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In Their Brilliant Careers, Ryan O'Neill has written a hilarious novel in the guise of sixteen biographies of (invented) Australian writers. Meet Rachel Deverall, who discovered the secret source of the great literature of our time - and paid a terrible price for her discovery. Meet Rand Washington, hugely popular sci-fi author (of Whiteman of Cor) and inveterate racist. Meet Addison Tiller, master of the bush yarn, "The Chekhov of Coolabah", who never travelled outside Sydney.
Their Brilliant Careers is a playful set of stories, linked in many ways, which together form a memorable whole.
About the author
Ryan O’Neill is the author of The Weight of a Human Heart. He was born in Glasgow in 1975 and has lived in Africa, Europe and Asia before settling in Newcastle, Australia, with his wife and two daughters.
His fiction has appeared in The Best Australian Stories, The Sleepers Almanac, Meanjin, New Australian Stories, Wet Ink, Etchings and Westerly. His work has won the Hal Porter and Roland Robinson awards and been shortlisted for the Queensland Premier’s Steele Rudd Award and the Age Short-Story Prize. He teaches at the University of Newcastle.
Their Brilliant Careers consists of sixteen biographical portraits of fictional writers, which combine to form a witty alternative history of Australian literature.
An ingeniously conceived and smartly written work, it pokes fun at the cultural insecurities, ideological disputes, competing movements and outsized egos that have shaped the nation’s literary history. It is also a book that draws inspiration from beyond the Australian tradition, alluding to the likes of Vladimir Nabokov, Roberto Bolaño, and writers from the avant-garde Oulipo movement, all of whom have influenced the book on a formal and conceptual level.
O’Neill uses the mock-scholarly tone of his hilarious biographies to brilliant effect, his deadpan delivery and clever use of insinuation and omission enhancing the book’s comic inventiveness.
For all its playfulness, Their Brilliant Careers is a somewhat rueful commentary on the travails of authorship, the vagaries of literary reputation and the many injustices and ironies that result. Its world of hacks, crackpots, plagiarists and neglected poets presents an amused and sceptical commentary of the notions of authenticity and artistic genius, while also raising questions about the nature of biography and suggesting some of the ways in which the lives and work of writers reflect the deeper currents in Australian society.
O’Neill writes throughout with generous humour and a healthy sense of the absurd. The many broad gags and in-jokes that make Their Brilliant Careers a delight to read reveal a deep knowledge and appreciation for the literary tradition it satirises.
Frederick Lothian, retired engineer, expert on concrete and modernist design, has quarantined himself from life by moving to a retirement village. Surrounded and obstructed by the debris of his life, he is determined to be miserable, but is tired of his existence and of the life he has chosen.
When a series of unfortunate incidents forces him and his neighbour, Jan, together, he begins to realise the damage done by the accumulation of a lifetime’s secrets and lies, and to comprehend his own shortcomings. Finally, Frederick Lothian has the opportunity to build something meaningful for the ones he loves.
About the author
Josephine Wilson's second novel, Extinctions, won the 2017 Miles Franklin and the Colin Roderick Awards after winning UWA Publishing's inaugural Dorothy Hewett Award in manuscript form. Josephine is a Perth-based writer whose career began in the area of performance. Her early works included The Geography of Haunted Places, with Erin Hefferon, and Customs. Her first novel, Cusp, was published by UWA Publishing in 2005. Josephine has taught at Murdoch University, the University of Western Australia, and Curtin University.
Extinctions is a contemporary story of family disintegration and regeneration, rich with ideas and philosophical musing.
Professor Frederick Lothian, a former engineer, lives reclusively in a retirement village surrounded by memories of his late wife, Martha, and their family. Their life is represented by his treasured collection of Modernist furniture and countless possessions he can't let go. His adult children are absent, Callum disabled in an accident and Caroline researching an exhibition of extinct creatures while obsessed by her adoption and Indigenous origins. Frederick seems frozen in his self-centred history until a warm, bossy neighbour, Jan, breaks down his reserve.
Josephine Wilson moves fluidly between past and present, the minutiae of domestic life and the abstractions of academic thought, keeping control of an ensemble of interesting flawed characters. The elegant realist narrative explores ideas of family, inheritance and grief, as well as design and construction, enhanced by the physical and metaphorical significance of eggs, bridges, chairs and so on. There is both poetry and wit in the writing. Wilson’s cool intelligence and psychological insight raise an engaging story to a highly original level of literary achievement.
Evan is a nurse, a suicide assistant. His job is legal . . . just. He's the one at the hospital who hands out the last drink to those who ask for it.
Evan's friends don't know what he does during the day. His mother, Viv, doesn't know what he's up to at night. And his supervisor suspects there may be trouble ahead.
As he helps one patient after another die, Evan pushes against legality, his own morality and the best intentions of those closest to him, discovering that his own path will be neither quick nor painless.
About the author
Steven Amsterdam is the award-winning author of Things We Didn't See Coming (winner of the Age Book of the Year, shortlisted for the NSW Premier's Award for Fiction and longlisted for The Guardian First Book Award) and What the Family Needed (AWW Great Read and longlisted for the Dublin IMPAC literary award). He lives in Melbourne with his partner where he works as a palliative care nurse.
The Easy Way Out dramatises a topical issue with striking qualities of imagination, humanity, intellect and humour.
Set in a recognisable yet somewhat dystopian near-future, the novel is narrated by Evan, a nurse who works as a dying assistant under a new law that allows voluntary euthanasia for the terminally ill. However, legalisation does not dispel all ethical and emotional questions.
As Steven Amsterdam shows in a series of death-bed scenarios, the decision to end a life – even one’s own – is not always simple, and bureaucratic regulation makes it far from easy. Evan must walk the line between compassion and professionalism. In his private life he distances death through physical encounters with his friends Lon and Simon. And as he cares for his own rebellious mother, Viv, his principles are challenged and his motivations revealed. Amsterdam makes no judgments on a contentious subject but draws on his work as a palliative care nurse to portray the medical settings and challenges in convincing detail. He goes well beyond “case studies” to bring to life idiosyncratic characters in dynamic relationships.
The present-tense narration is vibrant, with a lightly modulated tone that allows readers to laugh as they contemplate life’s most serious questions in a sophisticated novel that is both thought-provoking and moving.
Ava Langdon is often not herself. Having fled her early life in New Zealand and endured the loss of her children, she now lives as a recluse in the Blue Mountains. Regarded by locals as a colourful eccentric, she dresses in men’s clothes and fearlessly pursues her artistic path.
All that matters to Ava is her writing. Words offer beauty and a sense of possibility when so much has been lost. But can they offer her redemption in her last days?
Poetic, poignant, and at times bitingly funny, this novel takes us into the mind of a true maverick.
About the author
Mark O’Flynn’s fiction and poetry have been widely published in Australian journals as well as overseas. His novels include Grassdogs and The Forgotten World, and he has published five collections of poems, most recently The Soup’s Song. He has also published the comic memoir False Start and a collection of short fiction, White Light. He lives in the Blue Mountains.
The Last Days of Ava Langdon is a novel notable for its elegant craftsmanship and its masterful blend of humour and pathos.
Based on the life of the eccentric novelist Eve Langley, it is a deeply appealing character study of an elderly woman, once a moderately successful writer, who lives alone in a tumbledown shack in the Blue Mountains, obsessively writing strange novels that no one wants to publish. Ava Landon is a marvellously quixotic creation. She wanders the streets of Katoomba, wearing a pith helmet and wielding a machete. Insisting that her name is Oscar Wilde, she is a defiant character who persists despite the world’s indifference and conducts herself with equanimity in the face of her impoverished circumstances and social isolation.
O’Flynn places us inside Ava’s mind, allowing us to understand her peculiar literary sensibility and the way it shapes her every perception. In doing so, he not only allows us to empathise with her but to understand that her madness and her dedication to writing are inseparable, integral to her personality.
Set over the course of a day and a night, The Last Days of Ava Langdon is a work of remarkable formal concentration. Composed with a poet’s ear and feel for the weight of words, its prose is rich and vivid and never less than beautifully rendered.
'Waiting' is a story of two odd couples.
Big is hefty cross-dresser and Little is little. Both are long used to the routines of boarding house life in the inner suburbs of Melbourne but Little, with the prospect of an inheritance, is beginning to indulge in the great Australian dream. Little's cousin Angus is a solitary man who designs lake-scapes for city councils, and strangely constructed fireproof houses. Angus meets Jasmin, an academic who races in ideas as much as her runners.
About the author
Philip Salom is a contemporary Australian poet. He has published fourteen books - twelve collections of poetry and two novels.
Major awards (apart from the two Commonwealth Poetry Book Prizes in London) include the Western Australian Premiers Prize (twice for Poetry and once for Fiction) and the prestigious Newcastle Poetry Prize (in 1996 and again in 2000). He has received several major Australian Council Fellowships.
In 2003 Philip Salom was recognised with the Christopher Brennan Award - a prize given for lifetime achievement in poetry, recognising a poet who produces work "of sustained quality and distinction".
Philip Salom’s Waiting is a reflective and subtly powerful novel that focuses on the lives of four very different characters: Big and Little, Angus and Jasmin. Big and Little are central to this novel, and their relationship and the issues they face are the focus of the world that Salom presents with a sharp eye for detail and the nuances of personal connections.
They are idiosyncratic and troubled, difficult and loving. They have found each other and a way of life that suits their needs and their sense of self. Angus and Jasmin are different in both their inspiration and aspiration, but they find in each other a sense of what they need to move through their lives. The conceit of “waiting” hangs over all the characters, who are in turn waiting for familial, financial and personal resolutions.
The novel vibrates with the language of the street and the speaking voices of the many characters is brilliantly captured by Salom, whose poetry background is apparent. The suburban rooming house which is central to the novel reverberates with wit and intensity and the cast of characters that live and die in this boarding house is achingly authentic. Their impoverished circumstances, daily struggles with health and mental capacity are all handled with sensitivity and a unique voice.
Waiting is a beautiful telling of the lives of ordinary people.
'Headwaters marries an extraordinary gift for observation of the natural world and an exquisite appreciation of human creatureliness with marvellous linguistic precision to create a singular, life-affirming music.' John Burnside
About the author
Anthony Lawrence, born 1957, in Tamworth, New South Wales, has published fifteen books of poetry and his work has won many of Australia’s most prestigious awards. He teaches Writing Poetry at Griffith University, Gold Coast, and lives on the far north coast of New South Wales.
Anthony Lawrence’s Headwaters meditates on complex ideas of sources and origins, from poems that delve into the estuarine world and the movement of bodies of water, to questions of family inheritances and the sometimes fraught relationships between sons and fathers, and encounters with poetic forebears such as Yeats and Dickinson.
Underlying all of these origins, however, is the body itself, the ultimate source: one which houses all experience, or, what the Scottish poet John Burnside, when praising this book, termed our “creatureliness”.
Some of the most powerful poems in the collection handle the body’s failings – deaths, the loss of a father’s ashes, and the rituals that follow funerary rights, to bodily harms experienced while slicing a foot open with the razor-sharp spines of a sea urchin, or detaching the retina of an eye with an errant piece of fencing wire, as well as threats to the body from pathogens and illness, addictions of various kinds, vices, and temptations.
Lawrence is a forensic observer of the animal and human worlds and a profound translator of that lived experience into the “unfenced shires” of language. Headwaters is a commanding addition to Lawrence’s oeuvre.
In his latest collection, Liam Ferney focuses on the deep contradictions at the heart of modern life. This is fast-paced poetry that is explosive, critical, and engaged.
Ferney uses the argot of politics and the internet to tackle religion, war, love, and late capitalism. Content is a hand grenade tossed into the middle of polite society. He charts and parodies a hypertextual world, engrossed in media while passionately critical of their effects.
About the author
Liam Ferney is the author of Popular Mechanics (2004) and Boom (2013), which was shortlisted for the Kenneth Slessor Poetry Prize and the Judith Wright Calanthe Award. His work has been published internationally and translated into Korean and Mandarin. He lives in Brisbane.
Liam Ferney’s Content puts the Age of Information in the cross hairs.
“Frumpy bloggers” serve up homilies and hot takes, while “the newspapers in this town / only report reliably / on gossip, slander & opinion”. Knowledge has up and fled and citizens – or “users” – are content with mere content. “We have made knowledge redundant,” Ferney writes in the poem “Summer Anthem”, just “in time for cigarettes & g&ts / at the pool”.
Like frogs that fail to leap from the boiling pot, we are anesthetised to our addiction to the vapid content of rolling entertainment that passes for news: “when the networks go down we all look / up from our smart phones,” he writes with wry accusation, “and ask – / what next?”
While many poets are satisfied to “play with soundbites while transnational market forces play with us”, Ferney proves himself to be the rightful heir to the great John Forbes by holding a mirror to machines of power that doubles as an indictment.
This is an exhilarating, frequently hilarious, language-driven poetry that shows us precisely where we’re at. It may not be the news we want to hear, but Ferney’s poems bring the news we deserve and undoubtedly need.
Antigone Kefala is highly regarded for the intensity of her vision, and her minimalism. Fragments is her first collection of poems in almost twenty years, since the publication of New and Selected Poems in 1998. It follows her 2008 memoir Sydney Journals, of which one critic wrote, ‘Kefala can render the music of the moment so perfectly, she leaves one almost singing with the pleasure of it’. This skill in capturing the moment is just as evident in Fragments, with its linguistic precision, its heightened perception and sense of drama.
About the author
Antigone Kefala has written four works of fiction, including The First Journey, The Island and Summer Visit, and four poetry collections, The Alien, Thirsty Weather, European Notebook and Absence: New and Selected Poems as well as the non-fiction work Sydney Journals. Born in Romania of Greek parents, she lived in Greece and New Zealand before coming to Australia.
Antigone Kefala’s Fragments is a searing enactment of memory. Time demolishes us all in little doses, so the poet contends, but the past is “a poison / we thirst for”. Shards of memory conjure the world in various states of evanescence: dreams evoke empty rooms in old houses, the floorboards gone, even the walls are thinning to mist – here and there the cry of birds pierce the enveloping silence.
We, like the poems, may “sink in light, disappear in silence”, but Kefala bids us to recall the “glossy beings” of our younger selves who head into the future innocent to what awaits us.
Kefala astounds with imagery that is intense, unsettling and always unexpected: at dusk in the coastal town of Derveni on the Peloponnese peninsula, fishing boats are “massive dark stones / planted / in a field of moonstone”. Light, fire and flowers are recurring motifs, as is the theme of “self-sufficiency”, which in the fierce austerity of Kefala’s mind finds its ultimate embodiment in death.
Fragments is a wonder of minimalism in which we find ourselves, like the poet, dancing in memory rooms growing bigger and bigger. It is a major work by a senior poet whose poetry continues to fascinate.
Eileen Chong’s new collection continues her exploration of the contemplative and the personal within subtly shifting contexts of food, love, history and culture. Lovers of her poetry will find much that is familiar and much that is new. Over the three volumes of work represented on this page the reader can map a transition from a precocious apprenticeship to a mature voice, through moments of light and happiness mixed with hints of grief and foreboding.
As always her technical confidence and linguistic sophistication allow her to offer poems which appear simple on the surface, transparent enough to appreciate at a first reading and yet which contain depths and resonances which repay repeated attention and thought. Through this combination of beauty and depth, Eileen Chong commands a wide and devoted following.
About the author
Eileen Chong is Sydney poet who was was born in Singapore. She moved to Australia in 2007 and took a Master of Letters at the University of Sydney. She won the Poets Union Youth Fellowship in 2010 and was the Australian Poetry Fellow for 2011-2012.
Her first collection, Burning Rice, was published in 2012. It was shortlisted for the Anne Elder Award 2012, the Australian Arts in Asia Award 2013, and the Prime Minister’s Literary Award 2013. Her second collection, Peony, was published by Pitt Street Poetry in 2014. Painting Red Orchids (2016) is her third volume of poetry. A selection of poems, Another Language is published in the Braziller Series of Australian poets by George Braziller, New York.
Eileen Chong’s Painting Red Orchids reveals an introspective poet whose acute command of form and painterly sensibility deftly capture both the quotidian and intimate worlds and larger questions of cultural belonging, history and home. Travelling between the balconies of Sydney, Singapore Harbour and Hong Kong ferries, Chong’s poems delight in sensory and tactile detail, which the poet renders with precision and restraint, whether she is describing chefs making fresh dumplings behind a sheet of glass “dressed like surgeons”, or the notes of a zither that “shiver in the night air”.
Underlying the sensual pleasures of food, alcohol and sex, however, are deeper griefs: here, a mother’s miscarriage, funerals, intergenerational loss and change jostle for attention alongside the pleasures of the flesh. The poet also occasionally turns her eye to history’s silences and omissions to great effect, examining a black and white photograph of a Chinese miner during the gold rush, and the twin drumbeats of war and adolescence in the mind of Hua Mu Lan as she advances across a battlefield while posing as a man.
Overall, what impresses most about Chong’s poems is their music, imagery, formal control and sense of craft; this is a poet with a keen eye and ear who finds deep meaning in fleeting moments.
In 2012 poet and writer Joel Deane suffered a stroke. Suddenly he was a poet without language. The music and imagery of poetry, for so long the impetus of all his writing, would not come. Year of the Wasp charts Deane’s journey to rediscover his poetic voice.
From these deeply personal origins Deane’s third poetry collection rises to confront the realities of politics and culture, language and love in contemporary Australia. It is a journey of poetic transfiguration that produces a work of unrivalled power, emotional intensity, and insight.
About the author
Joel Deane is the author of seven books, including The Norseman’s Song, Catch and Kill: the politics of power, and Magisterium, and has written speeches for Labor politicians such as Bill Shorten, Steve Bracks, and John Brumby. He has been a finalist for the Walkley Award and the Melbourne Prize for Literature, and been shortlisted for the Anne Elder Award.
Joel Deane’s Year of the Wasp was written after the poet, speechwriter and novelist suffered a stroke in 2012.
There is a visceral sense of the poet reengaging with the world through language and imagery that starts with his experience in hospital where his immediate physical surroundings become the locus for several of his poems: “the air-conditioning was far too cold” and “his life repeats on the portable TV power-drilled to the hospital ceiling”.
In the second section, “Eight Views of Nowhere”, the poems move outwards from the hospital bed to address injustice and inhumanity on a larger scale, employing Greek mythology with metaphorical intensity and a tightness of phrasing. The poet brings an otherworldliness into this dark world using words that echo liturgical prayer: “and so I pray to the digital celestials / to program me this day / my daily bread.”
There is no self pity here; rather Deane uses the occasion of his stroke to reflect on life more broadly with moral, political, literary and biblical allusions.
The wasp motif is used repeatedly as both an internal buzzing in the author’s head, a distortion of the reality around the poet, and ultimately a marker of transcendence. This is a poignant and powerful collection that confronts the reader with the impermanence and beauty of life and the restorative power of poetry.
Quicksilver begins in contemplation of a lizard deep in the heart of the outback but quickly moves to the Russia of Tolstoy and Gorky, and on to other lands and times, bringing into play universal questions about the essential nature of the human condition.
Rothwell’s chief subject is always the inland: the mystic Kurangara cult that flourished in the Kimberley; the story of the Western Desert artists; and the landscape word-portraits by the great biographer of nature Eric Rolls.
Quicksilver masterfully takes us in search of the sacred through place and time, in an enchanting reverie of calm wondering.
About the author
Nicolas Rothwell is the award-winning author of Belomor, Heaven & Earth, Wings of the Kite-Hawk, Another Country, The Red Highway and Journeys to the Interior. He is a senior writer for the Australian.
This is an ambitious book, both in form and content, but one the judges believe has the power to change Australians’ understanding of their land and history.
Nicolas Rothwell uses a form – the essay – which is not always easy to carry off but which here amplifies his efforts to describe the nuances of our national history and culture.
Rothwell has created a work of art and an act of reconciliation through his stories of landscape, memory and meaning. His work is elegant and complex and he skillfully links ideas, events and people across the hemispheres, making surprising and rich connections between the ancient lands of Australia and Europe and beyond.
Rothwell’s rendering of landscape and place is deeply sensual and evocative. He encourages us to think outside the usual metropolitan focus. He demands our attention be given to an Australian landscape both familiar and alien and one with which he deeply connects.
Rothwell is a practiced and erudite observer and Quicksilver is a book that showcases his breadth of reading and reflection on issues of place and identity.
The judges described this book as contemporary in its outlook - a book of our time – but one, which will endure.
No matter how practised we are at history, it always humbles us. No matter how often we visit the past, it always surprises us. The art of time travel is to maintain critical poise and grace in this dizzy space.
Through portraits of fourteen historians, including Inga Clendinnen, Judith Wright, Geoffrey Blainey and Henry Reynolds, he traces how a body of work is formed out of a life-long dialogue between past evidence and present experience. With meticulous research and glowing prose, he shows how our understanding of the past has evolved, and what this changing history reveals about us.
About the author
Tom Griffiths is the W K Hancock Professor of History at the Australian National University and the author of Slicing the Silence: Voyaging to Antarctica (2007), Forests of Ash: An Environmental History(2001) and Hunters and Collectors: The Antiquarian Imagination in Australia (1996). His books and essays have won prizes in literature, history, science, politics and journalism, including the Prime Minister’s Prize for Australian History in 2008, the Alfred Deakin Prize for an Essay Advancing Public Debate, and the Douglas Stewart and Nettie Palmer Prizes for Non-Fiction.
This is an impressive book that creatively explores the discipline of history as a craft that has made a considerable mark on Australia’s cultural identity.
In Tom Griffith’s vivid and accessible narrative history, the history and writing are shown to be both profound and idiosyncratic. Across fourteen chapters, each of which focuses on a significant writer, the reader is taken on a journey through Australian history. This is a book about the ideas that have shaped the writing of our history; its ambition is to expand our definition of Australian history and how we understand the stories of our past.
Griffith is a fine writer, at ease with his material and his concepts, who here demonstrates a capacity to combine historical data with analysis, biography and social commentary.
Genius, friend, rival: this is the story of four pairs of artists whose intense relationships spurred and shaped their art.
Matisse and Picasso. Manet and Degas. Bacon and Freud. De Kooning and Pollock. Eight of the most significant modern artists; four pairs linked by friendship and a shared spirit of competitiveness.
Absorbing, informed and provocative, Sebastian Smee’s The Art of Rivalry offers revelatory insights into the ways in which these major artists influenced and changed each other—and into their ultimate quest ‘to be unique, original, inimitable; to acquire the solitude, the singularity, of greatness’.
About the author
Sebastian Smee is the Boston Globe’s art critic. He was a Pulitzer Prize finalist in 2009 and a winner in 2011. His writing about art has appeared in many of the leading papers in Australia, the UK and the US. He grew up in Adelaide.
The Art of Rivalry: Four Friendships, Betrayals, and Breakthroughs in Modern Art by Mr Sebastian Smee
The Australian Pulitzer Prize-winning author Sebastian Smee has written a subtle and complex exploration of the affection and competition experienced by four sets of friends - all of them male artists.
Smee looks at how these friendships affected the work of the eight men - Édouard Manet and Edgar Degas; Henri Matisse and Pablo Picasso; Willem de Kooning and Jackson Pollock; Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud. Smee’s decision to examine the lives of some of the West’s most important artists through the prism of their friendships is original and adds to our understanding of their work. In the process, Smee offers intelligent and universal observations on the deep connections between love, friendship, competition and envy.
This is a very well-written book, which showcases Smee’s expertise and knowledge as an internationally acclaimed art critic. But the text is accessible, informative, entertaining and interesting. It’s a book based on a smart idea, which has been beautifully executed by a confident and mature writer.