Australian Book Review

Web Name: Australian Book Review






While on the campaign trail against Hillary Clinton in 2016, Donald Trump appeared to deviate from a scripted speech he was delivering in Dimondale, Michigan. What followed was remarkable: ‘At the end of four years, I guarantee you that I will get over ninety-five per cent of the African-American vote. I promise you.’ Undaunted by six decades of black voting behaviour and his own poor standing with African-Americans, not to mention the fact that he had yet to defeat Clinton, Trump promised a ‘new deal for black America’ that would spark a decisive black shift to the Republican Party. African-Americans had long been the nation’s most partisan racial group: since 1964, no Republican presidential candidate had won more than thirteen per cent of the black vote, and no Democrat less than eighty-two per cent. Yet Trump, a man with a long and divisive racial history, vowed that he would soon rival Barack Obama for electoral appeal among African-Americans. ‘Healthy People Gather for Your Freedom.’ So read the sign held proudly aloft by a young woman at a protest against coronavirus restrictions on ‘Freedom Day’ in Melbourne. Drawn to the Shrine in a symbolic gesture of solidarity with those other ‘diggers’ who defended Australia against the threat of authoritarianism, she was part of a small crowd with a big message: ‘Freedom is under threat’. A bit like coronavirus itself, perhaps, ‘Freedom Day’ was an accident waiting to happen – not least of all in Victoria. No democratic government can expect to curtail freedoms without stirring up the civil libertarians (both the sane and the crazy), and the restrictions devised and enforced by the Andrews government have been more severe than most. If one is to believe former prime minister Tony Abbott, the premier of Victoria now heads up a ‘health dictatorship’ that holds five million Melburnians under ‘house arrest’. Daniel Andrews, though in truth a champion of social justice, has of late acquired the disagreeable moniker of ‘Dictator Dan’ for putting a plague city into lockdown. In early August, deep in the winter of Melbourne’s stage-four discontent, journalist Rachel Baxendale became the story. The Victorian political reporter for The Australian newspaper was attacked online for questioning Premier Daniel Andrews on his government’s hotel quarantine program, as an explosion of new coronavirus infections caused unprecedented economic shutdown and the curtailment of civil liberties. As thousands of people watched the premier’s live press briefings from their living rooms, Baxendale assiduously probed Andrews about the use of security guards instead of Australian Defence Force personnel to guard returned travellers. Gail Jones’s new novel, Our Shadows, provides readers with another virtuoso performance, showing a writer fully in control of her medium. It is a poetic and beautifully crafted evocation of shadowy pasts whose traumatic effects (in the world and in individual lives) stretch deep into the present and the future. It is curious the way certain books can insinuate themselves into your consciousness. I am not necessarily talking about favourite books, or formative ones that evoke a particular time and place, but those stray books that seem to have been acquired almost inadvertently (all bibliophiles possess such volumes, I’m sure), and taken up without any particular expectations, books that have something intriguing about them that keeps drawing you back. Those of us who work in classical music will be familiar with the accusation that our chosen art form lacks contemporary social relevance. It is one with a long pedigree. ‘Sonata, what do you want of me?’ asked an exasperated Fontenelle in 1751, according to Rousseau. But you will find no widespread or heightened disdain for worldly affairs among classical musicians on the whole. Rather, any apparent reticence they may have describing how their art connects with the world at large stems from the fact that it is notoriously difficult to do. As the well-known quip goes, ‘Writing about music is like dancing about architecture.’ This is not a love that dare not speak its name so much as one that strugglesto be put into words at all. A crow-shaped shadow flies across the river. Juna knows that her daughter is coming, so the right thing to do is make her favourite feed. Juna casts a fishing net over the river with her mind. The net drifts onto the surface, slips under the skin, and is swallowed by the water. The net descends through the deep water slowly, resting on the bed. River grass unflattens and pokes up between the spaces. Juna sings a song to attract fish to the area. What we read at difficult times in our lives – plague, insurrection, divorce, major root canal work, etc. – is always telling. Carlyle, miserable and unwell at Kirkcaldy, read the whole of Gibbon straight through – twelve volumes in twelve days – with a kind of horrified fascination. I recall one friend who, at a time of ineffable tension, calmly read Les Misérables, one thousand pages long, in a single week. (I would have been incapable of reading a tabloid.) Another time, lovelorn in Siena, I stayed in my ghastly hotel room and read The Aunt’s Story right through while the handsome Sienese sunned themselves in the companionable Campo. Gail Jones’s new novel, Our Shadows, provides readers with another virtuoso performance, showing a writer fully in control of her medium. It is a poetic and beautifully crafted evocation of shadowy pasts whose traumatic effects (in the world and in individual lives) stretch deep into the present and the future. by Australian Literary Studies ALS is pleased to announce a new Book Reviews Program for emerging and early-career scholars. Reviews will centre on scholarly and non-fiction books about Australian literary cultures and/or by Australian literary studies scholars. The program will include mentoring in academic publishing from our editorial team and payment of $200 (for unwaged, precariously employed, or postgraduate colleagues). Read theABRAdvances for the latest news from the magazine and Australia's literary community. Lisa Gorton is Poet of the Month It is strangely moving to learn how a reader thinks about something I’ve written. Mostly, I’ve been lucky to have reviewers who crystallise, for me, some pattern in my thinking or inchoate hope for the work. It helps me to start something new. I learn as much, perhaps, from reviews of other people’s work – other approaches, a sense of connection. Open Page with Richard Fidler The use of the word ‘learnings’ should be an offence punishable by death. On the other hand, fine old Australian words like ‘lair’, ‘cove’, and ‘skite’ are long overdue for a comeback. ‘Crapulous’, a wonderful synonym for hungover, is pretty good too. Open Page with Cassandra Pybus When I was younger and could tolerate copious amounts of alcohol, I really enjoyed writers’ festivals, especially in Canada, where they are often in stupendous landscapes. I made some lifelong friendships with marvellous writers and enjoyed memorable late-night conversations in the lobbies and bars of swish hotels. The title of Cassandra Atherton’s anthology, Travelling Without Gods, alludes to the particular brand of agnosticism that has run through Chris Wallace-Crabbe’s work over many Emanuel Levy has had a prestigious career as a senior critic at Variety, professor of film and sociology, and jury member at fifty-four international film Why do you write? Because it’s magic – it turns the frog of life into a prince. (Or is it the other way round?) And Thank you for all your donations, subscriptions, and good wishes in recent weeks. It’s been a stirring time. Help us to go on supporting freelance writers and delivering searching journalism.

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Australian Book Review (ABR) is Australia's leading arts and literary review. Created in 1961, and now based in Melbourne, ABR publishes reviews, essays, commentaries and creative writing.

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