Illywhacker by Peter Carey

Surprisingly, this remarkable novel has a stubborn realism about it. For all the strange stories within the tale, several of the characters have an unusual solidity. In addition, the context of the Great Depression lends the narrative a gritty feel. While there is plenty of humour in the text, the harshness of Australian society between the wars is no laughing matter.

Peter Carey is an artist who has produced a wide range of work. His originality must be one of the factors behind his considerable success. Nevertheless, this long story underlines that hard work has also been critical to his numerous achievements.

It is hard to identify serious flaws in this book. However, some female readers may be alienated by the somewhat chauvinistic attitudes which the main character evinces. In places, it can be quite an uncomfortable journey. Despite this, interesting questions about the nature of deceit are posed:

“‘A lie,’ I said, ‘is something that isn’t true at the moment you say it.'”


Another Europe Is Possible in Liverpool

This event clashed with England’s goalless draw with Slovakia. The coincidence impacted on attendance slightly. Nonetheless, an assortment of the local left gathered to hear the arguments of representatives of Left Unity, the Labour Party, Syriza UK and the Green Party. The female panel made several pertinent points about the referendum on Britain’s membership of the UK, while there was a period of respectful silence to honour the memory of murdered Labour MP Jo Cox.

The contentions made were persuasive enough. In particular, the idea of leftists voting to leave the EU was criticised. The shortcomings of the current political situation were acknowledged, but an optimistic case for Europe was made. Contributions from the floor were of genuine interest, and a strongly anti-racist message was put forward.

Natalie Bennett of the Green Party highlighted the fact that air pollution does not respect national borders. Further, she spoke of the need for European cooperation to combat climate change. With a supportive audience, she seemed relaxed without being complacent. Perhaps there can be more collaboration across the fragmented left after the referendum, especially if the Labour Party embraces the policy of proportional representation for Westminster.

Five simple reasons to vote against Brexit

  1. Leaving the EU is likely to be complex and costly
  2. Brexit will be interpreted by UKIP and some Tories as an endorsement of their reactionary values
  3. A vote for Brexit would encourage the least progressive journalists in the UK
  4. The EU has had a positive impact on the environment of the UK
  5. Getting rid of directives and regulations produced by the EU may diminish the rights of British people at work

Machiavelli by Michael White

This biography is an attempt to boost the reputation of the life and work of Machiavelli. It describes a complex and flawed diplomat who wrote perceptively about the politics of his time and place. Despite the opinion of many readers, Machiavelli was not totally without principle. While he was somewhat cynical, he was a patriot and he was seldom hypocritical. Further, Machiavelli was an inspirational figure for more ethical thinkers like Antonio Gramsci.

Nevertheless, the defence of the political philosopher which Michael White makes goes too far. In his desire to vindicate the life and work of Machiavelli, he forgets three important considerations. Firstly, Machiavelli observed much Machiavellian behaviour because he focused his attention on people that he admired. Hence his view of human nature was unnecessarily grim and his contentions were arguably skewed. Secondly, Machiavelli could only understand the people of his time. Although he read classical texts, he had insufficient awareness of how humans might change in the future. Unlike Marx, Machiavelli did not really appreciate the dynamism of the social world. White perceives the insights of Machiavelli as universal and there is little compelling evidence to back up this depressing conclusion. Thirdly, Machiavelli lived in a patriarchal society and White endeavours to excuse the crude sexism of the men in Florence:

“On the one hand he was preoccupied with the big issues of the day, and on the other he was enamoured with manly pursuits, drinking, whoring and gambling.”