The Literature of Australia: An Anthology by Nicholas Jose (ed) - review by Oliver Dennis

Oliver Dennis

Tales From Oz

The Literature of Australia: An Anthology


W W Norton & Co 1,465pp £35

A commonplace about Australian writing is that its traditions – or anti-traditions – are hard to pin down. It wasn’t so long ago that the idea of an Australian literature existing at all was treated, in some quarters, as a bit of a joke. The novels of Patrick White almost single-handedly put that perception to bed, and today the standing of Australia’s most prominent writers – including Peter Carey, Clive James, Les Murray and Shirley Hazzard – is everywhere taken for granted. Yet The Literature of Australia does not capitalise on that hard-won security, being notable, chiefly, for the uncertainty of its taste.

If there is a feature common to Australian writing as a whole, it is probably the studied ordinariness of its cadences, its mistrust of style. Australia, of course, has a colourful vernacular tradition – now, by and large, a thing of the past – but the default idiom

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RLF - March