The Fatal Shore by Robert Hughes - review by Howard Jacobson

Howard Jacobson

How Matilda Lost Her Cherry

The Fatal Shore


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Robert Hughes tells with wicked relish the story of a distinguished left-wing Australian intellectual who, when he heard that Hughes was writing a book on the transportation of convicts to that country, remarked that this was like Eichmann undertaking a history of the Jews. Hughes’s immediate response to this (during a radio interview, I believe) was pithily anecdotal: as his dentist always told him before an injection, he had nothing to fear from a little prick. Matters of the mind are pursued with an enviable robustness in Australia.

The Eichmann analogy does not, as I understand it, allude to any proveable record of systematic sadism towards convicts on Robert Hughes’s part. From a Marxist point of view his well-connectedness (his brother T E F Hughes was Attorney-General under Gorton and not famous for milk-and-water liberalism), his patrician air

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