Fiction

December 2017

A Long Way From Home by Peter Carey book cover

Carey’s Race: A Long Way From Home by Peter Carey

A Long Way From Home is a novel that seeks to start a conversation about what Australia stands for—who we are as a nation and what stories we want to retell and remember. It is Carey’s attention to the construction of Australian identity that is both the strength and weakness of this novel. For all its clever metaphors and allegorical flourishes, A Long Way From Home sits somewhere between a meaningful novel about Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal identity in Australia and a novel of well-meaning gestures. In writing about the silenced Aboriginal history of this country and appropriating Aboriginal voices and trauma to do so, Carey is wading into an ethically and politically fraught arena.

Fictive Selves: The Life to Come

De Kretser is an ironist without peer in contemporary Australian writing. Her instincts are subversive, her scalpel well-honed. She exposes her characters’ vanities, only to turn our sense of their thoughtlessness and self-regard inside-out so that we might sympathise with their loneliness. Her powers of social observation are as acute as her awareness of the fictions we live by.

The Crazy Games of John Clarke

John Clarke had been in training to write The Tournament his whole life. He was curious about everything. He loved ideas. He was extraordinarily sensitive to language and to effects of style. He was a brilliant mimic and parodist. He had the nerveless approach of the encyclopaedist. And he adored the idiom of sports commentary.

Richard Flanagan First Person cover

The Horror! The Horror!: First Person by Richard Flanagan

At times, when reading this novel, I felt as if I had passed from the realm of colonial romance to that of science fiction, and was learning about a strange society inhabited only by men, in which no women existed except as holographic projections of some masculine need or fear.

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

November 2017

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In The Estuary: Felicity Castagna’s No More Boats

'In Felicity Castagna’s No More Boats, we are repeatedly reminded that the novel’s locale, Parramatta, marks the shifting aqueous site in Sydney’s Western suburban landscape where ‘saltwater meets fresh’. Historically, this is the place where Australia’s early colonial explorers, travelling up the Parramatta River from Sydney Cove in 1788, could take their boats no further. It is also one of numerous sites of resistance to European invasion by the Aboriginal warrior, Pemulwuy. In Castagna’s hands, this rich and multi-layered history of place is embodied in the topography of the Parramatta River and its intricate estuarine environment, creating a wonderfully nuanced metaphor.'

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Talking to the Dog: The Years, Months, Days by Yan Lianke

'We may approach Yan Lianke’s 1997 novella The Years, Months, Days through another, perhaps rather unexpected, work — Richard Matheson’s iconic 1954 novel, I Am Legend. The protagonist of the latter work, Robert Neville, finds himself in a post-apocalyptic world in which humanity has been ravaged by a virulent bacillus.  Lianke’s novella is set against a similarly apocalyptic landscape. Following a devastating drought, the entire population of a remote Henan village flees, leaving behind only an old man and a stray dog.' 

See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt book cover

Forty Whacks: See What I Have Done by Sarah Schmidt

'The real discomfort of the novel  is a set of relationships marked by deeply unpleasant entanglements of attachment and disgust. The intensity of familial domesticity is literally inescapable in this house: at one point the family are snowed-in, at others the doors are locked and the heat inside is stifling. The grown sisters’ relationship is a complex and terrible mix of dependence, love, responsibility, sacrifice, jealousy and fear.'

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What Lay In The Ashes: The Last Days of Jeanne d’Arc by Ali Alizadeh

The Last Days of Jeanne d’Arc blends fiction and nonfiction in its reconstruction of Jeanne’s life, not to offer a new conclusion about the warrior, but to urge us to view her otherwise than through the lens of her canonisation. The fictionalised exploration of Jeanne’s homosexuality may raise the ire of those who would consider themselves the guardians of a chaste legend; it is also essential to Alizadeh’s insistence on the maid’s humanity.

The Refugees by Viet Thanh Nguyen book cover

Brown Refo, White Nasho

Last week at Vy Vy Garden Café in Canley Heights, my refugee cousin Tuan and I were watching the news when a segment on the Manus Island crisis came up. ‘Leave those fucken queue jumpers, mang,’ he said. How could Tuan speak against refugees when he himself is a refugee? Moreover, he is Vietnamese-Australian, like me. We were the first non-European people to migrate en masse to settler-colonial Australia. Our appearance, culture, and language were alien and threatening. And then there was the fact of Cabramatta and Bankstown in the nineties, the Sydney suburbs of Vietnamese immigrants where crime rates spiked following the introduction of cheap heroin from Vietnamese gangs. We were boat people, foreigners, gangsters, and ingrates. So how does someone look like Tuan but sound like Pauline Hanson? How do the words of a White nationalist come from a refugee body?

An Embassy for Nowhere

Shaun Prescott’s eminently strange novel, The Town, begins by rejecting outright any ‘sense of place’. The town in this novel is nameless. It is a site that refutes specificity, character, and indeed meaning itself. As a librarian tells its narrator early on: ‘There are no books about this town... Nothing of note has ever happened in this town, and by the time it does, there will no longer be any point in remembering it.’