Book reviews

Sex, Power and the Clergy, Muriel Porter.
Hardie Grant Books, 2003. isbn 1 74066 026 9,
rrp $29.95

While I was reading Sex, Power and the Clergy the media were fascinated by the resignation of Dr Peter Hollingworth as Governor-General. By the time I had finished, their focus had switched to the furore over homosexual clergy in the Anglican Church. Porter rejects the accusation that the media focus on clerical sexual abuse is a conspiracy.

Sex, Power and the Clergy examines the issue of clerical sexual abuse of children and women, looking primarily at the inadequate responses of the leadership of churches. The focus of the book is on the Anglican and Catholic churches of Australia and the US. Porter’s avowed aim is to contextualise the crisis in terms of the churches’ attitudes to sexuality, women, power and leadership.

Porter argues that clerical sexual abuse is the result of the unhealthy patriarchal power structures of the mainstream Western churches. The book makes a cogent case, but it also leaves many questions unanswered. Porter acknowledges that she is not writing as an outsider; that as a committed Anglican laywoman she is both involved in the governance structures of the church she criticises and a long-term challenger of church patriarchy. Not surprisingly, Porter’s writing is strongly polemical. Porter argues that clergy have a greater responsibility than other individuals because they claim, implicitly or explicitly, to represent God. This may be a reasonable position, but when Hollingworth’s (then) failure to stand down from the position of Governor-General is compared unfavourably with Christ’s willingness to die despite his innocence, my sympathy turned to the clergy of whom so much is expected.

Sex, Power and the Clergy is a fascinating piece of journalism, but it frequently lacks sources and explanations for the arguments it makes. It is the first draft of a history that deserves much more


Avril Hannah-Jones

Media Mania: why our fear of modern media is misplaced, Hugh Mackay. Sydney, University of New South Wales Press, 2002.
isbn 0 86840 709 7, rrp $24.95

Two elderly people sit together watching television, in silence, focused on the screen. Meanwhile, the wallpaper peels from the walls around them.

Hugh Mackay argues that the culture of blaming the media for society’s problems is misplaced. Images of guns and bombs on television do not make children violent. And advertisements for mobile phones that take photographs cannot make you buy one.

Mackay suggests we stop seeing ourselves as victims, and  consider the role individual will plays in the decisions we make. Mackay has a distinctive style. He habitually uses numbers to tell us about people. He also goes beyond the surface of the issues he covers. The book invites us to consider the couple sitting in silence anew: did the television steal their conversation, or did they choose
not to talk?                                                                 

Emily Millane

Saving Francesca
Melina Marchetta. Penguin, 2003.
isbn 0 67004 045 2, rrp $24.95

The title character of Melina Marchetta’s long-awaited second novel is in need of saving. As a Year 11 student experiencing the difficulties of starting a new school—in its first year of accepting female students—discovering her identity and falling in love, Francesca Spinelli must also cope with a family on the verge of collapse.

Particularly interesting is Marchetta’s portrayal of the debilitating case of depression from which Francesca’s mother is suffering. The effects of depression are not dramatised, but shown in a way that lays bare the day-to-day reality of coping with mental illness, where misery is part of a daily routine and stomaching a cup of tea becomes a triumph.

Francesca’s story is told with warmth and humour. Although the teenage characters are in danger of becoming stereotypes (the left-wing activist, the promiscuous girl, the slob in low-slung jeans), Marchetta develops these characters, allowing them to expose the hollowness of the very stereotypes they represent.

Though it is the type of book that can be read in a single winter’s afternoon, Saving Francesca is more than an entertaining story. It is a novel about the resilience of familial bonds, and how salvation can come from the least likely places.

Chloe Wilson

Olhovsky Prince of Hamburg, Phil Leask.
Black Pepper Press, 2003. isbn 1 87604 437 3,
rrp $27.95

Michael Rothney is an English poet working on a suite of poems in the German city,
Hamburg. He is attempting to shrive himself of a former lover. Rothney walks incessantly, at night, feeling for the pulse and lineaments of the city. He meets Olhovsky, a semi-mythical creature, a mermaid, a hermaphrodite beauty.

We meet characters plagued by incompleteness. They long for the other, for the missing part of themselves. Their questing, their roiling hopes, seek relief in relationships, with a sexual partner or partners. Love appears to be the ground of human need, but it is fickle and treacherous. Desire, possession and belonging are its convenient and clandestine counterfeits.

It’s a study of a city, too, which seeks its destiny with the same carnal energy as its inhabitants. The rhythm of the text, growing in intensity like Ravel’s Bolero, is sympathetic with the insistent walking of the characters as they explore the city.

Leask’s characters are psychologically stateless, and grieve for a home. Though an Australian, Leask has lived in London for 30 years, travelling in Europe and returning to Australia. Leask’s book is about place, and rootlessness; about heartless loves and places of absence.

It is a haunting book and seems likely to be a novel which will reverberate beyond its times.                                

Terry Monagle



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