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The gap between fiction and history, Hamish Clayton

R.H.I.: Two Novellas
Tim Corballis
Victoria University Press, $30.00,
ISBN 9780864739827

Trifecta
Ian Wedde
Victoria University Press, $30.00,
ISBN 9780864739834

In 1987, the South African novelist J M Coetzee spoke at the Weekly Mail Book Week in Cape Town, offering a few observations on the relation of novels and novel-writing to the times which produce them. Coetzee’s subject was, effectively, the nature of fiction’s relationship to history, a subject peculiarly charged by the time and locale into which his talk – later transcribed as the essay, “The Novel Today” – was delivered. The problem for the novelist, as Coetzee sees it, is that in times of intense ideological pressure (like the apartheid era in South Africa) the gap between fiction and history is squeezed to almost nothing, forcing the novelist to either supplement or rival the power of history itself. Coetzee is mainly concerned with the ethical dimensions of fiction’s resistance to history and, over a lifetime, has produced one of the most remarkable bodies of work of any era, pondering this question among others through fiction and essays.

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Posted in Fiction, Literature and Review

Digging and delving, Tim Corballis and Ingrid Horrocks

The Grass Catcher: A Digression About Home
Ian Wedde
Victoria University Press, $40.00,
ISBN 9780864739384

The protagonist of the present-day portion of Symmes Hole (1986), Ian Wedde’s canonical and underread novel about settler colonialism, is obsessed with history. He digs and delves in it, but his tools are not always archival in nature. Early in the novel he gulps down an unnamed psychoactive agent that fuels a long hallucinatory reverie of Pacific history. Why the drug? It has its comic uses, of course, but its chief interest is to give history a paradoxical sense of reality, as if the events of the past could be brought right up close and visible by chemical means. The drug does not give its taker any certain, magical knowledge of history. In fact, quite the reverse: it allows rumours and legends into the story as well, and troubles the veracity of the whole picture. But it imbues the past with the glow of urgency. As such, it is one solution to a literary problem that is common, but not limited, to historical fiction: how to make done deeds, matters of dry historical record, leap across the gap that separates them from the pressing concerns of our lives now. In his altered state, Wedde’s researcher need not go looking for the past ‒ the past comes to him. The danger (and the source of much humour) is that it makes history meaningful at the expense of making the historian a dissociative, drug-addled lunatic whom no-one else would go near.

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Posted in Essays, Memoir, Non-fiction and Review

Forging the real, Louise O’Brien

Hibiscus Coast Paula Morris Penguin, $28.00, ISBN 0143019767 The Fossil Pits Tim Corballis Victoria University Press, $29.95, ISBN 0864735081 With her debut novel, Queen of Beauty, Paula Morris won both the 2001 Adam Foundation Prize for Creative Writing and the

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Posted in Fiction, Literature and Review

Measure for measure, Jenny Jones

Measurement  Tim Corballis Victoria University Press, $29.95, ISBN 0864734433 Writing a review of Tim Corballis’ second novel Measurement feels a bit like writing a review of a review. The fictitious book constantly referred to by the narrator, Measurement by Peter Korngold,

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Posted in Fiction, Literature and Review

The cave of making, Chris Else

Below Tim Corballis Victoria University Press, $24.95, ISBN 0864734131 Let me say at the outset that this is a remarkable novel; subtle, complex, delicately wrought. It is the kind of work that leaves you thinking not just about the material

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Posted in Fiction, Literature and Review
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