A pair of
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.