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!

Frances Abbott

David Donaldson

Why #whitehousegate matters

A few days after the release of the budget, in which the Coalition government announced it was spreading the burden by increasing university fees, cutting school funding, and cutting welfare for young people comes a story that confirms what many already suspect to be the nature of opportunity: it’s much easier to come by if you’re born into privilege. Read more »

money

David Donaldson

When does lobbying become corruption?

Whether it’s Clive Palmer buying his way into parliament, the recent, varied ICAC revelations of dodgy fundraising in the NSW Liberal party, or the refusal or inability of successive governments to effectively tackle powerful corporate interests in industries like gambling, mining, media, and junk food, there is a feeling among many Australians that democracy is up for sale. Read more »

cluster munition

David Donaldson

How to make treaties and influence people

In an era when Russia can annex Ukrainian territory, when the Refugee Convention is regularly flouted, and when nobody seems to be able to do anything to stop the carnage in Syria, it can be tempting to ask: what can international law actually achieve? Read more »

1560682_10153899026420591_499501666_n

Eli Glasman

Just a number: The literary world’s obsession with age

I used to be obsessed about what age I would be when I had my first novel published. I’d go on the Wikipedia pages of every famous writer I could think of to check how old they were when their first book came out. Read more »

winterson

Carody Culver

Jeanette Winterson’s sacred and secular space

It seems that people either love her or hate Jeanette Winterson, and sometimes that has less to do with her writing and more to do with the occasional controversies she’s regularly sparked since 1985. Read more »

Untitled

Veronica Sullivan

Adventures in reality with Oliver Mol

One of Mol’s recent pieces contains the line: ‘I want to put my bare ass on the cover of my book because not only will it make good promo but it speaks honestly about who I am.’ Read more »

The Tunnel TV review

Julia Tulloh

The Tunnel vs The Bridge: The ethics of TV remakes

A body is found in the Eurotunnel, neatly laid across the border between France and England. When police attempt to move the body, it splits in two with the top half in France and lower half in England. Read more »

1398878478_lea-michele-brunette-ambition-zoom

Julia Tulloh

How to be beautiful, according to Lea Michele

Lea Michele’s new book, Brunette Ambition, is what you might expect from a fairly young television and musical theatre star. Read more »

Mariah Carey

Julia Tulloh

Is she Mariah, the ‘elusive’ chanteuse?

Two weeks ago, Mariah Carey launched her fourteenth studio album, Me. I am Mariah…The Elusive Chanteuse. Yes, that’s the real name, and it’s hilarious not only because the title is so long and happily shameless but because Mariah has long styled herself as one of the least elusive pop stars in the pop music galaxy. Read more »

lead_large

Rochelle Siemienowicz

On Boyhood, parenting and the passing of time

Since its premiere in January at the Sundance Film Festival, film critics have been falling over themselves to lavish love upon Richard Linklater’s Boyhood. Read more »

wetlands_poster

Rochelle Siemienowicz

Lucky Dip Diving: an approach to film festivals

I wanted to let go of the grasping desire to watch everything and be part of every conversation. But with the Melbourne International Film Festival in full swing, anxieties arise again. Read more »

Happy Christmas

Rochelle Siemienowicz

Joe Swanberg’s Real Women

In Happy Christmas, the female characters are a pleasure to watch, largely because they’re so familiar in life and so rarely depicted on screen. Read more »

owl1

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Speaking with pixels

On the Facebook Newsfeed, it’s now possible to click a tiny smiley face inside almost any textbox to bring up a series of thumbnail images: an alligator bawling into a tissue, say, or a whistling fox dropping a turd, or a green owl vomiting rainbows. Read more »

hbo-silicon-valley

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Silicon Valley will eat itself

At a certain point in the lifespan of any subculture, fiction and reality start to blur. Members of the subculture begin to model their character and appearance on the idealised representations of themselves they read about or see on screen. Read more »

inbox

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Death to the Inbox

The primary source of our ‘email problem’ seems to lie in our belief that email is a vastly richer and more capable medium than it is. Read more »

Untitled

Danielle Binks

How to buy books for young adults

‘Excuse me, where are the boys’ books? I’m looking to buy for a 16-year-old.’ When I overheard this question while browsing in a bookshop recently, I felt insta-rage. Read more »

detail

Danielle Binks

Fan-Girling Over Super Heroines

The testosterone-fuelled BIFF! BANG! KAPOW! of classic comics can seem uninviting, filled with spandex-clad men and swooning damsels who hold limited appeal outside the stereotypical 18-35 year-old male demographic. But things are changing in the world of comics. Read more »

9780143305323

Danielle Binks

Australia Needs Diverse Books

The ‘We Need Diverse Books’ team is made up of authors, editors and publishers from North America, but the #WeNeedDiverseBooks hashtag and campaign has reverberated in youth literature communities worldwide. Read more »

Jabberwocky1

Chad Parkhill

The carnival is over

Jabberwocky, scheduled to take place last weekend, was the kind of festival that wasn’t supposed to fail. Read more »

Robin Thicke

Chad Parkhill

Why has Robin Thicke’s Paula flopped?

What, exactly, has caused Paula to sell so poorly that it has already positioned itself as this year’s most memorable flop? Read more »

splash

Chad Parkhill

Queering the Power: The Soft Pink Truth’s Why Do the Heathen Rage?

The Soft Pink Truth’s new album ‘Why Do the Heathen Rage’ demonstrates that despite their superficial differences, dance music and black metal have a lot in common. Read more »

2014-07-03-theleftovers

Stephanie Van Schilt

TV pilots: The good, the bad and The Leftovers

With the wealth of shows on offer, committing to a new TV series can feel like a big deal. It’s often during a pilot episode that audiences determine whether the program is appealing enough to stick with for the long haul. Read more »

Alg-90210-jpg

Stephanie Van Schilt

Sick-Person TV

The only upside to getting sick was the many afternoons I spent curled up on the couch at home, watching daytime TV. I inhaled the drama of pre-recorded episodes of Beverley Hills 90210 while playing with my Brandon and Dylan sticker collection (interspersed with sporadic vomiting). Read more »

The_Million_Dollar_Drop_logo

Nicholas J Johnson

Highbrow vs Lowbrow: Nicholas J Johnson defends Lowbrow TV

I can’t stop looking at Eddie McGuire’s smug, stupid face. It’s not my fault. It’s just I’ve never been this close to the man before, and it’s not until now that I’ve realised how oddly smooth and tanned his skin is. As if someone has stretched the orange bladder from a football over a slab of marble. Read more »