26 September 2023


Start the conversation

Reviewed by Rama Gaind.

By Robert Dessaix, Brio Books, $34.99.

“Just a word or two before we begin” is how Australian writer and broadcaster Robert Dessaix introduces the compilation of some of his favourite short works. This thought-provoking, playful, gem of a book is the record of a life in words, part-memoir and part-engrossing collection of observations and ideas.

Dessaix describes the writings as “talks of mine from gala occasions, along with a few chatty but targeted pieces of journalism … [plus] a short story’; on the back cover, he is quoted as calling his journal articles ‘feuilletons.”

For the first time, it brings together talks he has given at literary festivals around Australia and overseas, along with a handful of short journalistic reflections on the quirkier sides to life.

“This collection of talks of mine from gala occasions, along with a few chatty but targeted pieces of journalism, brings other performances (what other word is there?) of one kind or another.”

“The first time around these pieces were not widely heard or read. A roomful of festival-goers in Sydney or Penang or Ballarat could well have heard me hold forth on the subject of Enid Blyton, say, or kissing, it’s true, and a few of my newspaper articles – my feuilletons, as I’m calling them – may have caught the eye of some readers of the Byron Shire Echo some years ago. It’s not that these audiences were unappreciative, but they were limited. Nowadays a podcast can attract an audience of tens of thousands around the globe, while I performed for the most part in more intimate spaces – these were entertainments, so to speak, for un-known friends.”

He’s added a short story: it’s not his usual genre, “but A Mad Affair is also a performance, after all, a turn, a numéro, about love – right at the end of everything.”

From the wonder of learning foreign languages, to “the words I wished I’d said”, Abracadabra abounds with considerate, clever and entertaining observations.

Described as a quintessential public intellectual, Dessaix is the recipient of the Australia Council Award for Lifetime Achievement in Literature.

Start the conversation

Be among the first to get all the Public Sector and Defence news and views that matter.

Subscribe now and receive the latest news, delivered free to your inbox.

By submitting your email address you are agreeing to Region Group's terms and conditions and privacy policy.