Posted by: Lisa Hill | May 10, 2022

Six Degrees of Separation: from True History of the Kelly Gang, to….

This month’s #6Degrees starts with Peter Carey’s award-winning True History of the Kelly Gang.

I swore I would read True History in time for #6Degrees because it’s been on my TBR for years and years — but *smacks forehead* I forgot until I saw Kate’s #6Degrees on Saturday.  So I started it that afternoon and I’ve just finished it today.  My review is coming!

Among numerous other awards True History won the Booker, but although it was nominated, it didn’t win the Miles Franklin.  So who did?

It was Frank Moorhouse’s Dark Palace — second in the Edith Trilogy which traces an Australian woman’s career in the League of Nations.  Books 1 & 2 are Grand Days (1993) and Dark Palace (2000) while Cold Light (2011) covers her postwar return to Cold War Australia. I have enthused about this trilogy in #6Degrees before, but only Cold Light is reviewed on this blog.

Since ANZ LitLovers only got going in 2008, the Edith Trilogy is not the only series I’ve only partially reviewed.  I’m rather glad, however, that I don’t have a review of Kate Grenville’s The Secret River, first of her Colonial Trilogy, because as I consult my reading journal I see that I had a somewhat naïve response to it.  In 2020 when I reviewed Searching for the Secret River I was still enthusing about it, and I’d done the same in 2009 when I reviewed The Lieutenant but if I read The Secret River today, in the light of all the Indigenous writing I’ve encountered, I think I would react differently. By the time I read Book 3, Sarah Thornhill, I had a different view of the representation of Indigenous people and I was deeply unimpressed by Grenville’s risible depiction of redemption for her characters.

But that’s why we read, isn’t it?  Sure, we read frivolous novels and other forms of comfort reading, but we also read to be introduced to new ideas and to have our existing perceptions challenged. So far in 2022 I’ve read more than 20 books published this year and nearly all of them raise social issues that matter.  A standout amongst these is Other Houses, by Paddy O’Reilly which is a vivid depiction of a disadvantaged young couple trying to get ahead without anything in the way of support and are confronted by problems not of their making.

That title reminded me of another book, with almost the same title.  Other People’s Houses, however, has a different focus.  It’s not a novel, it’s the memoir of Australian publishing icon Hilary McPhee.  While the ‘other house’ of the title refers to McPhee’s time in Jordan when she was ghost-writing the (never published) story of a prince, the book was for me, more of a cautionary tale about a woman of a certain age negotiating an abrupt change in her personal life. (Which is what eventually happens to many women.)

And that reminds me of Ruby J Murray’s terrific novel The Biographer’s Lover.  It tells the story of another would-be biographer who is commissioned to write the life story of a neglected woman artist.  To quote my own review:

… biography is a slippery art.  Some members of the family are garrulous but ultimately unhelpful, while others are evasive and won’t even agree to be interviewed.  There is more to Edna’s experiences and preoccupations than the desired image of her as an artist neglected because of her gender.  In Nathan Hobby’s review of this novel, he describes the biographer’s purpose: a quest for the truth of the subject’s life, often involving the recovery of lost letters or diaries — but here the letters are embargoed and diaries don’t exist.  Victoria wants her mother’s life told through her artworks, and she puts up road blocks to steer the biographer in the intended direction.

That mention of Nathan Hobby brings me of course to his recently published biography of Katharine Susannah Prichard, The Red Witch.  As you can see from my review, it’s a LitBio that lived up to all of my expectations, and you can join me for the online launch next week.  It’s free, you don’t need to book in, and you don’t need to download anything.  Just put the link below into your diary and click it when the meeting starts.

Online launch – The Red Witch: A Biography of Katharine Susannah Prichard
Tuesday, 17 May 8:00pm AEST (6:00pm AWST)
Video call link:

From a purported autobiography of a murderer valorised as a folk hero, to a masterful biography of an Australian literary icon, that’s my #6Degrees for this month!

Next month’s starter book is a book by an Australian author shortlisted for the 2022 Women’s Prize for Fiction – Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason.

Thanks to Kate at Books are my Favourite and Best for hosting:)


  1. Very cute link to Nathan’ book. Enjoyed all your links Lisa. I often think about The secret river. I think for its time it did something important. We shouldn’t reject that.


    • No, I don’t reject it. But my response back then was all about Thornhill’s love of the land, and for all that I appreciated her efforts to explore the moral ambiguities of settlement in the Hawkesbury area, I failed to see that the story privileges his love for the land over the ancient spiritual connection that the Dhurag and Darkinjung Peoples had for it.


  2. Lovely chain. That Other Houses sounds very interesting.


    • Yes… I must read her other book too!


  3. Such a great chain, Lisa. I totally get what you are saying about The Secret River, I reviewed it a decade ago but it was a little longer than I read it. Maybe you would like to comment?

    Apart from that, I haven’t read any of your books but I always love your lists as they give me some great ideas what to read about “Down Under”.

    My Six Degrees of Separation go around the globe and ended with The Glass Castle by Jeannette Walls.


  4. Interesting comment about your re-evaluation of Grenville’s book. I think it’s the first in a trilogy so did your reservations extend to the other books or did you not read them?


    • I’ve read them all. I read them as they came out.
      You can read my enthusiastic thoughts about Book 2 here on the blog, but now, as I say, I’m in two minds about it. But whereas I had an uncritical response to Books 1 & 2, by the time Book 3 came along, I had a less naïve attitude towards writing Australia’s Black History from the colonists’ PoV, and it shows in my review.
      I hope I’ve made it clear that it’s me that’s changed. And I hope it shows the value of reading widely from Indigenous writers. Authors of historical fiction who don’t do that, neglect it at their peril. Apart from any moral imperative, they need to keep up with their readership.
      Perhaps an analogy might be, someone writing historical UK fiction, set in 1950s London, and misrepresenting the Windrush Generation because they hadn’t read Sam Selvon’s The Lonely Londoners.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes I think you’ve made a good case for approaching texts from multiple perspectives and also being open to re-evaluation

        Liked by 1 person

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