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.
In Li’s, Friedmann’s and Febos’ work, the polyvocal I draws together facets of self and subjectivity, braiding them, while unbraiding simpler notions of a singular, truthful I. As reticence and disclosure speak together, or loss and hope, or the I and we of postmemory and of empathy, form becomes capacious.
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.’
What was it like growing up black in Kellyville in suburban Sydney in the 1980s? In her memoir, Maxine Beneba Clarke unflinchingly reveals the co-dependency of victims and perpetrators; the self-hatred resulting from the hatred of others that racism creates in the struggle to culturally dominate and to be supreme. The Hate Race presents both narrator and reader with a mirror in which the reflections are often disturbing and violent.
'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.'
‘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.’