by the fact that his ascendency is not an isolated case, but the most spectacular instance of a more general phenomenon. In Europe, a veritable basket of deplorables is now angling for the votes of the disaffected. If liberals and leftwingers are serious about wresting momentum from them, they will have to understand their appeal.'

Thermometer sculpture
Showpony Sheriff - Man on horse-back beside tree with ocean waves crashing on rocks in the background
Contemporary Australian Poetry Book Cover

A Storehouse of Poems

'If Contemporary Australian Poetry with its size and inclusiveness is the defining work of the poetry of this period it raises the question of how successfully it meets the requirements of this task. Its making (like that of any other anthology) poses a lot of problems. Editors of general anthologies have to make two fairly tricky judgements: whom to include and omit, and how many poems one poet is represented by in comparison to another. Since, judging by the editors’ introduction, the impetus behind this anthology is as much celebrative as it is forensic, it seems that the answer to the first question is: As many as possible, since a celebration of richness necessarily involves including as many poets as possible.'

Burning as Land Management