Book Reviews

Book reviews

  • Ayaan Hirsi Ali – Nomad

    Posted on July 1, 2010 by in Book Reviews

    Ayaan Hirsi Ali’s convert-like zeal is both disturbing and delusional, writes Hilary McPhee… Nomad: A Personal Journey through the Clash of Civilizations By Ayaan Hirsi Ali, Fourth Estate, $35.00 Ayaan Hirsi Ali has brains and beauty and is a gift to those of us who like our prejudices confirmed. In Australia, where she returns regularly to promote her books, she reinforces our idea of the Muslim world as monolithic, mediaeval and dangerous. Islam is all bad, religion is the problem, Allah is the villain. The West is better in every respect. These days she proclaims the American way with stars in her eyes. Hirsi Ali’s early life was difficult and spent on the move between Somalia, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Kenya. Had she grown up elsewhere – in parts of the Lebanon, Jordan, Turkey or Teheran perhaps – she might have been able to give us a more complex and sympathetic picture of the Muslim world, but I suspect not. As each of us is shaped by family and culture, it was her dysfunctional family that formed her, and gave her the courage and impetus to escape – a harsh mother she despised, an educated politicized father she idealized until …

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  • Yann Martel – Beatrice and Virgil

    Posted on April 10, 2010 by in Book Reviews

    Beatrice and Virgil By Yann Martel, Text Publishing, $32.95 In a small room as white and brightly lit as an operating theatre, an antlered creature stands at bay, a beautiful commodity, a thing. Encrusted with large balls of acrylic and tiny crystal beads, it sparkles like a prize from a rich person’s treasure trove, a vision of the future. Not until you stand close and peer deep into the acrylic lenses at the magnified whorls of delicate brown and gingery hair does the taxidermied elk beneath reveal itself. This statement about manmade annihilation, by Japanese sculptor, Kohei Nawa, in Brisbane’s APT6 , is all the more powerful, it seems to me, because we have to do the work ourselves. He does with optics and silence what Yan Martel’s new novel seeks to do with words. Beatrice and Virgil, with its multiple vantage points, is a novel as much about the struggle to find the right words as it is about their meanings, words for the desperately difficult task, beset by taboos, which Martel embarks on knowing full well the risks. Beatrice and Virgil has two central animal characters who died a long time ago and two human characters both called …

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  • Deep Listening – three novels by M. J. Hyland

    Posted on July 17, 2009 by in Book Reviews

    MJ Hyland This is How, Text Publishing (2009) How the Light Gets In (2003), Carry me Down (2006) I have women friends who say they cannot finish MJ Hyland because she cuts so close to the bone. The blind spots and casual cruelties of her families we can recognize, the unwitting neglect that only shows up when the damage is done. Our anxiety is that we have failed to hear the coded cry for help, have stood by and watched husbands, sons of damaged fathers, cut their sons down to size, that we’ve mothered too much or not enough. In Hyland’s world where unconditional love is a dream of bliss and other kinds of love cannot be counted on, the consolations, such as they are, seem infinitesimal – but they are there. There are acts of kindness, understanding, even intervention – from a school teacher who applauds a child’s imagination, or an elderly staff officer who wants everyone to have a second chance, or a friend who writes that she believes in you – but other people can’t mend what is broken, they die, or go away into their own lives. In her remarkably assured and critically acclaimed first novel, …

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  • Stella Miles Franklin: A Biography by Jill Roe

    Posted on November 8, 2008 by in Book Reviews

    When nineteen year old Stella Miles Franklin sent Henry Lawson the manuscript of My Brilliant Career, he recognized ‘a big thing’ – an Australian Story of an African Farm, he told George Robertson of Angus and Robertson. Olive Schreiner’s autobiographical novel had been an international sensation nearly twenty years earlier, and the Australian publisher still hoped for a home grown version. But Robertson procrastinated, preferring more ‘happy sentimentality’ in his native literature. My Brilliant Career was anything but sentimental. The story of a girl growing up on a failed selection in an imaginary Possum Gully near Goulburn, NSW, Sybylla chooses a career over marriage to an eminently suitable man who loves her and she him, in her Miles Franklin-ish way. Blackwood of Edinburgh published the book in 1901 but cut the ‘anti-imperial sentiments’, without the permission of its ‘little firebrand author’ or of Lawson, who was keeping an eye on his protégée and on publication. British reviews were enthusiastic as if a hitherto unknown species of platypus had been sighted, but The Times was ‘incredulous that a girl in Sybylla’s circumstances could turn her back on wealth and happiness’. Australian reaction was slow and carping, the boundaries between autobiography and …

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  • Who is Alex Miller?

    Posted on November 1, 2007 by in Book Reviews

    ‘Art cannot do the conceptual work we need if we are to understand ourselves,’ philosopher Rai Gaita said on air recently, arguing that moral clarity was best achieved by philosophical thinking. Hearing him speak of the danger of lucidity losing out to the seductions of literature, I wanted to ask if he had read Alex Miller. I suspect that, for Miller, the search for moral clarity is something like the terrible climb up the escarpment in the Expedition Ranges in his latest novel, Landscape of Farewell. Two old and damaged men, one a German professor and the other an Aboriginal leader, exhilarated by their quest but full of self doubt and fearful of what they will find, clamber up ridge after ridge in the stone country seeking a sacred cave. And because fact and fiction are refracted through art and the play of imagination, we are not simply observing their struggle from the plain below. ‘As a novelist, I have been not so much a liar as a re-arranger of facts,’ writes Miller in a recent author’s note in a reissue of The Tivington Nott. ‘The purely imaginary has never interested me as much as the actualities of our daily …

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