Friday, December 3, 2021

The Beatles: Get Back

"Breaking up is like knocking over a Coke machine," Jerry Seinfeld once observed. "You can’t do it in one push. You’ve got to rock it back and forth a few times, and then it goes over."

I was reminded of Seinfeld’s law when watching Get Back, Peter Jackson’s gruelling documentary about the making of the Beatles’ Let it Be album. Breaking up a band is indeed hard to do. But a well-executed demise can be vital to a band’s long-term reputation. Many a supergroup has ruined a perfectly good breakup by reforming when its members are about ninety, or when the lone survivor from the original lineup is a haggard bassist whose lawyers had the acumen to secure the naming rights ... [READ MORE]

Saturday, October 16, 2021

Jonathan Franzen's Crossroads

“Expecting a novel to bear the weight of our whole disturbed society – to help solve our contemporary problems – seems to me a peculiarly American delusion.”

Jonathan Franzen – whose sixth novel, the hefty and keenly awaited Crossroads, came out last week – wrote those words in 1996, in an essay about the state of American fiction. If a non-American were to make the same point, it might sound a bit rude. So it’s nice to hear an American novelist admit it. Americans do seem to have some overblown ideas about what novels are for, and what they can do. 

As it happens, Franzen started writing fiction at a moment when debate about the purpose and direction of the American Novel was raging especially hard ... [READ MORE]

Monday, September 27, 2021

The Newsreader

I’m going to miss The Newsreader, which finished last Sunday on the ABC. I can’t remember the last time I watched such an addictive show the old-fashioned way, savouring the episodes on a weekly basis instead of scoffing them all at once.

For me, part of the treat was personal. I grew up in the 1980s, and The Newsreader went to striking lengths to recreate the ambience of that garish decade. It was set in 1986, in the newsroom of a Melbourne TV station. The stories of the protagonists were interwoven with the real-life news events of the year: the Russell Street bombing, the Chernobyl disaster, Lindy Chamberlain’s release from prison ... [READ MORE]

Thursday, July 8, 2021

Literary Prizes

When the Miles Franklin shortlist was announced earlier this week, the public response seemed unusually muted and polite. In the early reactions, one discerned a few recurrent talking points. Three of the six finalists don’t currently live in Australia. Does this matter? Only two of the six are women. Is that enough? Few big-name writers made the list. Is that a good sign or a bad one?

As a practicing critic, I find it hard to get excited about such questions. To feel they matter, you have to take literary prizes seriously in the first place. And I don’t. I think they’re a terrible idea all round ... [READ MORE]