What the?

Published : Tuesday, July 10, 2007 | Label: Critiques  

I wish I liked this novel more than I did. There is no story—unless it was Rwanda; unless, here, it is the stolen generation—worth knowing and caring about more than the one this book tells: the slaughter of Sudanese villagers wedged between vicious idealists (the Sudanese army helped by Murahaleen militias, on the one hand, and desperate SPLA rebels, on the other). The problem in Eggers’ book is not the story; it’s the novel. And I wish it didn’t matter, but it does.

Billed as both an autobiography and a novel, the book is told by a Sudanese…

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The Devil and the Detail

Published : Tuesday, May 08, 2007 | Label: Critiques  

If you wanted to read your way through the Norman Mailer oeuvre—thirty-six works to date—you wouldn’t start at The Castle in the Forest, his new novel, because that would be as far as you’d get.

Mailer is a titan of the modern novel, and his feet are made of clay. Obsessed with sex and evil and truth, determined to go again and again to the hell at the bottom of the American ego, possessed of a prodigious gift for speaking the minds of men as different (except in their fanaticism) as it’s possible to get from his own…

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Under the Mountains and Beside a Creek

Published : Tuesday, May 01, 2007 | Label: Critiques  

Robert Gray and the shepherding of antipodean being

PROLOGUE

Pastoral: (Latin) pertaining to shepherds
—J.A. Cuddon, Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms & Literary Theory

Since modern Australia rode to prosperity and nationhood on the sheep’s back, as it is said; and since the feet of millions of sheep—like four times as many roving jackhammers—have done unspeakable damage to soils never in their long history acquainted with hard hoofs, it behooves us to consider the kind of pastoral this dry continent now needs us to write.

Clearing the land for…

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Telling Oneself Short

Published : Tuesday, April 10, 2007 | Label: Critiques  

What I disliked at first about this little brown book, Brenda Niall’s memoir of a life spent writing other people’s lives, I came in the end to admire.

For half its length Life Class reads like another Australian work of nonfiction speaking itself tunelessly forth as though literature were the work of novelists alone. Despite its wisdom and circumspection, Life Class is a piece of life writing without much life in its writing.

Niall, an accidental biographer whose subjects have included the Boyds and Judy Cassab, confesses that writing biography felt to her, for many years,…

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A Terrible Beauty

Published : Tuesday, November 14, 2006 | Label: Critiques  

I wept at the end of The Road as I’ve never wept over a book, as though I had come the whole hopeless way with a man and his boy, death at every corner and no birds singing, and knew with them that the whole world was over and would never be put right.

Then I went outside and was shocked to find the living world still living on out there, and I wept some more at the beauty and contingency of it—all of it lost in McCarthy’s novel: the sun in the sky, butcherbirds at song, jacarandas…

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What’s Writing For

What makes writing worth writing—and reading—is what the story or the poem achieves beyond the tale it tells: its music, its wisdom, its form, the way it makes the ordinary world beautifully strange. A good tale is only good, in other words, if the telling is sound and memorable. It’s the voice and mood, the arc and flow, the poetry of the writing that endure when the storyline fades.

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