GriffithReview70: Generosities of Spirit

Reviewed by Patricia Simms-Reeve

The media release summarises this edition of the Review perfectly.  Number 70, entitled ‘Generosities of Spirit’ is a veritable ‘treasure trove of literary gems and curiosities from a shining selection of Australian writers.’

Kristina Olsson has, in her characteristic style, written a beautifully thoughtful piece.  Her roots, in the inner Brisbane city suburb of New Farm, provoke her considering the history that lies beneath our feet.

Brisbane’s geographical history, as part of Gondwana, has evolved through the inhospitable volcanic time to the dinosaurs, to the traces of indigenous culture, then colonisation and its cruelty, and concludes with her own childhood. It is richly observed and expands our view of our place in this ancient land.

Generosities of spirit illumines Kate Veitch’s novella, ‘Inheritance’. Rory, returning to the family home after her father’s death, inherits not just the expected house and other assets, but a new direction in her life.

Her father’s dog, Harpo, leads her to encounters with people who, in her vulnerable state, offer a taste of a life that brings affirmation of issues important to her including climate change, and an understanding which leads to unlikely deep bonds forming.

Beautifully written, with a niggling thread woven through, this novella is a powerful story of kindness, emotion, friendship and other qualities that matter in our challenging world.

Black and Blue, a short story, exposes the horror of child abuse by the Church, as a young boy realises the little girl, his friend, has suffered this as well as racism and the trauma of the Stolen Generation. It is told with the sweet innocence of the boy, which increases the impact profoundly.   Allanah Hunt has compressed so much in these few pages.

Poems appear throughout the Review. Talon brings to life the feeling experienced when a long-lost treasure is found. It inspires thought on the talon and its history – brought back from India and now resting in a dusty drawer which was once the poet’s dead mother’s.

Named by early explorers who were “Anglophile pessimists blighting the map with monuments to their leech bites and sunstroke”, Mt. Trepidation is another of the novellas, set in the time of the recent epidemic of HIV AIDS.  Rhianna Boyle has created a delicate drama of the intricacies of friendship – its assumptions and fumbling.  Jeff, who has ridden his bike across Africa comes for a weekend with a group of friends who plan to scale Mt Trepidation, while spending the time at Corinne and Ted’s house at its base.

Five adults and a child are concerned for their friend who is alarmingly thin and ill with a chronic undiagnosed stomach complaint.  The subtle shifts in their interactions with Jeff are related through Corinne’s eyes. They climb Trepidation under difficult conditions and the tension mounts.  Jeff, regarded as drastically changed and at times, strange and distant, surprises them all.

It is a gripping story related by one of Australia’s finest writers of fiction. Illness, living with the threat of AIDS, alternative therapies and the significance of the natural world, all add to the underlying doubt and trepidation overshadowed by the mountain.

The last essay by Dr Joelle Gergis conveys the horrors facing the planet with the climate changing. That is particularly highlighted by the catastrophic bushfires last Summer. Scientists around the world devote their time, unpaid, to scrutinising data and working together to present the state of the world’s climate to the IPCC.  Their commitment to convincing the global community of the need of urgent action is inspiring.  Their deep love for life on earth as well as scientific expertise support their efforts.

Of all the themes explored in this volume of the Griffith Review, it is the most important by far. Saving this life we know will always dominate.

This November edition is a further example of why the Review is one of the country’s very finest literary publications. It continues to be a showcase for poetry, essays and the shorter forms of fiction – an excellent vehicle for some of the best writing here today.

The Griffith Review 70: Generosities of Spirit

[2020]

Edited by Ashley Hay

Griffith University

ISBN 9 781922 212535

$27.99; 256pp

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