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Nicholas (Paul) Hasluck Biography

australia western fremantle novel

Nationality: Australian. Born: Canberra, 1942; son of the politician and diplomat Sir Paul Hasluck. Education: The University of Western Australia, Nedlands, 1960-63, LL.B. 1963; Oxford University, 1964-66, B.C.L. 1966. Career: Lawyer, admitted to Supreme Court of Western Australia as barrister and solicitor, 1968. Deputy Chairman, Australia Council, 1978-82. Awards: The Age Book of the Year award, 1984. Member: A.M. (Order of Australia), 1986. Agent: Murray Pollinger, 222 Old Brompton Road, London SW5 0B2, England.

PUBLICATIONS

Novels

Quarantine. Melbourne and London, Macmillan, 1978; New York, Holt Rinehart, 1979.

The Blue Guitar. Melbourne and London, Macmillan, and New York, Holt Rinehart, 1980.

The Hand That Feeds You: A Satiric Nightmare, photographs by the author. Fremantle, Western Australia, Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 1982.

The Bellarmine Jug. Ringwood, Victoria, Penguin, 1984.

Truant State. Ringwood, Victoria, Penguin, 1987; New York, Penguin, 1988.

The Country Without Music. Ringwood, Victoria, Viking, 1990.

The Blosseville File. Ringwood, Victoria, Penguin, 1992.

A Grain of Truth. Ringwood, Victoria, Penguin, 1994.

Short Stories

The Hat on the Letter O and Other Stories. Fremantle, WesternAustralia, Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 1978.

Poetry

Anchor and Other Poems. Fremantle, Western Australia, FremantleArts Centre Press, 1976.

On the Edge, with William Grono. Claremont, Western Australia, Freshwater Bay Press, 1980.

Chinese Journey, with C.J. Koch. Fremantle, Western Australia, Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 1985.

Other

Collage: Recollections and Images of the University of Western Australia, photographs by Tania Young. Fremantle, Western Australia, Fremantle Arts Centre Press, 1987.

Offcuts from a Legal Literary Life. Nedlands, University of WesternAustralia Press, 1993.

Editor, The Chance of Politics, by Paul Hasluck. Melbourne, TextPublishing, 1997.

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Critical Studies:

Review by Martin Seymour-Smith, in Financial Times (London), 15 June 1978; article by Helen Daniel, in The Age Monthly Review (Melbourne), December 1984; Liars by Helen Daniel, Ringwood, Victoria, Penguin, 1988.

* * *

Nicholas Hasluck's first novel, Quarantine, introduced the combination of intrigue, dark humour, and fable that have become characteristic of Hasluck's style. In an ominous, rundown hotel on the bank of the Suez canal, the passengers of a cruise ship are unaccountably held in isolation under the sinister charge of the proprietor Shewfik Arud and the dipsomaniac Dr. Magro. The exiles themselves are caught between the menacing Burgess and the moral hero of the story, David Shears, who loses his life through the moral cowardice of the narrator. Parallels with Camus's La Peste do not deny the individuality of Hasluck's brand of mordant absurdism.

The more restrained The Blue Guitar, unusually for an Australian novel, is concerned with commerce, and is set in a vividly-evoked urban jungle (recognisably Sydney). As a speculator, Dyson Garrick attempts to promote the inventor Herman's "blue guitar" that automatically creates music. His quest is idealistic (the title directs us to Wallace Steven's poem "Things as they are are changed by the blue guitar") but also tangled in the temptations of commercial exploitation, and this conflict leads to Garrick's own moral disintegration as he finally betrays his friend.

The Hand That Feeds You subtitled "A Satiric Nightmare," turns to a science-fiction framework for its satirical fantasy of an Australia controlled by the trade unions and the mass media, where paid work has become taboo, tax evasion and social handouts the ideal. A product of New Right thinking of the early 1980s, the novel lacks the universality of The Bellarmine Jug, his most complex and assured novel to date.

The Bellarmine Jug explores the roots of Australian identity on both personal and social levels, using techniques from the spy thriller and a legal examination that probes each layer of truth to reveal alternative realities. In 1948, student unrest in the Grotius Institute, Den Haag, is linked to an attempt by the authorities to suppress evidence that the 1629 mutiny of the Batavia off Western Australia was led by the son of Grotius, codifier of international law and founder of the institute. The evidence has implications for the status of Grotius, the institute, and the relationship between authority and rebellion. As the mutiny is envisaged as leading to atrocities surrounding a Rosicrucian settlement of the Abrolhos islands, it is also conjecturally linked to the first white settlement of Australia. The plot moves between Holland, London, and Australia, implicating issues such as the British atomic tests in the Monte Bellow islands, and Australian involvement in Sukarno's independence movement, to question the nature of international law, human rights, and individual morality. Exploring these through a taut and compelling narrative, the novel rates amongst the finest Australian novels of the 1980s.

Truant State is set in Western Australia in the heady days of the 1920s and the depression of the 1930s. It is narrated by the young Jack Taverne, an immigrant from England, whose father becomes caught in the illusory hopes of the era. There is a vivid recreation of the conflict between the trades unions, and the reactionary West Guard secret society which sought seccession for Western Australia (the "truant state" of the title). A subtext involves D.H. Lawrence's Kangaroo which also draws on the Fremantle riots and the right-wing secret organisations. The novel, which shows Hasluck's characteristic interweaving of personal, social, and metaphysical issues, with detective intrigue, is remarkable for its regional evocation of the fictional Butler's Swamp and Western Australia between the wars. The short stories of The Hat on the Letter O show Hasluck's technical versatility, and they are interesting as background to the novels.

In his most recent fiction, The Country Without Music, The Blosseville File, and A Grain of Truth, Hasluck, like John O'Hara and William Faulkner, has created an imaginary territory through which to explore contemporary actuality. Blosseville and the Baie de Baudin, and the off-shore islands of Depuis and Gournay, provide a subtle and complex milieu through which to explore historical and political issues of Western Australia. The Country Without Music is set on the island of Gournay, the site of a penal colony founded by French Revolutionaries. The ruins of the "panopticon" prison—Jeremy Bentham's model of penal reform—and the preserved guillotine stand as the ambivalent ideals of rational justice on which the island's administrator tries to build a modern capitalist society. But it is "without music" (or soul), and at the climax the island folk interact violently with authority in the rituals of Carnival.

If that novel explores political justice within the role of history, Hasluck's most recent work, A Grain of Truth turns directly to issues of contemporary law, and the novel is set on the mainland in Blosseville. The central character, the lawyer Michael Cheyne, finds himself standing for human rights against the weight of apparent justice within the legal system. The novel, which has an optimistic ending, underlines Hasluck's conviction that life is a conflict between the structures of social order—exemplified by the law—and the anarchy that lies at the core of human experience. Hasluck has declared that it is the "kind of quirky unpredictable exotic side of things" beneath the rational surface that is the task of literature to explore. Hasluck continues to develop his highly individual vein of intelligent and inventive fiction.

—Louis James

Ann Hassett (1958–) Biography - Personal, Career, Honors Awards, Writings, Sidelights [next] [back] James S. Haskins Biography - Selected writings

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