Steep Stairs Review Volume 6

December 16, 2011

When I start to read a new collection of essays or reviews, I prefer the introduction to be both informative and as brief as possible, to allow me to get started on the more interesting reading. But just let me say that putting together this latest volume of Steep Stairs Review has been a sincere pleasure. No reader of these excellent reviews should be left in doubt that literature, arts and culture are still vital and relevant aspects of contemporary society, or that current events in Australia and around the world cannot be illuminated and understood in very different ways, by considering them through the varied prisms of art, history, activism and the observant eyes of novelists and critics. There is a mix of classic and popular, longer and shorter, critical and praising opinions – something, indeed, for everyone’s tastes – and just in time for Christmas!

Michael Todd considers an intriguing new novel by acclaimed screenwriter Anthony Horowitz, The House of Silk, based on a continuation of Conan Doyle’s Holmes’ mysteries, in “The New Sherlock Holmes.”  The Beach Beneath the Street, McKenzie Wark’s exploration of the enduring cultural legacies of the Situationist International movement, is reviewed by Gary Pearce in “Beneath the paving stones, the beach!” In Wark’s account contemporary protest movements, which could now also include the Arab Spring and the occupy movement in Pearce’s opinion, appear to re-ignite powerful traces of the Situationist’s ambition to “give form to the world” instead of merely breaking it down.

Mike Heald reviews the latest novel by Rosalie Ham, There Should Be More Dancing, in “An Unremarkable Life,” and finds a work of “deep humanness” … “an accomplishment of the soul” – in a novel which goes to the extraordinary heart of seemingly ordinary people. The most recent ‘bicentenary’ biography of Charles Dickens by Claire Tomalin, Charles Dickens: A Life, is explored in depth by Glen Jennings in “Charles Dickens: Special Correspondent for Posterity”. Tomalin presents some alternative readings of Dickens’ life and loves – some of which are engaging, and some which detract from a clearer evaluation of Dickens’ work. In “What is the world we want to make?” Katherine Firth reflects on the contribution to the Australian imagination of the long-running young adult series by Isobelle Carmody, The Obernewtyn Chronicles. The penultimate volume, The Sending, has just been published, with the final volume The Red Queen due in 2012.

“A Film for our Time? (but not in a good way)” is a candid evaluation of the film Anonymous by Gayle Allan. “Was Shakespeare a Fraud?” Why do we need to keep asking, and who’s raking in the profits? “It tells an exciting story and, if we didn’t know better (and we most certainly do), it could be plausible.” Pigeon English by Stephen Kelman is reviewed by A.G. Craig in “The View from the Balcony”. The life of Harri Opuku, a Ghanian immigrant in poor urban London, is brought to life through the exploration of learning a new language: “Who’d chook a boy just to get his Chicken Joe’s?” Indeed! Neralie Hoadley finds that she has to read The Tree Singer, by Danny Fahey in ways she hadn’t anticipated.“Healing and Personal Meaning” are among the many lyrical strains in this lovely fantasy novel. The challenges and the gifts of reading and writing in new ways is the topic of The Late American Novel: Writers on the Future of Books, reviewed by Jennifer Mitchell in “Writing and Reading in the Age of the Thrilling Unknown.”

In “Reopening the Case: A Chinese Murder,”  Glen Jennings reviews Midnight in Peking by Paul French, a book which explores in graphic detail the brutal murder of young Englishwoman Pamela Werner, in Peking in 1937. French looks closely at the precarious lives of foreigners and locals in the last heady and violent days of Old China. And in what will hopefully be a regular section in Steep Stairs Review, Rosalie Ham looks back at a classic novel from the past: Elizabeth Taylor’s 1947 novel  A View of the Harbour, in “Newby Revisited: An Appreciation of the Fiction of Elizabeth Taylor (1912 – 1975)”.

Thanks for reading – Enjoy!

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