Advertisement

KILLINGS, daily columns and blog —

Press

‘Truth and elegance soured': Susan Wyndham on Gideon Haigh’s Kill Your Darlings piece

by Estelle Tang , February 23, 20103 Comments

Susan Wyndham of the Sydney Morning Herald wrote about Kill Your Darlings on Saturday:

Among the essays, fiction, reviews, cartoons and interview with Sarah Waters, Undercover was most curious to read Gideon Haigh’s piece Feeding the Hand that Bites on “the demise of Australian literary reviewing”. The books pages of our newspapers and magazines, he complains, “have become hodgepodges of conventional wisdom and middlebrow advertorial”. Newspapers publish them with “a grudging air” because they attract no advertising; reviewers are poorly paid and anxious not to stick their neck out.

As often in Haigh’s writing (including his book reviews), there’s truth and elegance soured with a lot of vinegar. I will also read with interest the rebuttal by Martin Shaw, a manager at Readings Books, which will be on the journal’s site next month.

Indeed. Stay tuned for a teaser of Gideon’s controversial piece.




  • Kate

    I haven’t read the article yet but intend to. I did listen to the Book Show interview and am really grateful that someone has finally called the newspapers on this. Funnily enough it was the Australian which came in for most criticism, some of which is warranted, but to me the real travesty is the Sydney Morning Herald, which has gone so relentlessly downmarket and tabloid in all its sections, including books, that it has started to resemble Who magazine. What little space is given to book reviews is often given to the most sensationalist, trashiest potboiler they can find or to a PR interview revealing nothing much about either writer or book. As a published author now working on a third novel, the fact that there are only two or three major newspapers offering any review space at all is very demoralising, particularly when compared with the UK or the US.
    On the poor state of reviewing in Oz – bless Ramona Koval who is cheery and well intentioned but who somehow manages to plumb ever-new depths of inanity in her interviews with writers. Again a shame – The Book Show it is one of our few literary radio shows and I find it relentlessly “middlebrow”.

  • Boris Kelly

    I haven’t read Gideon’s piece but can I suggest that publishing it online would be a sensible marketing move for Killing….I think the problem Gideon points to is endemic to reviewing in disciplines other than literature. Theatre reviews, for example, are often blandly uninformative and lacking the verve of spirited intellectual engagement. Which is not to say that broadsheet reviews should be highbrow. A good reviewer respects the intelligence of the reader and seeks to engage with him/her through a mixture of considered personal response, careful contextualising and a dash of provocation. Far too often I find it is the quality of the writing which disappoints. The broadsheets have a weariness about them these days which may be a symptom of institutional atrophy in the face of the quality and eclecticism of smaller more responsive inititiatives online and on paper.

  • Jo

    I am obviously somewhat biased here as I sporadically review for the SMH, but I’d like to wade in with a defence nonetheless. I actually think the books pages of the SMH and The Age (declaring another bias here) are pretty good, especially in the era of the decline of print newspapers. It is a great pity that space allocated to books is declining, but that’s due to the mess the print media is in – and particularly newspapers – rather than decisions made by literary editors, who I’m sure would all like as much space as they can get. I don’t get to read the SMH as often as I’d like, it often being hard to get from Melbourne, but I like the mix on its book pages and think that they often feature writers who aren’t hugely commercial but are of great literary interest. For instance, speaking from experience, I got a decent slab of space (in newspaper real estate terms) to review the excellent and underrated (and very cerebral) Rachel Cusk’s latest novel late last year, which I can’t remember seeing reviewed elsewhere locally (though I very likely missed it somewhere). This is just the example that comes to mind. The really commercial fiction stuff is often reviewed in shorts by Kerryn Goldsworthy, who I think is one of Australia’s finest reviewers. And I think we have to bear in mind that a newspaper books page isn’t just for literary readers; it needs to feature a range of genres as a newspaper’s audience is fairly broad. And commercial & genre writers deserve to be reviewed, too.

    I think when you look at the situation in the US and make a comparison based on the huge discrepancies in population and population spread, we’re doing pretty well in terms of space (not that I wouldn’t like more!) Many US books sections shut down altogether last year.

    All that said, I welcome your comments Kate and yours too, Boris. I think one of the wonderful things about Gideon’s piece is that it encourages debate and gets people talking and thinking about reviewing culture. For my part, I think Gideon’s very brave and stimulating piece locates some real problems, even though I may not agree on all the specifics or on their general severity. I think a lot of these problems are about the culture in general, rather than about individuals.

    But of course, feel free to argue with me!

22454066

Jacinta Halloran

Medicine as Art: An interview with Terrence Holt

Internal Medicine turns on its head the commonly-held wisdom of power and control in the doctor-patient relationship. Holt’s doctor-narrator is conflicted and questioning, often exhausted and confused. His writing aims for something less slick than the sanitised television offerings of medical melodramas, where ‘what entertains usually falsifies.’ Read more »

2303400407_d25f8d8b8a_o

James Tierney

What Australian Literary Conversation?

I am concerned about the absence of a performative aspect of criticism in the public domain, which doesn’t necessarily assume specialised knowledge or recognised allegiances, but is prepared to discuss what criticism is. Read more »

9781847086273

What We’re Reading: Readings staff share their picks

Is your to-read pile looking particularly uninspiring at the moment? Or maybe you’ve just finished a novel and aren’t quite sure what to read next. Never fear! The staff from Readings bookshop have your back. Here they share what they’ve been reading this month. Read more »

gbbo

Rebecca Shaw

Crumbling the Great Wall of Heteronormative Assumption

You are just there to see a doctor, or have a haircut, when all of a sudden you are reminded that you are different. You are forced to come out to strangers over and over again. You are required to either refute their assumptions and risk having an awkward or unpleasant discussion with a stranger about your personal life, or you are forced to lie. Read more »

6314976-3x2-940x627

Rebecca Shaw

Out of Alignment: Religion, politics and priorities

Throughout your (hopefully long) life, you will often be forced to prioritise one thing over another thing.
Because we make these decisions based on what we personally think is important or morally right, the things other people choose to prioritise can be confusing or upsetting to us. I find this happens regularly when bearing witness to what some religious people or religious groups choose to place importance on. Read more »

Rebecca Shaw

TERF War: Transphobia in the LGBTQI community

I started to realise that I was ‘not like other girls’ about the time I hit puberty. From that point on I underwent an extensive and daunting process to emerge from my closeted cocoon into the beautiful lesbian butterfly I am today. An important part of that development was realising – mostly via the Internet (or very occasionally through people I met in real life) – that there were people like me all over the world. Read more »

anne-dorval-and-antoine-olivier-pilon-in-xavier-dolans-mommy

Joanna Di Mattia

All About His Mother: Xavier Dolan’s fierce women

Xavier Dolan has created an exuberant body of cinema that privileges women (and others on the margins) as complex, chaotic beings. Dolan’s fierce mothers are cleaved from the pedestal that so much of cinema places them on, so that they may dig around in the dirt that is life. Read more »

every-day-2012-005_cmyk

Anwen Crawford

Being Boring: Passing time with the films of Michael Winterbottom

What does it mean to film the same performers over the course of years, to have them age in front of the camera? Everyday pays careful attention to boredom, and at moments it manages to capture a sense of time that is both elusive and profound. Read more »

flock_roof

Anwen Crawford

Don’t be Sheepish: Why Ewe Should See Shaun the Sheep Movie

Shaun the Sheep Movie is the latest feature-length production from Aardman Animations (the folk who brought us Chicken Run), and it is a delight. Borrow a young relative for cover if you must, but believe me, you are not too cool for a kid’s movie when it’s this much fun. Read more »

TheSlap_Show

Genevieve Wood

The Slap: What’s lost when a cricket bat becomes a baseball bat?

‘A cricket bat wouldn’t make sense in an American context’, says Tony Ayres, executive producer of the US adaptation of Christos Tsiolkas’ The Slap. He’s right, of course – it wouldn’t. But when, in US playwright Jon Robin Baitz’s version, the eponymous slap occurs as the result of a swinging baseball bat, something’s not quite right. Read more »

empire-tv-review-fox

Anwen Crawford

Rise of an Empire

Watching Empire, I wondered why there haven’t been more television shows about record labels, the music industry being the cesspit of venality that it is. Forget TV dramas about police departments and hospital wards – a show about a record label comes with all that conflict, plus outfits, plus songs. Read more »

video-undefined-22D54AFA00000578-784_636x358

Matilda Dixon-Smith

Insufferable assholes and grown up Girls

Yes, our girls are growing, learning, discovering. But all they’re really discovering is how toxic and unheroic they are, and how to use that to their advantage. They’re not going to grow out of their asshole tendencies, because they are actually assholes. Read more »

DUKMRUTRHLU31425064919799

Katie Williams

The Currency of Games: The real world cost of in-game purchases

A new item introduced in World of Warcraft lets players purchase a month of playing time for the real-life price of $20, which they can then sell to other players in-game in exchange for virtual currency. It’s an exchange of real money for a virtual currency that has in-game value but none in the physical, ‘real’ world – and it makes me incredibly uneasy. Read more »

2011 Jesse Knish Photography

Katie Williams

Pilgrimage to San Francisco: Power and Privilege at the Game Developers Conference

Attendees talk about the annual pilgrimage to the Game Developer’s Conference with the same reverence as a child’s first trip to Disney World. It’s the Magic Kingdom for adult nerds. The weeks leading up to the conference are full of discussion about which parties to attend, and how best to make an impression on people who could be useful in furthering your game development career. Read more »

jakobson0052

Katie Williams

Storytelling vs. interactivity: What makes a highbrow game?

What makes a game ‘highbrow’? We don’t have solid criteria for deciding conclusively which games are masterpieces, and which are just dumb, explosive fun. Read more »

ForceM6609

Jane Howard

Witness and Connection at Melbourne’s Dance Massive

In a city where it feels not a day goes by without an arts festival, or three, happening, Melbourne’s Dance Massive is resolutely unique. Australia’s largest dance festival is by necessity heavily reliant on Melbourne-based companies and shows that will go on to tour independently of the festival. The festival is undeniably of, and for, the dance sector in Melbourne. Read more »

16475519129_bb489cf4ce_o

Jane Howard

Creative Space: The secret power of community theatres

Theatre is inextricably tied to space, and the best theatre spaces become more than buildings. They become communities of like-minded people: of artists and of audience members, intermingling their ideas and their lives. Read more »

Tessa Waters stars in Womanz

Jane Howard

Fringe Feminism: Women, comedy and performance art

Taken together, the work of these female comics and performers loudly proclaims that their ideas about gender, femininity, performance and comedy are not diametrically opposed. It is because of their performance backgrounds that their shows are hilarious, not in spite of them. Read more »