Phillip Hall Reviews Mick: A Life of Randolph Stow

By | 23 March 2016

While Falkiner’s biography shows just how much of Stow’s personal life was a retreat into isolation and loneliness she also catalogues the connections and alliances that were formed. Mick counted many fellow writers as friends: Geoffrey Dutton, Max Harris, Antigone Kefala, Tom Shapcott and Peter Skrzynecki were perhaps among the closest. He collaborated with the painters Sydney Nolan and Donald Friend; and with the composers Peter Maxwell Davies and Peter Sculthorpe; but he admitted to few influences – on his poetry, early Judith Wright and Arthur Rimbaud (Mick was fluent in French), and on his fiction, Joseph Conrad and Patrick White. Mick was dedicated to modernism and this included an escape from naturalism in writing. His commitment to modernism in the arts would also lead to long-standing and bitter disputes with what he saw as the conservative and reactionary academic luminaries of A D Hope, Leonie Kramer and James McAuley, who Mick judged to be opponents of the type of modernism being ushered in by such writers as Max Harris and Patrick White. Stow’s mental health always exhibited a complicated relationship between his interpersonal experiences and capacity for work.

Falkiner’s biography is a meticulously researched recount of a complicated but important creative life. Sometimes she swamps her reader with information; why, for example, do we need to know that as a schoolboy Mick served on the school tuck shop committee? But as a complimentary narrative to the critical evaluations of Stow’s work being undertaken by such scholars as John Beston, Anthony Hassall, Bruce Bennett and John Kinsella, Falkiner’s Life is of inestimable worth.

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