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Fingers Crossed

Having so far dodged (fingers crossed) both the fires and the stalking Covid virus, I felt that now was the time to read a bit of poetry. I discovered A Little History of Poetry by John Carey—a brief but comprehensive history of poetry from Gilgamesh to Les Murray. I knew from Carey’s memoir The Unexpected Professor that I could expect him to have strong opinions about poets and I was not disappointed. Dante he thinks ‘vengeful and unforgiving’ and Baudelaire ‘full of self-pity’. My adolescent passion for Matthew Arnold still lingers, so I was pleased to see that he loves Dover Beach. His own favourite poet is Philip Larkin, with WH Auden a close second. While some of his sketches are better than others, I greatly enjoyed his chapter on Chaucer, and his discussions of WB Yeats and TS Eliot are superb. This is an excellent beginners’ guide and it sent me scurrying back to the Elizabethan poets, then to John Donne, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, GM Hopkins, Edward Thomas and Rupert Brooke, Dylan Thomas and AE Housman and, of course, Les Murray. All in all, I had a glorious time reading this book. While it’s a treat for young and old alike, it would make a nice present for a sensitive grandchild. It’s a well and sturdily produced book and has a striking cover.

If you are still in lockdown you can’t do better than read these two new mysteries: The Lantern Men by Elly Griffiths and A Testament of Character by Sulari Gentill. The new Griffiths has spooky stuff about ‘lantern men’ luring girls, especially tall, blonde and beautiful girls, to their deaths in the fens. As a Griffiths fan, I am always interested in the suppressed passion between DCI Nelson and Ruth Galloway. Ruth now has a new job in Cambridge, where she is living with kind and loving Frank—so why does her errant heart beat faster at the prospect of working with Nelson again? And why does Nelson gnash his teeth when he thinks of Frank? Nelson has Ivor March in gaol for murdering two of the girls. March promises Nelson that he will tell him where two other girls are buried, but only if Ruth does the digging. You won’t be disappointed with this one, it will keep you on the edge of your seat right up to the suspenseful end. By the way, Katie, Ruth’s daughter, is now nine and she loves spending time with her half-brother George, who is Nelson’s new son. In Sulari Gentill’s A Testament of Character, Rowland Sinclair and his loyal friends Milton, Clyde and Edna, are preparing to return to Australia when Rowland hears of the death of Daniel Cartwright and learns that he is the executor of Cartwright’s will. Rowland and his friends go to Boston, New York, and many other places, pursued by Cartwright’s vengeful family plus numerous Italian and Irish gang members. Rowland is badly beaten up but persists in his perilous quest for Cartwright’s missing heir. Some of the story’s real-life characters are Joseph Kennedy and Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald. The gang members are authentic and Gentill continues her custom of having snippets from newspapers of the period at the head of each chapter. In my opinion this is Gentill’s best yet.

Ken Inglis (1929–2017) will be familiar to many readers as the author of the magisterial Sacred Places: War Memorials in the Australian Landscape, and for his histories of Anzac and the ABC. ‘I Wonder’ The Life and Work of Ken Inglis is a collection of essays edited by Peter Browne and Seumas Spark celebrating the life of this acclaimed historian. Many of the book’s contributors remember Ken Inglis for his kindness when, as a professor at the ANU for more than thirty years, he took them under his wing and helped them find their feet. He, himself, thought that the nicest thing ever said to him came from a student in Papua New Guinea who said that one of his lectures was ‘clear but good’. Inglis is noted for his accessible style and this volume will give readers a heads-up to the rest of his work. He always had something of the journalist in him, and while in Adelaide in 1956 he contributed a number of articles to The Nation which helped save the life of Rupert Max Stuart, an Aborigine condemned to death on the basis of a suspect confession. Inglis later played a vital role in compiling for the 1988 Bicentenary the 10-volume ‘slice’ history Australians. His last work Dunera Lives: A Visual History, written in collaboration with Jay Winter and Seumas Spark, tells the story of the Austrian and German internees whom the UK government ‘exiled’ to Australia in 1940 on HMT Dunera. Inglis had first met some of the ‘Dunera Boys’ at Melbourne University, including his philosophy tutor Peter Herbst, who would later be one of his Canberra colleagues. Over the years Inglis had collected a vast amount of material on the lives and backgrounds of many Dunera Boys, which was the main source on which Dunera Lives was based. By the time of writing Inglis was seriously ill, so the book was co-authored with Winter and Spark. This last work is a fitting memorial not only to its subjects but also to the humaneness of its author. Sonia