Memoir

Abandon Me by Melissa Febos

To Resilience – and Beyond!

If you break, Michael Ondaatje’s speaker advises his daughter in ‘To a Sad Daughter’, ‘break going out, not in’. What if breakage can be a preface to remaking the self and voice?

The Museum of Words by Georgia Blain

The Speed of Life: Georgia Blain’s The Museum of Words

Blain was able to write only under the most stringent circumstances. In the morning, assisted by meditation, steroids and two strong coffees, she could carve out an hour, and later a mere 45 minutes, to find and assemble the appropriate words. As she edits the previous day’s work, she is ‘dismayed to see how convoluted and strained’ her expression becomes near the end of the hour. After that, nothing makes much sense: ‘It is like the cotton in the branches of the cottonwood trees … Each spring this cotton forms, floating away on the breeze, wafting, insubstantial, and always so maddeningly out of reach.’

Grant and I by Robert Foster cover

One Tank Of Gas: Grant & I
by Robert Forster

'There’s the power of glam and androgyny to Forster’s generation, and with it the influence it had on punk and post-punk. There’s the sensuality of experience that lies at the heart of many of Forster’s tales in the book. There’s the setting of the 1970s as a formative period, where music is glimpsed fleetingly on the radio and the ghosts of pre-war life in Brisbane are hovering. And perhaps most tellingly there’s the drama of Forster’s persona, developed over decades of song- and prose writing.'

Hold Still by Sally Mann

Feral with vulnerability: Nelson, O’Shaughnessy and Mann

Tame love and secure form on one hand, wildness, danger and formlessness on the other.

Barbarian Days A Surfing Life by William Finnegan cover

Mushburgers: Barbarian Days: A Surfing Life by William Finnegan

‘The wonder of Barbarian Days is to provide us with a literary experience that is not a stand in for other experiences, that is not an allegory of effort and victory and disappointment and loss that memoir culture has conditioned us to expect.’

Patti Smith M-train cover

Measured out in coffee spoons: M Train by Patti Smith

‘I have been referring to M Train as a ‘memoir’ by default, but it is something far more ambitious and complex than the word implies. It is a work in an elegiac mode that occupies an indeterminate space between autobiography, essay and fiction.’ James Ley on Patti Smith’s M Train and Collected Lyrics.

What Days Are For by Robert Dessaix

Rolling downhill: What Days Are For
by Robert Dessaix

Written in the first person and the present tense, What Days Are For has a diary-like tone and structure, covering the twelve hospitalised days immediately following what Dessaix calls ‘the emergency’.

Ghosts of me: A Bone of Fact
by David Walsh

A Bone of Fact is really memoir as a form of self-portraiture and, David Walsh being who he is, not much is held back. He is garrulous, sardonic, impudent, without shame and without inhibitions; but he also has a vein of kindness to his person that makes the encounter with him ultimately worthwhile.

Bold capitals, squiggly underline!! Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant?

Chast burrows into this feral old age and draws it out with uncanny, page-expanding, emotional precision. It is not reporting from the trenches, or a facing-down of the last frontier, but something else. Chast is giving over a whole multi-tracked, multi-voiced, sensory feast of a book to something – something barely bearable sometimes, and infused with pain and dread always; something that gets sprinted past, or poeticised to within an inch of its life, or else chronicled with a deadly, breathless earnestness – and she does it in such a way that I could not tear myself away from her book.

Political memoirs

2014 has been something of a watershed year for books on Australian politics. Of course, this is hardly surprising. The soap opera of the Gillard and Rudd years will probably exercise politicians, analysts and biographers for years to come. But we are currently facing something of an armada – to steal a phrase from the popular media – of political memoirs and biographies.