October 2011

Arts & Letters

Fiction masterpiece

By Geordie Williamson
JM Coetzee - ‘Summertime’, 2009

Is it a cheat to suggest this quasi-memoir by a South African–born Nobel Prize winner as the best work of Australian fiction since the dawn of the new century? Perhaps it shows how problematic those categories have become.

Whatever the case, the third volume in the autobiographical trilogy Scenes from a Provincial Life is the best thing Coetzee has written since Disgrace (itself a signal novel of the last quarter-century). A fictional examination of the author’s life between 1972 and 1977, constructed by a curious biographer following Coetzee’s death, Summertime is built from archival fragments and the invented testimony of men and women who knew him well.

The conceit of posthumous authorship permits a liberation of sorts after the grimly censorious third-person perspective of predecessors Boyhood and Youth. Coetzee’s trademark melancholy and self-laceration remain, of course. But there is joy here, particularly in those passages dealing with his return as an adult to the Karoo, the harshly beautiful land of his forebears: “This place wrenches my heart, he says. It wrenched my heart when I was a child, and I have never been right since.” To read lines such as these from Coetzee’s pen is like watching a cold-climate plant slowly swivel toward the sun.

—Geordie Williamson

Geordie Williamson

Geordie Williamson is a writer, editor and critic.

@gamwilliamson

Cover: October 2011

October 2011

From the front page

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg

Cold comfort

The Morrison government gave us a recession we didn’t have to have

What elitism looks like

Flagrant conflicts of interest abound at the top

Image of Guy Sebastian and Prime Minister Scott Morrison, June, 2020

And now for something completely indifferent

The Morrison government is yet to fully realise that sidelining the arts hurts the economy

Image of Anne Ferran, Scenes on the Death of Nature I, 1986

‘Know My Name’ at the National Gallery of Australia

An exhilarating exhibition considers a persistent gender bias in the visual arts


In This Issue

Scene from 'The Theft of Sita'. Image courtesy of Melbourne Festival.

Music theatre masterpiece

An Australian–Indonesian production - ‘The Theft of Sita’, 2000

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

Robert Helpmann & Anna Pavlova

Theatre masterpiece

Tom Wright & Benedict Andrews - ‘The War of the Roses’, 2009

The incendiary Meow Meow, 2011. © Magnus Hastings

Queen of the night

Meeting Meow Meow


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Dividing the Tasman: ‘Empire and the Making of Native Title’

Historian Bain Attwood examines the different approaches to sovereignty in the New Zealand and Australian settlements

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Shirley Hazzard’s wider world

The celebrated Australian author’s ‘Collected Stories’ sets private desperation in the cosmopolitan Europe she revered

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Citizen plain: ‘Mank’

David Fincher’s biopic of Orson Welles’s collaborating writer favours technique over heart


More in Masterpieces

Poetry masterpiece

Jennifer Maiden - ‘Friendly Fire’, 2005

© Sergio Dionisio/Getty Images

Design masterpiece

Marc Newson - ‘Qantas A380 Economy Seat’, 2008

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Architecture masterpiece

Lindsay & Kerry Clare - ‘Gallery of Modern Art’, Queensland, 2006

Opera masterpiece

Neil Armfield - ‘Peter Grimes’, 2009


Read on

What elitism looks like

Flagrant conflicts of interest abound at the top

Image of Anne Ferran, Scenes on the Death of Nature I, 1986

‘Know My Name’ at the National Gallery of Australia

An exhilarating exhibition considers a persistent gender bias in the visual arts

Image of Prime Minister Scott Morrison

Morrison’s climate flip

Australia has a lot of catching up to do on emissions reduction

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Song sisters

The soundtrack to documentary ‘Brazen Hussies’ shows a breadth of feeling about women’s liberation in Australia


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