The Great Gatsby

Grave Fitzgeralds (Image courtesy of JayHenry)

(by F. Scott Fitzgerald) The Great American Novel is an absolute synthesis of all that’s great and rotten at the height of the Yankee century. America is so accomplished and competitive that one tends to overlook the result: a defeated majority.  Hence the American theme of ‘starting over’ in a different place, exemplified in the go-west mantra of the 1800s and the eastern push of the 20th century.  Gatsby emblematised this push, a doughboy made ‘good’ in the new desert of Dr T.J Eckleburg’s New York. Born 1896 in Minnesota, F.S.F. grew into a world of American hegemony but dreamed…

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Triumph and Demise

(Paul Kelly) An account of the Australian Federal Labor Government 2007 – 2013. Kevin Rudd, his bete noire Julia Gillard, et al, stalk about like characters in The White Devil, passionless and brainless villains. You could play ‘Sortes Virgilianae’ in respect of some of the players, substituting DSM 4R.

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Thirteen Days

(by Robert Kennedy) (film directed by Roger Donaldson) This matter-of-fact monograph of the Cuban missile crisis by a central figure is very readable and, considering it was probably whipped up ahead of RFK’s tilt at the Presidency, quite fair (note, by contrast, that in the vivid film of the same name, a key, in fact, critical adviser, Llewellyn ‘Tommy’ Thompson, an Eisenhower appointee, is nowhere to be seen). Kennedy needs and wields no purple prose: his writing is clear, taut and free of cant.  For a career politician, this is singular in itself; for an account of a moment on…

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The Sorrow and the Pity

(dir. M Ophuls) (1969) A leisurely pace prevails, as diverse men chat about France under German occupation.  This casual approach belies the serious and vital theme that slowly works into the brain and heart:  courage and conscience under duress and in crisis.  

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Recollections of a Bleeding Heart

(by Don Watson) A portrait both affectionate and sharp, of Paul Keating, Australia’s Prime Minister from 1991 to 1996, beautifully written and constructed by his ‘bleeding heart’ speechwriter (scribbling for him 1992-96).  For all his faults, Keating was a remarkable polemicist and his panache, once he had got to grips with a concept, or a slip by the enemy, was extraordinary. Best example: turning John Hewson’s budget reply charge that Keating would “pull everyone down to the lowest common denominator” into a lethal riposte: “Nothing Keating said in 1992 was as good as this. John Hewson had defined himself as Gordon Gecko….

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