'Welcome to the December issue of ABR! Highlights include:
• Books of the Year: 34 critics and authors, including Michelle de Kretser, Fiona Wright, Beejay Silcox, Gregory Day, and Gideon Haigh, nominate their favourite books of 2018.
• Review of the Month: Glyn Davis on David Marr’s new collection of speeches, essays, and stories, My Country.
• Peter Goldsworthy lauds the Collected Poems of Les Murray.
• Professor Joy Damousi on the controversial vetoing of eleven ARC grants, and brief statements from a further thirteen academics.
• Andrea Goldsmith’s tribute to her late partner and poet Dorothy Porter.'
'There was excitement. David Marr, newly appointed editor of the National Times at just thirty-three, had agreed to speak with politics students on campus. Volunteers were dispatched to buy the obligatory felafel and cheese, plastic cups, and cask wine, and at 3 pm the famous journalist arrived to address a small but enthusiastic group of undergraduates.' (Introduction)
'When Anne Summers first met Germaine Greer at a raucous house party in Balmain in the early 1970s, she threw up in front of her after too many glasses of Jim Beam. Almost fifty years later, she muses that perhaps that early encounter was one of the reasons why they ‘never really connected’. After reading Summers’ latest memoir, Unfettered and Alive, in tandem with Elizabeth Kleinhenz’s Germaine: The life of Germaine Greer, I can think of a few others.' (Introduction)
'In 1952, Marion May Campbell’s father was killed in an apocalyptic accident when his World War II RAAF Dakota was knocked out of control by contact with a waterspout and was ‘unable to effect recovery’. There were no survivors and little wreckage. The outmoded Dakota was on loan to the CSIRO to conduct experiments in artificial rainmaking that required flying into turbulent cumulonimbus clouds. ‘Rainmaking is the work of the Devil,’ his daughter heard. Had the radio physicists on those flights discovered how to make it rain over drought-stricken areas of Australia, they would have been hailed as heroes. As it was, his grieving widow received a nasty anonymous letter intimating that the crew got what they deserved for ‘interfering with nature’.' (Introduction)
'In 2016 A.S. Patrić’s first novel, Black Rock, White City won the Miles Franklin Literary Award. Two years earlier (he told an interviewer) he couldn’t even get a rejection slip for it: not one of the big Australian publishers responded when he sent the manuscript. The independent company Transit Lounge took it on, and the rest is history. Or, rather, the rest of Patrić’s work comes into the light: Transit Lounge has since published his second novel, Atlantic Black (2017), and now this, his fourth collection of short fiction.' (Introduction)
'In the swampy heat of a Brisbane summer in 1986, a young bookshop assistant tries to solve a fifty-year-old mystery involving Inga Karlson, a legendary New York author who died in a warehouse fire in 1939. Caddie Walker, the bookseller, is idealistic enough to believe that books can change people’s lives. Perhaps they can: literally, and in unexpected ways.' (Introduction)
'On 15 May 1797 a fishing boat passing Wattamolla, in what is now Sydney’s Royal National Park, spotted three men on the beach. Rescued and returned to Sydney, the trio – tea merchant and supercargo William Clarke, sailor John Bennet, and Clarke’s lascar manservant, Srinivas – told an extraordinary story. After their ship, the Sydney Cove, was wrecked on Preservation Island in Bass Strait, they, along with fourteen other men, had set off in a longboat, hoping to fetch help for the other survivors. But when the longboat was also wrecked off the Ninety Mile Beach along Victoria, the survivors chose to do the only thing left open to them: follow the coast north on foot until they found help.' (Introduction)
'Many readers – though apparently not enough to have saved them – will mourn the recent demise of Black Inc.’s annual Best Australian anthologies of essays, stories, and poems (which first appeared in 1998, 1999, and 2003, respectively). The last of these, however, has won something of a reprieve in Best Summer Stories, edited by Aviva Tuffield. A publisher at Black Inc. when this new project began, Tuffield has since moved to UQP. It seems a good decision to have retained her as editor.' (Introduction)
'A seven-hundred-page Collected Poems? The cover photograph of the Big Bloke himself is an embodiment of what’s inside in all its sprawling abundance. As is his surname, which can’t help but invoke our country’s big river, whether in full flood, or slow trickle, or slow spreading billabongs.' (Introduction)
'It is a curious thing, and not a little moving, to see writers celebrated for their work in other genres turn in later life with renewed vigour to poetry. David Malouf, like Clive James, has avowed a desire for poetry now, as the main form of writing his expression wants to take. Certainly, its brevity has a part in this, for the best of poems can happen, if fortunate, in minutes, not months, as Malouf himself observes. Yet the cogency of poetry speaks also to an impulse to voice the essential in life and nothing but, and to do it in a way that calls on all the writer’s powers of sound and gesture and concision.' (Introduction)
'I heard the Egypt story countless times, but then Dorothy Porter believed that if a story was worth telling, it warranted multiple retellings. In the late 1980s, before Dot and I met, she visited Egypt to gather material for her verse novel Akhenaten (1992). In Cairo, she joined a tour group taking in the major historical sights. Dot was, by this time, steeped in the life and times of the visionary pharaoh Akhenaten: no matter what was in front of her, her thoughts remained fixed on Akhenaten and his queen, Nefertiti. It was perhaps inevitable that she would suggest the tour group take a detour – a very long detour as it turned out – to see Akhet-Aten, the city built by Akhenaten and greatly loved by him. She promised her fellow travellers an unparalleled treat.' (Introduction)
'I first encountered Stephen Jay Gould when I happened on one of his books in a bookshop during my late teens. Its unusual title, The Panda’s Thumb, caught my eye. The lead article channelled Charles Darwin’s approach to understanding the natural world, not through looking at perfect adaptations to the environment but through recognising that nature works with what it has, often inelegantly and always surprisingly. It was the perfect foil for creationist bunkum and appealed to the evolving sceptic in me. Gould’s writing opened up a complex, fascinating natural world, one that promised an endless source of wonder. The type of writing epitomised by Gould (who died in 2002) – accessible, intelligent, and entertaining – has inspired generations, and, I am glad to say, continues today in the likes of The Best Australian Science Writing 2018, edited by John Pickrell.' (Introduction)
'This reviewer has the unfashionable opinion, at present, that Patrick White, like Henry James, was a novelist and short story writer of genius who had an unfortunate obsession with the stage. In the 1960s, the nascent Adelaide Festival produced the one play of his that deserves repetition, The Season at Sarsaparilla (1962). Its success motivated him to write another couple, one of which was A Cheery Soul, which John Sumner directed for the Union Theatre Repertory Company in 1963. More unfortunately, towards the end of his career, he was encouraged to write plays of an increasingly third-rate standard, which diverted him from what could have been his final masterpiece, the novel The Hanging Garden.' (Introduction)
'One of the quandaries facing contemporary adaptations of classics is the risk of the story being lost in a translation, which can isolate the work from the original culture and text. Melissa Bubnic’s reimagining of Henrik Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler (which had its première in Munich in 1891) runs no such risk. Directed by Paige Rattray, Hedda removes Ibsen’s characters from nineteenth-century Norway and the world of academia and situates them in present-day Gold Coast on the deck of a ‘McMansion’. Although Hedda retains the original characters’ names, the setting is about as far away from Ibsen as you can imagine.' (Introduction)
'We all love redemption movies. The twist in Boy Erased is that redemption comes by escaping religion rather than discovering it. Garrard Conley is a nineteen-year-old college student who grew up in a fundamentalist Baptist family in Arkansas. When his parents discover his homosexuality, they pressure him into attending a Christian conversion camp, where he lasts twelve days before fleeing. In 2016, Conley published a memoir (Boy Erased) which detailed his experiences.' (Introduction)
'Just as we are unlikely today to think of South Wales when in New South Wales, the existence of the Sydney Opera House does not of itself draw our collective attention towards opera. It is a structure more to be seen than heard; its professed reason for being long ago overshadowed by those iconic sails, and by the internal compromises that mired its construction. The Joan Sutherland Theatre, for instance, presents physical and technical hindrances to opera production that the recent renovations can only partially redress.' (Publication summary)
'Dorothy Porter’s new verse novel, Wild Surmise, takes an almost classic form. The verse novel is now well-established as a modern genre, and Porter has stamped a distinctive signature and voice on the verse form, particularly with the phenomenal success of her racy, action-packed detective novel, The Monkey’s Mask (1994). So it comes as no surprise to find this book setting a similarly cracking pace across some not entirely unexpected territory: an adulterous love affair between two women; and the death, through cancer, of a husband. Additional glamour and some thematic variation are provided by the women’s profession, astronomy. Both women are favourites on the lecture and television circuit, and Alex Leefson’s passionate interest in finding traces of biological life on Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons, generates some of the more purely lyrical moments.' (Introduction)