The One and Only Dolly Jamieson
Lisa Ireland, Michael Joseph, $32.99
Homelessness among older women is a growing problem, and The One and Only Dolly Jamieson examines how it can happen to anyone through one very particular life. The titular Dolly is a 78-year-old who warms herself (and snaffles free morning tea from authors’ talks) at her local library. She befriends a newcomer to the library, Jane Leveson – a woman with an unspoken sadness in her eyes – and as their intimacy develops, the highs and lows of Dolly’s life story are revealed. She rose from a humble childhood in Geelong to become a Broadway star in the 1960s, before life reversed her fortunes, and when Jane offers to help her write a memoir, the two women face down separate but equally traumatic histories. There’s a shocking contrast between the fame and glamour of Dolly’s career and her poverty and invisibility in old age. Her story, and the issues it raises, are portrayed with a clearer eye and more dramatic flair than most books that attract the “feel-good novel” descriptor.
NON-FICTION PICK OF THE WEEK
John Darling: An Australian Filmmaker in Bali
Ed., Graeme MacRae & Anton Lucas, Monash, $39.99
I confess I’d never heard of Australian filmmaker and poet John Darling until now, but this splendid collection of essays, reminiscences (by family and friends) and the writings of Darling himself is an intriguing introduction to his life and work. He was born into well-off Melbourne, went to Geelong Grammar where his father was headmaster and studied at Oxford but never finished his course – because, along the way, he was seduced by the charm of Bali where he lived much of his life. His most famous film, Lempad of Bali (1980), about Balinese artist I Gusti Nyoman Lempad, who lived to the astonishing age of 116 and who remembered Krakatoa erupting, came out of that experience. A vivid collective portrait of the artistic life, the cultural flow between Australia and Bali, and the times (including the Kuta bombing) that Darling lived through.
Brook Turner, Allen & Unwin, $34.99
Journalist Brook Turner writes that the triumph of so many independent candidates in last year’s federal election was a revolution and, what’s more, it was televised. As his detailed and wide-ranging analysis demonstrates – he not only spoke to all major participants and draws on political theory, as well as quite aptly quoting Camus – something happened. Whether that something amounts to a revolution is another matter. Certainly, the two-party system has been challenged, mostly by independent women. Turner not only goes into the campaigns and the groundswell of support carrying the independents forward to victories in blue ribbon Liberal seats, but also contextualises things historically, suggesting that since the GFC history has shifted, from a neo-liberal to a post-liberal world. An engaging documentation of political change.
2022: Reckoning with Power and Privilege
Ed., Michael Hopkin, Thames & Hudson/The Conversation, $32.99
This collection of the best essays from The Conversation can be a bit up and down, but it’s also got some great pieces. Michelle Grattan’s The Year Australians Turned the Page, for example, in which she looks back over the Albanese victory and its implications, reminds us of what a terrific turn of phrase she’s got as well as being one of the most astute political observers in the country. Emma Shortis’ searing examination of gun-crazy America, the power of the NRA and the anachronistic nature of the 1791 Second Amendment (the right to bear arms) leaps off the page. While Matthew Sussex’s at times almost jaunty study of Putin’s nuclear threats concludes that it’s “probably” bluff, but comes with a caveat about Putin’s rationality. From a feminist look at Neighbours, #MeToo and China, they cover the waterfront.
Margaret Hamilton, WestWords, $34.99
At the end of Margaret Hamilton’s memoir, depicting a full and rich life in the book world both as publisher and writer, the author, who was battling cancer, expresses the desire to be present when her story is published. She isn’t. She died last November and knowing this makes her final chapter deeply poignant reading. But it’s her achievements that shine through and her approach to living, encapsulated in the title, for she maintains she never had a plan, she went with the flow. And what a flow it was – from working-class beginnings in Sydney’s Surry Hills, surviving sexual assault at eight, becoming a librarian specialising in children’s literature, then a director of Hodder & Stoughton, setting up Margaret Hamilton Books with her husband and bringing up a daughter along the way. An intimate portrait of going with the wave of life.