BOOK REVIEW: The Well in the Shadow: A Writer’s Journey through Australian Literature (Chester Eagle, Transit Lounge)

Australian literature deserves closer analysis, and by analysis I mean literary criticism that leaves its pretensions at the door. Chester Eagle is a fine candidate for the task. His book The Well in the Shadow reads like a journey of literary discovery and a musing on the shifting definition of what it means to be Australian. There are some beautiful moments, such as Eagle’s meeting with Jack Johnston, inspiration for George Johnston’s My Brother Jack. Here the divide between life and literature has never seemed so poignant. By the chapter’s end, the character of Jack is not as interesting as the man himself, a man George never really got to know. Eagle also discusses Coonardoo, Monkey Grip, Eucalyptus and many other Australian novels with fresh insight and a dash of humour. Granted, this is not an everyday bestseller; its pleasures are more suited to slower discovery. University booksellers might find this the perfect suggestion for the overly serious student or professor of Australian literature, and this book certainly deserves its place in university curriculums. Why? Because it is that rare thing: a critical study that encourages interpretation rather than defining its own rigid parameters.

Laurie Steed is a writer, reviewer and bookseller. This review first appeared in the May/June 2010  issue of Bookseller+Publisher. You can read the April 2010 issue online here.

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