Half the Perfect World: Writers, Dreamers and Drifters on Hydra, 1955–1964
About the book
This book tells the story of the post-war community on the Greek island of Hydra. It included Leonard Cohen and other artists and writers, such as the Australian literary couple, Charmian Clift and George Johnston. Drawing on previously unseen letters, manuscripts and diaries, and richly illustrated by the photographs of LIFE magazine photo-journalist James Burke, this book reveals the private lives and relationships of the Hydra expatriates. It charts the promise of a creative life that drew them to the island, and documents the fracturing of the community as it came under pressure from personal ambitions and wider social changes.
About the authors
Paul Genoni works with the School of Media, Culture and Creative Arts at Curtin University. He is a former president of the Association for the Study of Australian Literature, and co-editor (with Tanya Dalziell) of Telling Stories: Australian Life and Literature, 1935–2012 (2013).
Tanya Dalziell works in English and Cultural Studies at the University of Western Australia. She is the author of Settler Romances and the Australian Girl (2004), and co-editor, with Karen Welberry, of Cultural Seeds: Essays on the Work of Nick Cave (2009).
Although Half the Perfect World documents the lives of two prominent post-war Australian literary exiles, it is also a book that addresses contemporary Australia, and our propensity for looking both outward and inward. In beautifully crafted prose, Dalziell and Genoni tell the story of George Johnston and Charmian Clift who lived on the Greek Island of Hydra in a bid to escape the cloying conservatism of 1950s Australia. Their story runs alongside that of other artists and writers, including the iconic writer and singer Leonard Cohen and his 'muse' Marianne Ihlen. Together these personal histories build a compelling and absorbing narrative of the tensions between creative ambition and domestic life. The authors document the complicated relations between the Australians and fellow artist exiles and the constant sense of alienation from Australia. Genoni and Dalziell's 'group biography' is underpinned by substantial scholarly research, including remarkable and new material from the Time LIFE archive. Half the Perfect World illuminates aspects of Australia's continuing relationship with Europe, reminding us that a little over half a century ago many Australians still looked to Europe for intellectual sustenance and culture. Their elegant writing recreates the time and place which shaped the strangely domestic, yet hedonistic lifestyles of Johnston, Clift and their social circle. The photographs are no mere embellishment but are analytical tools which offer a fresh take on their times and lives. This is a compelling read filled with big ideas and fascinating detail.