Lives by Peter Robb
Melbourne: Black Inc., 2012 ISBN 9781863955638
Those who have read my review of Midnight in Sicily will know that I rate Peter Robb very highly as a writer. The works of his that I've read have certainly weaved a web in my brain - they have been hard to forget, mainly due to Robb's limpid style, within which the reader is afloat on a sea of words, beautiful even when describing horror. Robb tends to write about ambiguous or mysterious situations, and it's clear that he is fascinated by things that fall through the cracks, or are not quite what they seem.
Lives is a collection of Robb's shorter non-fiction; as his thankyou note in the beginning of the book elaborates, most of these pieces made their first appearance in magazines and newspapers. Thankfully - for the most part - Robb's facile yet deep style is unaffected in a shorter format. The book is divided into three sections: Australia, Italy, and Elsewhere. While these groupings are obviously geographic, there is nothing really homogeneous in the lives that are investigated within these pages. Many of the pieces are to do with people working in the arts (actors, film-makers), some are book reviews, and some are reportage. Some articles give the reader a new view on a person they thought they might know fairly well, some introduce the reader to a person they'll want to know more about, and some give the reader the complete picture.
Interesting pieces for me in the Australian section were on Julian Assange: a double book review, but also a psychological insight into the man himself, an extended piece on Marcia Langton, and a wonderful combined travelogue, interview, political commentary and film discussion revolving around a road trip with Ivan Sen.
As you would expect, the section on Italy covers everything from the wonderful Baroque art in Rome to the machinations of the Mafia. These musings are covered in articles ostensibly about Robert Hughes' Rome, The Leopard, and articles about Fellini, Pasolini, and other less well-known figures in Italian art and law.
The Elsewhere section is even more eclectic, running from Joseph Conrad to Gary Gilmore; the Gilmore piece being a perceptive appraisal of Norman Mailer's work, and another reminder to me to add Executioner's Song to my to-read list.
Perhaps the piece I liked best was the one entitled Jilly, which consists of extracts from Robb's diary, mostly about the comings and goings within the block of units in which he lives. As with all Robb's work, it's hard to know what's real and what isn't, what is observed fact and what is imputation - an insight into an author who is always trying to look under the surface, and make connexions between people and events.
Well worth picking up and reading, even if only in part. Recommended.
Cheers for now, from
A View Over the Bell