A pair of

Ragged claws

The Weekend Australian - Review - - Books - Stephen Romei www.theaus­tralian.com.au/thearts

I AL­WAYS look for­ward to Black Inc’s an­nual Best Aus­tralian Sto­ries, Best Aus­tralian Es­says and Best Aus­tralian Po­ems. Taken to­gether the three vol­umes are a one-stop shop where I can catch up with good writ­ing I may have missed dur­ing the year. This year’s edi­tors are Sonya Hart­nett (sto­ries, $29.99), Ra­mona Ko­val (es­says, $29.99) and John Tran­ter (po­ems, $24.99). As I men­tioned re­cently, sev­eral po­ems pub­lished in th­ese pages passed muster with Tran­ter, which is pleas­ing. But, brows­ing that one-stop shop, I en­joyed many po­ems I had not read be­fore, in­clud­ing John Fraw­ley’s cheer­ful The Ampu-Bloody-Tee, Peter Murphy’s wist­ful Gar­den­ing and Sarah Rice’s Bod­ies, a can­did re­flec­tion on love gone sour. And, know­ing Re­view read­ers are passionate about po­etry, I think many will get a laugh out of Andy Jack­son’s A Cer­tain Type of Poem (‘‘A life-sup­port sys­tem, hum­ming af­ter the body is taken away.’’) Once again this an­nual col­lec­tion il­lus­trates the vi­brancy and di­ver­sity of con­tem­po­rary Aus­tralian po­etry. As she did last year, Ko­val has se­lected and sit­u­ated the es­says with in­tel­li­gence and wit. So we have JM Coet­zee’s Les Mur­ray and the Black Dog as a lead-in to Nick Bryant’s per­cep­tive study of Gina Rine­hart. It’s in­ter­est­ing to note some es­says on our re­la­tion­ship with an­i­mals, headed by Anna Krien’s Killing, a su­perb piece of re­port­ing from an In­done­sian abat­toir. I was fa­mil­iar with most of the es­says — seems I was more dili­gent than I thought dur­ing the year — but there were still some that had the shock of the new, the stand­out be­ing LM Robin­son’s This Much is True, a heart-rend­ing ac­count of los­ing a child in near-unimag­in­able cir­cum­stances, first pub­lished in Tas­ma­nian lit­er­ary mag­a­zine Is­land. Al­most all the sto­ries cu­rated by Hart­nett were new to me and read­ing them was a treat. The con­trib­u­tors range from emerg­ing younger writ­ers such as Romy Ash, Jon Bauer, Chris Womer­s­ley and Ash­ley Hay to masters such as Alex Miller and Mar­ion Hal­li­gan. James Bradley’s melan­cholic zom­bie story The In­con­ve­nient Dead, one I did have on my toread list, was a high­light. As with the po­ems, this out­stand­ing col­lec­tion con­firms the ro­bust health of the Aus­tralian short story. READER Mathew Mor­ri­son has pointed out that my oc­ca­sional stage di­rec­tions here, as in ‘‘the re­view over to my left’’, may con­fuse those who con­sider ‘‘my left’’ to be on the right-hand side of the page, as I look out from it in the mugshot at the top of the col­umn. Now that’s a reader’s let­ter I didn’t see coming! But it has oc­curred to me that such di­rec­tions must be con­fus­ing in the on­line ver­sion of the col­umn, so I’ll re­frain from us­ing them from now on. DE­PART­MENT of cor­rec­tions: Last week I said Clive James’s Spe­cial Award at the NSW Pre­mier’s Lit­er­ary Awards was worth $20,000. I should have read the fine print, which makes clear the amount is ‘‘up to $20,000’’. James in fact re­ceived $10,000. I have posted his ac­cep­tance speech on my blog, which you will find via the link at the bot­tom of this col­umn.

‘‘The prob­lem is, like with dy­ing and child­birth, you can’t hire any­one else to do it.’’ Booker Prize-win­ning au­thor Tom Ke­neally, on writ­ing, in The Guardian’s reg­u­lar This Much I Know col­umn. I also like this: ‘‘You can’t profit from a book like Schindler and then al­low your own coun­try to have de­ten­tion cen­tres, can you?’’ The prolific Ke­neally is pro­mot­ing the Bri­tish publi­ca­tion of his novel Daugh­ters of Mars.

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