Books in review

In this issue:


Cover illustration of Sydney

Delia Falconer
New South Books

ISBN 9781921410925

Falconer (BA ’90) is not prolific but the books she does publish are worth the wait. Her first novel, The Service of Clouds, appeared in the mid-90s; her second, The Lost Thoughts of Soldiers, in 2005. Both had in common rich veins of history and place (Katoomba pre-WWI and America after the Little Bighorn massacre, respectively) running through fiction that was at once succinct, sharply observed and poetic. There is a similar feeling in Sydney, the latest in New South’s series by well-known writers about their hometowns.

Falconer wanders the streets and suburbs of the past and present, in her imagination and in those of others. She variously calls upon the writing and lives of such quintessential Sydney figures as Kenneth Slessor, Ruth Park, Arthur Stace, Lt Dawes, Patrick White and even Dr Geoffrey Edelsten, to bear witness to the place she ambivalently loves. Most poignant and central to Falconer’s reckoning is one who is now no longer famous, but should be: Rev William Branwhite Clarke. He sailed into Sydney in 1839 “with his wife and two surviving children” (what vivid grief is contained in those last three words) and the author’s gentle yet clear-eyed recounting of his part in the city’s story is one of the finest parts of a consistently fine and absorbing book.

The melancholy, joy, secrets, beauty and ugliness of Sydney’s 200-plus years have never been better celebrated nor so unsentimentally dissected.

The Falling of the Year

Cover illustration of The Falling of the Year

Cherry Cordner
Little Red Apple Publishing

ISBN: 9781875329885

A boy is growing up happily with his young widowed mother and younger brother in 1870s Mt Gambier, a town of solid types and few secrets; or so it may have seemed. But beneath its respectable colonial facade lay hazards and mysteries every bit as dangerous as the beautiful yet deceptive Blue Lake.

In 1875 scarlet fever struck the community, as did a murder so savage it tilted the small world perilously on it axis. For the boy and his friends it is a time of questions, disillusion and unwelcome reality. The author (BA ’50 DipEd ’58) has based her story on an actual murder of the time and place, and uses contemporary documents, including the still extant Border Mail newspaper, to effectively colour the landscape of her fiction and flesh out its drama and characters.

Radical Sydney - People, Places and Unruly Episodes

Cover illustration of Radical Sydney - People, Places and Unruly Episodes

Terry Irving & Rowan Cahill
UNSW Press

ISBN: 978174223931

This makes an interesting companion piece to Delia Falconer’s book (these pages) as it’s the straight up political and social history of the city from the early 19th century through to the 1970s. Co-authored by Cahill (BA ’69 DipEd ’70), the book explores the full spectrum of Sydney’s social and political dissidents, their activities and their bohemian inner city suburbs. These are the people that made Sydney, from the 19th century to the 1970s, such a vibrant, often lawless and genuinely progressive place.

The cover, of author Kylie Tennant dressed for a fancy dress party, fag in one hand, wickedness in her eyes, is a reminder of her other life as an activist. It also hints at the heart of the book: from transported convict labour through to the genesis of trades unions and the struggles of working Sydney to secure a half way decent standard of living. Tremendous stuff.

The Little Black Book of Business Writing

Cover illustration of The Little Black Book of Business Writing

Mark Tredinnick & Geoff White
UNSW Press

ISBN: 9781742230061

Tredinnick (BA ’84 LLB ’86) last appeared in these pages when the wonderful The Blue Plateau was published in 2009. He is also a favourite tutor of CCE writing course of all kinds as well of as his own Cowshed classes in the NSW southern highlands. With good reason his books for nervous authors – The Little Red Writing Book and the Little Green Grammar Book – are bestsellers. This one is destined to join them.

It’s a title that should be placed on the keyboard of anyone who works in an organisation where Marketingspeak, Bizlingo or Pollywaffle have taken root; and they should not be allowed to write or utter another word until the book has been read, cover to cover.

Quick checklist of corporate clichés: “They evacuate and diminish the language. They make everything sound like everything else, and nothing like anything in particular. They fail your readers … and Worst of all, they become a way of thinking – which is to say, a way of not thinking, or not very hard or clearly, anyway.” So, put that up your paradigm shift, going forward.

Cholesterol and Beyond

Cover illustration of Cholesterol and Beyond

The Research on Diet and Coronary Disease 1900-2000
A. Stewart Truswell
Springer Publishing

ISBN: 9789048188741

Professor Truswell, of the University’s Human Nutrition Unit, has researched with consummate scholarship, clarity and brevity one of the most feared and puzzling topics of the time.

This is a book to take out of the library and browse through – the topics are clearly sign-posted. And while its main readership is clearly the health and heart professions, it is written in such a way that an interested and reasonably cluey lay person could do some homework, as recommended by good practitioners, and take a bit of responsibility for knowing more about matters coronary.

Living Lies

Cover illustration of Living Lies

George Sais

ISBN 9781453520772

The author (BA ’98) actually did what many dream of but almost never do: at 55 he checked out of his life as he’d lived it to that point and went off on a male version of Eat, Pray, Love.

Sais was well equipped for this kind of leap in the dark: an actor, writer and director from age 17; he wasn’t exactly a pinstriped stick-in-the-mud. Nevertheless, it’s clear that to sell up, pack up and go where the whim and the winds take you is neither easy nor without its fraught moments. Whoever said, “there is nothing to fear but fear itself” may never have got out from behind a desk; or is, perhaps, a sociopath.

Sais travelled through Australia, Thailand, China and Greece – and he also made a considerable inner journey with humour, insight and occasional pathos. The search for meaning is something the 21st century seems to be bringing out in a lot of people and this one is worth the journey.