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Their Brilliant Careers: The Fantastic Lives of Sixteen Extraordinary Australian Writers by Ryan O’Neill (Black Inc.)
Mark Twain observed in 1895 that Australian history read like the most beautiful of lies. In the inventive, adventurous and raucously funny Their Brilliant Careers, Ryan O’Neill not only claims from Twain the mantle as a superior literary raconteur but also dissects literary pretensions, hopes and achievements with considerable intelligence and depth of knowledge.
Across sixteen half-recognisable figures, O’Neill constructs an alternative literary history of Australia, taking aim at the exercise of biography, the self-importance of arts patrons, the literary hoax, awards culture, insularity and raw plagiarists. Real figures rub up against O’Neill’s creations so successfully that even some of the most connected literati may be convinced that they have shared a panel at a literary festival with more than one of O’Neill’s rumbustious creations. Lest this be thought of as nothing more than a series of inventive pen portraits, Ryan takes great care to directly and subtly interweave his figures. Nor is he afraid of emotion. Their Brilliant Careers succeeds as a multi-headed portrait of a literary culture equally prone to fits of energy and doubt. Sustained satiric writing is a scarce beast in Australian literature. One that actually makes you laugh is rare. Their Brilliant Careers is assuredly that brilliant animal.