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This review is taken from PN Review 60, Volume 14 Number 4, March - April 1988.

UNPACKING THE TRUNK C.J. Koch, Crossing the Gap (Chatto & Windus) £11.95, £4.95 pb.

In his mid-fifties, author of four novels that have placed him in the forefront of Australian writers of fiction, Christopher Koch has the quietly firm authoritativeness of a man uncomplacently sure of the worth of his insights and values. This collection of nine reworked reviews and talks with the Leslie-Fiedlerish title carries the sub-title 'A Novelist's Essays', which genially prepares us for Koch's emphasis on praxis and experience. With its attractive blend of autobiographical recollection, socio-cultural comment and non-academic literary criticism, the book will be indispensable to readers of Koch's fiction (it is especially revealing on the genesis of Across the Sea Wall and The Year of Living Dangerously); it will also grip all who can be interested in one of the nation's leading intellectuals making his contribution to Australia's definition of itself.

Three pieces in the latter part of the book focus on Tasmania, where Koch was born in 1932, and they are alive with vivid observation, whether of innkeeper Ma Dwyer 'with dyed orange hair and an expressionless white face by Toulouse-Lautrec' who tolerated seamen's brawls but would not have them bleeding on her stairs, or of the respectable Hobart merchant who tore out of the convict register the page that revealed his own ancestry. It is Koch the novelist that writes these essays, and he has memorable phrases for the underlying moods of identity: 'The past is like a trunk in the attic here.' His memories of the recent past in Tasmania image forth ...


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