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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