**spoiler alert** It’s rather silly. We’re led up the garden path to various dead ends – which are intended to make us think that there’s a high level**spoiler alert** It’s rather silly. We’re led up the garden path to various dead ends – which are intended to make us think that there’s a high level Canberra political/public service conspiracy to cover up snuff movies and a sex-slave trade. None of this has happened and it’s too easy to tell who the killer is. The narrator is too self-consciously an editor, and she does far too much rambling on about nothing much at all. There are numerous barely-disguised digs at the Howard government which will date the book in no time.
Kylie Tennant (1912-1988) is famous in my mind for the extraordinary method of research for her Depression novels, so as soon as I saw this biographyKylie Tennant (1912-1988) is famous in my mind for the extraordinary method of research for her Depression novels, so as soon as I saw this biography in the local book bargain shop, I knew I had to have it. Many of us know her work from the ABC TV adaptation (2005) of Ride On Stranger (1943) and I have read The Battlers (1941) but this biography shows that Tennant was a prolific author who wrote in many genres and was also a noted reviewer of Australian literature.
The biography was commissioned by the National Library of Australia as the second in its An Australian Life series. Drawing on papers held in the NLA, this series includes biographies of authors such as Alan Moorehead and Daisy Bates, but if there are others in the series they didn’t come up in the search I did at the NLA bookshop. It’s a pity if there aren’t any more, because I can think of dozens of Australian authors who merit a brief, capable biography like this one, if not more than that.
Today’s young authors, many of whom have the resources of a university behind the PhD that guides their first novel, would perhaps recoil in dismay at Tennant’s methods. The daughter of a middle-class family, she was nonetheless denied university education by her conservative father, and it was an uncle who paid her first term fees at Sydney University in 1931. But (like many of today’s young students) Tennant could not manage both part-time work as a copywriter and also the rigours of study, and she abandoned her course. Nevertheless she was determined to write, and so in 1932 (aged 20) she set out to walk the 600 miles from Sydney to Coonabarabran in northern NSW, ostensibly in response to an invitation to visit the friend who would become her husband, Lewis Rodd. What she said later was that she had wanted to find out all she could about the unemployed men on the track who (sometimes with their families) were searching for work in what was the worst year of the Depression. As you can see in my review of The Battlers what she did was what they did: camping out; being moved on and out of towns that didn’t want them; doing without; going hungry and getting sick. She was also sometimes in real danger, including from an attempted rape. But right from the very beginning she was a writer of social conscience: she wrote her novels with the express intention of wanting to change public opinion about the injustices she saw.
I didn’t intend to add to the ink spilt over this year’s Anzac Centenary, but I just have to share these words from the current Griffith Review, whichI didn’t intend to add to the ink spilt over this year’s Anzac Centenary, but I just have to share these words from the current Griffith Review, which I bought last week at the History Writers’ Festival held at Readers’ Feast Bookstore. There is much wise and thoughtful writing in this issue, and editors Julianne Schultz and Peter Cochrane deserve congratulations for sourcing diverse perspectives and original thinking about so many different aspects of military history.
Amongst many fine pieces of writing, it was Cory Taylor’s brief memoir, ‘Claiming the Dead’ which arrested my attention with her words about the Cowra cemetery. She relates how, at the time of the Tokyo Olympics, Japanese diplomats negotiated for the gathering together of all Japanese who had died on Australian soil either during their internment or during the Cowra breakout.
I was expecting to enjoy this book because I like Mirka Mora’s free-spirited art works, but it was a disappointment. I found it difficult to follow heI was expecting to enjoy this book because I like Mirka Mora’s free-spirited art works, but it was a disappointment. I found it difficult to follow her train of thought in these chaotic ramblings… The constant name-dropping really irritated me. Of course a notable painter like Mora is going to know many notable people, but there are 10 pages of famous names in the index! Most of the time there’s seems to be no relevance in mentioning these people, but that may be partly because of the erratic way that Mora has put this book together. She explains (on p190) that her first efforts at writing her autobiography consisted in copying parts of her diary, and that is exactly what most of it looks like. She says elsewhere that her editor was concerned about her not meeting the deadline and I suspect that if time was tight, he/she decided to try and make a virtue of the muddle and hope that those interested in the book would consider it ‘artistic’. (Mora herself alludes to Proust, hinting that she is writing in a sort of stream of consciousness as Proust did, but having read Proust myself, I can’t agree….) (Would Proust have written four lines about being molested on a train, followed by a line about wearing a little black Parisian suit? (p78). I think not).