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Alternative title: ABR
Issue Details: First known date: 2017... no. 397 December 2017 of Australian Book Review est. 1961 Australian Book Review
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AbstractHistoryArchive Description

'Rainbows and bad losers

'The mood outside the State Library of Victoria on 15 November 2017 was exultant – once the precarious line from Canberra had been restored and the ABS’s expatiatory chief statistician, David Kalisch, finally announced that 61.6 per cent of Australians had voted Yes in the postal survey. The feeling was one of relief and euphoria. It was over, at last, and the democratic rights of all Australians had been ratified by a substantial majority of Australians.' (Editorial)


  • Only literary material within AustLit's scope individually indexed. Other material in this issue includes:

    'When Sport and Politics Collide' by Kieran Pender


* Contents derived from the 2017 version. Please note that other versions/publications may contain different contents. See the Publication Details.
[Review] The Library : A Catalogue of Wonders, Desmond Cowley , single work review
— Review of The Library : A Catalogue of Wonders Stuart Kells , 2017 autobiography ;

'In 2002, journalist Guy Rundle published a piece devoted to the little-known visit by Argentinian writer Jorge Luis Borges to Melbourne in May 1938. During his ten-day stay, Borges spent time in the domed reading room of the State Library, a place he found ‘awe-inspiring, even overwhelming’. As a long-term reader of Borges, and having spent much of my working life at the Library, I felt elated by this connection. Alas, the story turned out to be a hoax, though not before it circulated widely on the internet. With hindsight, I realise that I – and others – believed it because we wanted to believe that this writer who composed such eloquent stories about books and libraries, and who later held the position as director of the National Library in Buenos Aires, had been awestruck by our library.' (Introduction)

(p. online only)
[Review] Memorandoms by James Martin : An Astonishing Escape from Early New South Wales, James Dunk , single work review
— Review of Memorandoms by James Martin James Martin , 1937 single work autobiography ;

'In 1784 William Bryant was sentenced, rather optimistically, to be transported to the American colonies. Britain had just lost the War of Independence; Bryant thus languished in a hulk in Portsmouth while Britain adjusted to the loss. This meant that when he finally arrived in New South Wales with the First Fleet, Bryant’s sentence was set to expire in just three years. Perhaps he did not trust imperial record-keeping – not without cause; perhaps he noticed that there was no plan to return convicts home after their sentences expired. In late March 1791, Bryant and eight others took matters into their own hands and escaped.' (Introduction)

(p. Online only)
[Review] La Trobe: Traveller, Writer, Governor, John Arnold , single work review
— Review of La Trobe: Traveller, Writer, Governor John Barnes , 2017 single work biography ;

'Victorians know the name La Trobe through the eponymous university, La Trobe Street in the city of Melbourne, and the Latrobe Valley in Gippsland. Tasmanians are familiar with the town of Latrobe in the north-west of their state. But how many are aware that all the above were named after Charles Joseph La Trobe, the first superintendent of the European settlement of Port Phillip, one-time acting governor of Tasmania, and the first lieutenant-governor of the new British colony of Victoria?' (Introduction)

(p. Online only)
Tracing Pauline : Two New Books of One Nation, Shaun Crowe , single work single work essay
— Review of Please Explain : The Rise, Fall and Rise Again of Pauline Hanson Anna Broinowski , 2017 single work biography ;

'More than any other political party in Australia, One Nation represents a puzzle for commentators. When trying to explain its support – which has hovered around ten per cent since its revival in 2016 – the temptation is to look for subtext, something deeper, beneath the surface. Could the party’s cultural pitch really be a code for economic concerns, with immigration a metaphor for the genuine fear of international competition? Perhaps we are witnessing a new political coalition of those ‘left behind’ by social change, bound together by a suspicion of everything cosmopolitan. Or is One Nation simply a vehicle for those pissed off at a stagnant political order, hoping to unseat and humiliate its representatives? What really motivates the mythical One Nation voter?' (Introduction)

(p. 11-12)
The Making of a Man, Richard Walsh , single work single work essay
— Review of Wednesdays with Bob Derek Rielly , Bob Hawke , 2017 single work biography ;

'This is a book with a strange genesis. Its author, Derek Rielly, explains that he confessed to an agent one night that he’d always wanted to meet Bob Hawke. Her response was: ‘I know a publisher who loves Bob. Get me a proposal.’ In order to obtain Bob’s cooperation, Rielly had first to win over Blanche d’Alpuget and then the ‘greatest post-war prime minister’ himself. Given that Blanche herself has had two goes at nailing her husband’s colours to history’s mast, and that there is in fact a vast literature on The Hawke Ascendancy (as Paul Kelly, no less, tagged it), both of these ageing lovebirds are at first a little dubious about what more might be said. But the brash, youngish author (he tells us that Bob ‘filled my teenage season, culturally and politically’) informs the ex-PM he wants to interview him ‘about the joy of love. Desire. Finding true love through infidelity. Fatherhood. Success. Friendship. Religion in the modern world. Sport. The making of a man and what manhood is. Women. The lingering tang of any political bitterness. Enemies. The state of geopolitics. Death.’ (Introduction)

(p. 14)
Robben Island of the Mind : Dispatches from a Cairo Prison, Kevin Foster , single work essay

'It’s a provocative title. Forty-two years ago, Phillip Knightley’s The First Casualty: From the Crimea to Vietnam: The war correspondent as hero, propagandist, and myth-maker (1975) kick-started a new field of media history. Knightley’s rollicking account of journalistic connivance with political and military power from the Crimean to the Gulf Wars spared his industry nothing. The fourth estate’s serial pursuit of national self-interest, its abandonment of objectivity, truth, and morality, revealed many of our most storied war reporters as grovelling servants of the powers that be, monsters of avarice and deception whose first duty was to their own wealth and preferment. If truth was the first casualty of war, principle was prominent among the collateral damage.' (Introduction)

(p. 23-24)
Ithaca Roadi"You’ll be lost in the headlong city, turning your oar, older", Philip Mead , single work poetry (p. 24)
Into the Woods, Beejay Silcox , single work essay
— Review of Border Districts Gerald Murnane , 2017 single work novel ;

'There is a whiff of mythology about Gerald Murnane. He is quietly infamous for who he isn’t: for the things he’s never done (travel by aeroplane); the things he’ll never do (live outside of Victoria, wear sunglasses); the things he’ll never do again (watch movies or a Shakespeare play); the books he won’t read (contemporary fiction); the books he won’t write (interrogations of national identity); and the literary prizes he hasn’t won (almost all of them – much to critical incredulity). Australians often struggle with strangeness: we do not easily surrender to the unconventional, the wilfully eccentric, or the unapologetically clever. It’s hard to know what to do with a writer who is all three.' (Introduction)

(p. 26)
Edge of Nightmare, Kerryn Goldsworthy , single work essay
— Review of Atlantic Black A. S. Patrić , 2017 single work novel ;

'Writing this review in the first week in November, I look at the calendar and note that we are a few days away from the seventy-ninth anniversary of Kristallnacht, when, over the two days of 9–10 November 1938, at the instigation of Joseph Goebbels, there was a nationwide pogrom against German Jews that saw synagogues, business premises, and private homes ransacked. At least ninety people were killed, perhaps many more. It was a sign of things to come.' (Introduction)

(p. 29)
Aggie's Shell, Susan Wyndam , single work review
— Review of Can You Hear the Sea? My Grandmother's Story Brenda Niall , 2017 single work biography ;

'Brenda Niall has touched on aspects of her own life in many of her admired biographies of writers and artists, such as the Boyd family and the Durack sisters, and Melbourne’s Irish Catholic Father Hackett and Archbishop Mannix. Time – and perhaps the deaths of central people – has pulled her focus in close to tell the story of her maternal grandmother, Agnes Gorman, and through her the extended family, in Can You Hear the Sea?' (Introduction)

(p. 38)
Bimbimpap, Ceridwen Spark , single work review
— Review of The Book Of Thistles Noëlle Janaczewska , 2017 single work prose ;

'Every Saturday around Australia, the suburbs hum with the sound of lawnmowers. While cutting grass, the mowers simultaneously decapitate the milk thistles (also known as sow thistles) that sprout in most gardens around the country. But this rude beheading is little more than an inconvenience from which these hardy plants soon recover. Perhaps this is why, despite their benign name, milk thistles rate a mention on the webpage of a company that is synonymous with weedkillers. The Roundup page describes milk thistles as ‘a common weed’ that ‘can reach over two meters if not controlled’. Given the apparent threat, the solution to managing these seemingly triffid-like proportions appears obvious and unavoidable. Homeowners must take part in the ‘war on weeds’.' (Introduction)

(p. 39)
[Review] Half Wild, Anna MacDonald , single work review
— Review of Half Wild Pip Smith , 2017 single work novel ;

'In this inventive début novel, Pip Smith recounts the multiple lives of Eugenia Falleni, the ‘man-woman’ who in 1920, as Harry Crawford, was convicted of murdering his first wife, Annie Birkett. Smith employs various types of text–sketches, newspaper articles, witness statements – alongside third-person accounts – to embroider an archive rich in narrative possibilities. The story moves from Wellington, New Zealand, in 1885 to Sydney in the first half of the twentieth century. Each of Falleni’s multiple selves (Nina, Tally Ho, Harry Crawford, Jack, Gene, and Jean Ford) tells his or her own first-person story. In this way, the structure of the novel conveys Falleni’s perpetually shifting identity.' (Introduction)

(p. 40)
[Review] The Pacific Room, Gillian Dooley , single work review
— Review of The Pacific Room Michael Fitzgerald , 2017 single work novel ;

'Simile haunts The Pacific Room. So many sentences begin ‘It’s as if ...’ that the phrase seems like an incantation. Michael Fitzgerald writes that he agrees with Robert Louis Stevenson that ‘every book is, in an intimate sense, a circular letter to the friends of him who writes it. They alone take his meaning.’ For the reviewer coming from outside the circle, this book does not so much erect screens as exist within a lush, enticing forest of signs which seems indifferent to one’s presence. As Teuila, the Samoan fa‘afafine, confidently climbs to the summit of Mount Vaea in the dark, we are told, ‘For an outsider there is no hint of what lies ahead, so inscrutable is the dense foliage.’ One is aware that given time and multiple readings, the forest might become as familiar as it is to Teuila. On a first reading, the best option is to let the strangeness of the book seep into one’s consciousness and resist the temptation to seek clarification at every twist in the path.' (Introduction)

(p. 41)
[Review] Dancing Home, Jay Daniel Thompson , single work review
— Review of Dancing Home Paul Collis , 2017 single work novel ;

'Dancing Home opens in forthright fashion. The author, Paul Collis, urges readers to ‘[t]ake sides. Be involved in the ideas I’ve written into this book.’ The novel offers an uncompromising examination of some of the injustices faced by Indigenous Australians. The plot focuses on three men – Blackie, Rips, and Carlos – who have embarked on a road trip to Wiradjuri country. Blackie and Rips have recently been released from prison, where they met. Blackie is intent on enacting revenge against Hunter McWilliams, the white police officer who was responsible for his incarceration. Blackie whiled away his prison sentence ‘imagining how he would hurt the cop with every punch he threw’.' (Introduction)

(p. 43)
'Picnic at Hanging Rock Fifty Years on' by Marguerite Johnson, Marguerite Johnson , single work essay

'Far from being a flimsy, frilly story for women full of antique charm and middle-class manners, Joan Lindsay’s Picnic at Hanging Rock is a novel of sharp social observations and nuanced critique; subtle and sometimes latent sensuality; and layered, intricate allegory. The ‘shimmering summer morning warm and still’ brings the opposite to what it promises. Life is more complex and unstable in Lindsay’s world. Whoever would have thought that a picnic on Valentine’s Day 1900 would go so horribly wrong for the students and teachers of Appleyard College, or that the picnickers would return to the school with three senior girls and one teacher missing at Hanging Rock?' (Introduction)

(p. 49-57)
Temenos, Gregory Day , single work essay
— Review of The Best Australian Poems 2017 2017 anthology poetry ;

'When W.H. Auden took the cue for his poem ‘Musée des Beaux Arts’ from Brueghel’s Fall of Icarus, he did not presume the reader’s knowledge of the iconography of the painting but rather sprang open its central and universal theme, which touches all our lives: how ‘dreadful martyrdom must run its course’. It is easy to think our lurid times are perhaps unsuited to such universalities, given the way we loudly chart even the smallest martyrdom, or indulge the biggest Trump on any manner of forums without ever feeling the need to properly situate the subject within a unifying longue durée. The cultural seeds of Trumpism may be found in most real estate offices, just as they are in Aeschylus and Dan Brown. But who cares about that? When it comes to capturing hearts and minds, umbrage and outrage are as much subject to the traction of demand and supply as anything else. At present, there are more poets writing in this country alone than there are footballers kicking goals at the highest level or politicians compromising the healthy future of our children’s climate. But where are the crowds, where is the hysteria, and the press conferences? Thankfully, not here. Like the ploughman ignoring Icarus falling into the sea in Brueghel’s painting, the workaday world and its directional spotlight will always carry on as if nothing has happened in the poetry world.' (Introduction)

(p. 58)
Tick-Off List, Peter Kenneally , single work essay

'lan Wearne’s work over the past thirty years or so – dense, demanding, unique, rewarding – is like the oeuvre of a cinematic auteur: one that never quite got onto the syllabus, or brought out the crowds at Cinémathèque. Technique above all, most of the time, but allied with real if unfamiliar emotion, even if the narrative needed the reader to have the right stuff in the first place before it unfolded itself.' (Introduction)

(p. 59)
Unfathomably Larger, Catherine Noske , single work review
— Review of Terra Nullius Claire G. Coleman , 2017 single work novel ;

'It is hard to review a novel when you don’t want to discuss two-thirds of it – not because it is not worth discussing, but because doing so risks undermining the genius of the novel’s structure. The blurb of Claire G. Coleman’s début makes clear that the novel is ‘not [about] the Australia of our history’, but for the first third of the novel, this is not readily apparent.' (Introduction)

(p. 60)
Sybil, Fiona Wright , single work essay
— Review of Drawing Sybylla Odette Kelada , 2017 single work novel ;

'Drawing Sybylla is a wonderfully unusual book, narrated in parts by a modern-day Sybil – one of those ‘mad mouthpieces’ of prophesy and poetry from Ancient Greece. This Sybil springs to life from an elaborate doodle in a notebook, drawn by a Sydney Writers’ Festival panelist who is listening to another writer on her panel. This writer is describing to the audience a feminist short story from 1892, ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’, a work in which a woman, diagnosed by her physician husband as suffering ‘a slight hysterical tendency’, is confined to a single room to rest and recover, and slowly descends into madness, beginning to see other women moving behind – and trapped behind – the intricate patterns of the wallpaper. And it is this wallpaper, these figures, that come to form the central metaphor of Kelada’s book – as the suddenly animated ink figure, aptly named Sybylla, invites her creator to step behind the wallpaper and into its pattern, and examine the lives of other women writers, in Australia, across time.' (Introduction)

(p. 61)
Worseworld, Barry Reynolds , single work review
— Review of Bad to Worse Robert Edeson , 2017 single work novel ;

'You can’t help but smile while reading Robert Edeson’s Bad to Worse, his second book featuring Richard Worse, polymath, conversationalist, fighter, and resident of Perth. The mirth may have something to do with the Dickensian names Edeson uses throughout – not just Worse, but an aeronautics engineer called Walter Reckles, the Norwegian–British logician Edvard Tossentern, and the aptly named villain, Glimpse (who only makes a short appearance). It may also come from the reader trying to separate the real science and philosophy from the author defying the laws of nature and daring his readers to pick the difference.' (Introduction)

(p. 62)

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Last amended 4 Jun 2018 09:58:19
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