Text Classics

Billed as ‘great books by great storytellers’, Text Classics are  designed to unearth some of the ‘lost marvels’ of Australian literature. An imprint of the Melbourne-based Text Publishing Company,  Text Classics are simple, elegantly- designed Australian books  (‘we want our books to be beautiful objects’) {1}.  Their distinctive black, white and gold covers are easy to spot in bookshops, and they retail for only $12.95  (the price of four cups of coffee, or two glasses of wine!)

There are 30 titles in the collection so far, covering authors from Jessica Anderson through to Watkin Tench. Each book is given a fresh introduction by a well-known Australian writer: Geoffrey Blainey, Helen Garner, Germaine Greer and so on. A further range of titles will be published next month, and readers‘ suggestions for recovering more ‘lost classics’ are welcomed.

It’s difficult to know where to start with this exciting new series; I’m inclined to go with The Fortunes of Richard Mahony, one of the great Australian turn-of-the-century novels, or with Elizabeth Harrower’s remarkable piece of Australian Gothic, The Watch Tower.  Henry Handel Richardson’s epic novel, set during the gold-rush of nineteenth-century Australia, is the powerful and moving story of  Irish immigrant Richard Mahony’s early success and terrible failure.  It works brilliantly as the history of a man in a particular time and place, providing a vivid picture of the early days of the colony, and an insight into the darkest reaches of a man’s soul.

In contrast to the wide social and historical canvas of Richardson’s novel, The Watch Tower offers a small cast of characters – Felix, his wife Laura and her sister Clare -all locked in a claustrophobic intimate relationship. Harrower’s novel is set in post-war Sydney, and provides one of the most chilling depictions of suburban life that I have ever read. It is only a slim novel, but Elizabeth Harrower makes every word count as she slowly builds up her picture of an intense and unforgettable  domestic nightmare.


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