The Landing by Susan Johnson
September 12, 2015 — 23:07

Author: Dorothy Johnston  Category: Australian literature fiction writing  Comments: 2

My review of The Landing was published in the Fairfax newspapers this weekend. It’s Johnson’s eighth novel and a fine one.


Article Lead - narrow1000072768gjf0r4image.related.articleLeadNarrow.353x0.gjf134.png1441862465893.jpg-300x0


As usual, I’m not going to repeat the points I make in my review here, on this blog, but add a bit of musing round the edges that I didn’t have space for in 700 words.

This time my musing is about catalogues and lists. Johnson has several of them, mainly of the beauties around the lake where her protagonist, Jonathan Lott, has his holiday house. I came across her first one with a sense of recognition.

Why do authors make lists? Obviously they do so for a variety of reasons, but one of the main ones, it seems to me, is that by adding up and counting you, the author that is, can put off getting to the end. Enumeration can delay having to face what happens when you run out of items.

This is most apparent when the author, or character through whom she or he is speaking, knows that fear, or worse, the terror of complete disintegration, hides beneath, or in the middle of, the list.

The critic Ivor Indyk put it this way – and I’m paraphrasing, I don’t recall his exact words – when it comes to lists, he said, the real question is knowing when to stop.

That’s one function of lists in literature, as I see them. Another is the more fundamental and primitive urge to name. You name the things around you, and go on naming them, in an act of bearing witness that you hope will carry meaning in addition to the name. 

‘Glory be to God for dappled things,’ says Gerard Manley Hopkins in Pied Beauty, and then goes on to list them, with joy, wonder, and thanks-giving.

And then there’s Proust, the acme and pinnacle of list-makers, who does all of the above.











  • You don’t mention how artful you have to be to compose the list. It can’t just be a series of things, any old things. I often think of this when reading “list poems” and any time I’ve tried to write one. The choice is to do not only with the sounds of the words and their physical referents but also what I can only call their reach – I think this is what you ‘re referring to when you say “in addition to the name”. And having spent the morning with my philosophy group reading Wittgenstein, the whole question of the relationship between the names of things and the operations of the world is very lively in my mind tonight!

    September 13, 2015 — 11:31
  • Thanks for your comment Gert. Intelligent and thoughtful as always.
    And you’re right – I didn’t mention the artistry involved. It sounds as though you’ve had a lot more experience, as a poet and prose writer, with ‘lists’ than I have. Somehow I get discouraged after the first couple of items. I’ve a feeling that, to work, in a poem or a piece of prose, they shouldn’t be an intellectual exercise, but come from somewhere buried deep.

    September 14, 2015 — 0:56
  • Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *