By Rama Gaind
PS News Books
By Peter Robb (Black Inc., $32.95, softcover, 386 pages)
An impressive collection of essays, going back almost three decades, Lives conjures up the inner world of some exceptional people.
This compilation traverses the globe—Australia to begin with, Italy at some length, and elsewhere with EM Forster, Arthur Rimbaud, Peter Carey and Gore Vidal.
Robb displays an extraordinary talent in getting beneath the surface of his profiled subjects to reveal a new side to them, determining their traits.
Some well-known Australians form the basis of a series of portraits including Aboriginal activist Marcia Langton, architect Glenn Murcutt, video artist Shaun Gladwell and his “entrancing films”, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, film director Ivan Sen and the “electric body language” actor Alex Dimitriades.
Weakening and fragmentation is one of Robb’s main themes. He irradiates the real people behind the public image. An attractive picture is created, then a flaw is introduced.
There is an awareness of the relevance of one’s roots, which in essence points to how people are ‘formed’ by the complex chronicles of childhood, family and the place where they had their upbringing.
Words speak volumes as you read about how Marcia Langton’s boldness and grouchiness is tempered with kindness and nervous care; how the Australianisation of Benedict Andrews’s Seagull contributed to its promise; and that the thirtysomething playwright, Lally Katz, “sounded like a frog”.
Other highlights include the life of American killer Gary Gilmore and in Italy, you become engrossed in the worlds of film director Federico Fellini, artist Michelangelo Merisi da Caravaggio, author Leonardo Sciascia and film director, poet, writer and intellectual Pier Paolo Pasolini.
This is an intriguing exploration of human life in all its diversity, allure and eccentricity.
Edition 336, 23 October 2012
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