Sunday, September 23, 2007

The History Question: Who Owns The Past, by Inga Clendinnen

One of the great controversies of the Howard years: How do we see Australian history? Whose view should prevail? Has Howard overstepped and overreached in the so-called culture wars over Australia's past? Was Keating just as ideological as Howard?

Amazingly, with such a rivetting subject, Inga Clendinnen has written a dullsville, meandering, self-absorbed essay. Too much of the essay is taken up with ponderous questions about truth in historical novel writing, taking issue with the likes of Kate Grenville.

Boy some of these essays can be a bore. If I was an editor and this came across my desk I'd send it back for a most vigorous rewrite, and would tell the author to junk at least 75% of it. This essay just tells you absolutely nothing about 'who owns the past'.

I won't be trying one of Inga's other books in a hurry. This is too polite, too la-di-da in its writing style. What was needed was some meat and potatoes, a razor sharp journalist who was across all the details, because so much of the question proposed by the essay title is political.

I'm getting the David Marr Quarterly Essay from the library next. Hopefully it will be much better.

Please publishers at Black Inc., don't inflict any more of these insipid essays on us!

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