March 2008

Arts & Letters

‘The Sleepers Almanac No. 4’ edited by Zoe Dattner & Louise Swinn

By Zora Simic

Melbourne-based Sleepers Publishing has been steadily creating a well-deserved buzz around its annual collection of short fiction. Almanac No. 4 is packed with fine writing, and roomy enough to accommodate the intermittent failed experiment without losing overall quality. The editorials, ephemera and odd spots add to the sense of occasion, and the enticing cover design and new, more portable size suggest that the team is in expansion mode.

Another ambitious move is abandoning the themed issue, which is a staple of literary journals, from the stalwart British Granta series to the American publishing juggernaut McSweeney's (with which Sleepers shares a celebratory, though mercifully less smug, spirit). Yet the absence of an official theme results not in chaos so much as business as usual, for the staple subjects of fiction are present: love, family, grief, sex, literature. Of these perennials, grief and sex fare best; Luke Menzel's ‘Etchings', in which a man revisits the hospital where his sister died years earlier, is genuinely affecting, while ‘Jam is for Amateurs', by Rose Mulready, injects a subterranean sexual energy into a children's birthday party.

Stories about writers and other creative types have their pleasures, but they are eventually exhausted here. More engaging are those pieces that introduce the reader to something new, such as the hidden appeal of sanitary disposal (‘The Untouchables', by Bronwyn Mehan), the everyday miseries of cancer (‘Prussian Blue', by Jane Wallace-Mitchell) or the knock-on effects of naming a dog ‘Abo' (‘His Other Master's Voice', by David Astle).

Almanac No. 4 features some well-known authors, including Sean Condon, Max Barry and Steve Carroll. Of these, the latter offers the most satisfying contribution, with ‘The Aunt's Story', a fresh take on artist Sidney Nolan. The editors also prove their faith in new writing by giving lesser-known authors the chance to stretch out and develop characters through longer pieces. In ‘As I was Saying', David Gibb follows two friends from teenage fumbling to middle age, without getting mawkish. And Virginia Peters deserves her double appearance: ‘Good Morning Mrs Edwards' and ‘Remember Sleepy Creek' reveal a talent for astutely capturing both the claustrophobia and the comfort of monogamous relationships. May she have a collection to herself, sooner rather than later.

Cover: March 2008

March 2008

From the front page

Image of Minister for Skills Michaelia Cash

Cash-strapped

The looming training overhaul will need to be watched closely

Cold was the ground: ‘Sorry for Your Trouble’

Richard Ford delivers an elegant collection of stories of timeworn men and women contemplating the end

Photograph of Malcolm Turnbull

Surrounded by pygmies: Malcolm Turnbull’s ‘A Bigger Picture’

The former PM’s memoir fails to reckon with his fatal belief that all Australians shared his vision

Child's illustration

The screens that ate school

What do we really know about the growing presence of Google, Apple, Microsoft and more in the education system?


In This Issue

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

John Pilger & Martha Gellhorn

Free house

Illustration by Jeff Fisher.

The other Teresa Brennan

‘Skins’, Season 1, SBS


More in Arts & Letters

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Surrounded by pygmies: Malcolm Turnbull’s ‘A Bigger Picture’

The former PM’s memoir fails to reckon with his fatal belief that all Australians shared his vision

Still from ‘The Assistant’

Her too: ‘The Assistant’

Melbourne-born, New York–based filmmaker Kitty Green’s powerfully underplayed portrait of Hollywood’s abusive culture

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Snap-back: Dua Lipa’s ‘Future Nostalgia’

The British singer’s serendipitous album delivers shining pop with a reigning attitude of fortitude

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Consolations in isolation: ‘The Platform’ and ‘Free in Deed’

What is the future of cinema without cinemas?


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‘The Trials of Portnoy’ by Patrick Mullins

The finely detailed story of the legal fight in Australia against the censorship of Philip Roth’s ‘Portnoy’s Complaint’

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‘The End of October’ by Lawrence Wright

A ‘New Yorker’ journalist’s eerily prescient novel about public-health officials fighting a runaway pandemic

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‘Fathoms: The World in the Whale’ by Rebecca Giggs

The Australian writer’s lyrical consideration of our relationship with whales is a new and ambitious kind of nature writing

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‘Kim Jiyoung, Born 1982’ by Cho Nam-Joo (trans. Jamie Chang)

The coldly brilliant, bestselling South Korean novel describing the ambient harassment and discrimination experienced by women globally


Read on

Cold was the ground: ‘Sorry for Your Trouble’

Richard Ford delivers an elegant collection of stories of timeworn men and women contemplating the end

Image of Australians queuing at Centrelink in Brisbane.

Moral bankruptcy

Robodebt stemmed from the false ideological division between the deserving and undeserving poor, but the government still clings to moralistic language

Image of Gough Whitlam in October 1975

It’s about time

The High Court’s landmark ruling on the ‘Palace Papers’ is a win for Australian social democracy

Image of Robyn Davidson

Something mythic

For Robyn Davidson, her acclaimed memoir ‘Tracks’ was an act of freedom whose reception hemmed her in


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