A lively, candid trip through Malcolm Turnbull's business deals and turbulent career in politics.
Most political memoirs are self-serving affairs, either attempts to set the record straight or dull policy lists of what was achieved in government. Malcolm Turnbull does a bit of both here, that's to be expected. What makes his book stand apart from other memoirs of this type is the lack of venom or bitterness. Nor is Turnbull hamstrung by ideology.
The tone of the book is that of a slightly world-weary philosopher king wading through Sodom and Gomorrah. The former Liberal prime minister's mistake was to trust people and presume that politicians are rational actors. Instead Turnbull finds the reverse: a bunch of ideologically mad right-wingers who would cut off their nose to spite their face. No one can be trusted. Colleagues who professed friendship and solidarity for years would abruptly turn face and secretly plot. When we think of our political leadership, we think of men and women working in a collegiate fashion, striving for best outcomes. A Bigger Picture shows that a huge amount of time and energy is devoted to intrigue, plotting and undermining.
At 660 pages, A Bigger Picture may seem like a daunting prospect, but the author keeps his narrative lively and interesting. Even the boring bits – the business deals and policy development – run fairly smoothly. Other chapters, such as the one on China, are fascinating and insightful. The most compelling parts are the portraits of Liberal Party colleagues, with lots of the behind scenes dialogue and tell-tale personal traits. None of this is done to provide salacious titillation, but rather is an earnest attempt to explain character and motivation. There's no sense in Turnbull's writing that he's trying to settle scores with political enemies.
I was cheered by A Bigger Picture as I neared the end. His genuine respect for women and gay people is a breath of fresh air. He enforced the “bonking ban” between politicians and staffers in part due to the Barnaby Joyce scandal, but also because he'd seen too many young women compromised by their blokey male bosses. The final words in the marriage equality chapter are uplifting for their humanity and generosity of spirit.
A surprisingly good memoir with insights into how destructive and counter-productive politics can be.
A Bigger Picture, by Malcolm Turnbull. Published by Hardie Grant. $55
Review by Chris Saliba
An ambitious novel about Shakespeare's wife and son from Irish novelist Maggie O'Farrell.
William Shakespeare had three children with his wife, Anne (or Agnes, if you go by her father's will) Hathaway. Susanna was born in 1583, followed by the twins Judith and Hamnet in 1585. Hamnet tragically died at the age of eleven. His cause of death remains unknown. There has been much scholarly speculation about the significance of Shakespeare naming his most famous play Hamlet, as both names were interchangeable in Elizabethan times.
Irish novelist Maggie O'Farrell has set herself the ambitious task of trying to recreate Shakespeare's family life and somehow explain his seemingly unorthodox marriage arrangements. The novel has two timelines, moving back and forth between the early 1580s, when Shakespeare was courting Anne Hathaway and 1596, the year Hamnet died. O'Farrell portrays Anne (named Agnes throughout) as a bit of a wild nature woman, making her own medicines and working in her village as a healer of sorts. Shakespeare (he is never named, only referred to as either husband or father) is smitten with the unusual Agnes, someone with an uncanny connection to the natural world.
The couple marry and Agnes soon realises that her husband has a mysterious inner life, a restlessness that seeks the wider world. She urges him to move to London, assuring him that she and the children will follow later. That never happens, although Agnes's husband goes on to have a successful career in the theatre. When tragedy strikes, and Hamnet is seriously ill, the boy's father rushes back from London to see his dying boy.
O'Farrell's novel is primarily about grief and motherhood. Shakespeare appears as a half-formed character, and there is even less of Hamnet. The story centres for the most part around Agnes, her inner life, how she copes with grief and her husband's long stays away from home. For that alone, it makes for an affecting and absorbing novel. The scenes depicting the laying out of Hamnet's body are incredibly moving and the myriad botanical references paint an illuminating picture of Elizabethan rural life, with its mixture of natural science and superstition.
How readers appreciate this novel will depend on how they warm to O'Farrell's depiction of the Shakespeares' married life. William is portrayed as rather callous and inconsiderate of his wife's feelings, someone who puts career ahead of family. Agnes and William seem almost strangers to each other. The historical record shows that Shakespeare spent large parts of the year in London, and the novelist has obviously taken this to mean that as a married couple the Shakespeares weren't close and may indeed have been hostile to each other. Some readers may see this reading of their relationship as lacking in imagination, or too quick to jump to easy assumptions.
An engaging, heartbreaking novel about a mother's loss, but a disappointing portrayal of Shakespeare's marriage.
Hamnet, by Maggie O'Farrell. Published by Tinder Press. $32.99
North Melbourne Books