Saturday October 10, 2009
An Education Lynn Barber Penguin, $24.95 BRITISH journalist Lynn Barber is best known for her hatchet jobs on prominent figures. In this memoir, she turns her sharpened quill on herself. From her account of her seduction by a conman when she was 16 to the death of her husband more than 30 years later, Barber is unsparing of both herself and her parents. The result is a tough-minded, well-paced narrative that combines the broad brush, cartoon-strokes of the journalistic sketch with cold-eyed self-scrutiny. Barber says she is a great believer in the unknowability of other people €” a lesson she learnt from the conman boyfriend. Puzzlingly, she never questions this lesson. She simply reinforces it in her highly subjective profiles that document the superficial encounter between journalist and interviewee, and does the same in An Education. Breezy and unreflective, its emphasis on her career above everything else ensures that much of what really matters in life is left out.Literary Melbourne. A Celebration of Writing and Ideas Edited by Stephen Grimwade Hardie Grant, $24.95 A "CELEBRATION" of the ideas and writing of a city is a broad brief. This anthology is more an eclectic scrapbook than a comprehensive overview. In deference to the Aboriginal origins of the city, it opens with snapshots of the artists William Barak and Tommy McCrae, and skips rapidly through various phases of Victoria's history from Marcus Clarke, Fergus Hume and Coles Funny Picture Book to the work of contemporary Melbourne writers such as Helen Garner and Shane Maloney. The title is, however, misleading in that many of the extracts are not about the city but simply by writers who were born or lived here. There are also some glaring omissions, particularly George Johnston and Martin Boyd who did much to put the city on the literary map. This said, Literary Melbourne does provide some appetite-whetting samples from many fine writers and an impressionistic collage of the city's literary history.Do You Want Sex with That? Claire Halliday Viking, $29.95 IN KEEPING with the tenor of the times, Claire Halliday's exploration of our sex-saturated lives is a confessional one. As she visits swingers' parties, talks to campaigners against the sexualisation of children, wanders through sex shops and listens to the stories of sex addicts, she reflects on her own sexual experiences: some intensely traumatic, some indifferent, some liberating. It has become a truism that sex is everywhere; from billboards to sexting (sending raunchy photographs via mobile phone); from the school ground to "Sexpo". Halliday knows that the appeal of her book is far from simply sociological. While she exploits the very voyeurism that she investigates, Halliday's honesty about her own confusion, ambivalence and regrets concerning sex and its ubiquity is refreshing and useful. This book reminds us, above all, that sex is a messy, confounding, unpredictable business and always will be.PICK OF THE WEEKProtocols of the Elders of Sodom and other essays Tariq Ali Verson, $39.95 THE title of this collection of essays is a deliberate play on the notorious anti-Semitic hoax and forgery that claimed to reveal a Jewish conspiracy for world domination, known as The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Drawing inspiration from Proust's analogy between Zionism and a homosexual movement aimed at rebuilding the biblical city of Sodom, Ali explores the fate of the Sodomites, as told in the Old Testament, and the persistence of prejudice against homosexuals. Unlike many of his essays, which are blunt and direct, this one mounts a slyly satirical argument for the establishment of a State of Sodom near the Dead Sea where the city first existed. It is left to the reader to decide what this deliberately provocative, confronting analogy might imply about the state of Israel. Ali's persistent theme in these essays is that literature, politics and history cannot be separated, and he demonstrates it with forceful eloquence.