Geordie Williamson

is a writer and critic.

By this author

Culture June 24, 2023

The Comforting Weight of Water

First came global heating, when people suffered in a world consumed by fire. Then, in a dramatic climatic reversal, rain began to fall from a saturated atmosphere: downpours that ceased for just long enough each day to reveal a pale disc of sun. Animals …

Culture June 03, 2023


W. G. Sebald was justly celebrated for the melancholy antiquarianism of his prose. The Anglo-German writer placed his narrators – solitary eccentrics or survivors of some traumatic past – amid historic spaces in England or Europe. There they moved …

Culture March 18, 2023

Tanya Plibersek: On Her Own Terms

Biographies of politicians still in the game have a slippery quality, even if – as in Margaret Simons’ solidly researched, cautiously told life of Tanya Plibersek – they wear such limitations on their sleeve. Simons’ Tanya Plibersek: On Her …

Culture December 17, 2022

Best of 2022: Part one

It sometimes feels as if the myth-kitty belonging to Europeans in Australia has been exhausted. Not that there was much in it to start with. What little remains seems dusty and out-of-date, a clutch of bush narratives no longer fit for 21st century purpose. Then …

Culture October 29, 2022

Lucy by the Sea

“Oh” is such a modest little exclamation – ubiquitous to the point of invisibility. And yet Elizabeth Strout employs it so regularly – first in last year’s Oh William! and again in this new work, Lucy by the Sea, the latest …

Culture October 08, 2022

A Kind of Magic: A memoir about anxiety, our minds, and optimism in spite of it all

An astounding fact: some who witnessed firsthand the infamous killing fields of Pol Pot’s regime in Cambodia went blind afterwards. Their eyes could still “see” in a physical sense – their optic nerve remained undamaged. They just couldn’t admit …

Culture September 10, 2022

New Australian Fiction 2022

Anthologies such as Kill Your Darlings’ New Australian Fiction have a long and necessary prehistory. In continental Europe and Britain during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, “little magazines” were established to showcase writing …

Culture July 16, 2022

Lilly and Her Slave

The history of postwar German literature was written by the defeated. Poet Paul Celan, for example, wrote in German despite it being the language of those who sent his parents to the gas chambers, seeking to cleanse even words of their bloodstains. Günter …

Culture July 02, 2022


John Clare was the great poet of “enclosure”. Unlike other major Romantic writers, he was of the peasantry – he lived through a period during which lands once held for the benefit of all were privatised in the name of “improving” agricultural …

Culture June 11, 2022

Losing Face

“Communities are to be distinguished, not by their falsity or genuineness,” wrote Benedict Anderson, the late, great Irish historian of nationalism, “but in the style in which they are imagined.” It’s a line that should ring in the ears of those …

Culture May 14, 2022

Daisy and Woolf

We all know – or think we know – what happens in Virginia Woolf’s celebrated novel Mrs Dalloway, first published almost a century ago. It concerns a day in the life of a London society hostess as she prepares for and then holds a party …

Culture April 02, 2022

A History of Dreams

Imagine that Grace Tame, happening on the late Philip Roth in his study, hard at work on his World War II alternative history The Plot Against America, tied the novelist to his chair and began a radical rewrite: shifting its setting from 1930s …

Culture March 19, 2022

Loop Tracks

The moment when a 15-year-old girl named Charlotte (Charlie) decides to lose her virginity feels less a decision than submission to the laws of adolescent gravity. She’s drunk, sitting by the fire at an illicit outdoor party, when an older boy takes …

Culture February 19, 2022

A World with No Shore

The annals of Arctic exploration had never seen anything like it: three Swedish gentlemen explorers in bespoke oilskins, checked or striped, with pocket handkerchiefs but no warming furs, who set out in spring of 1897 to pilot a balloon as far as the …

Culture January 22, 2022

Love Marriage

It has been said of Jane Austen’s characters that their primary terror is of being expelled from the class of their birth. In this reading, the astringently measured dialogue and super-sensible alertness to the details of social existence that mark …

Culture December 18, 2021

Books of ambition

An author who wrote his first novel at 17, Damon Galgut has spent decades trembling on the edge of greatness. Anyone who has read his scarifying The Good Doctor from 2003 or his 2010 Booker-shortlisted autofiction In a …

Culture November 20, 2021

7 ½

“If you’re uncertain if a book is autofiction,” ran a recent, waggish listicle on, “turn to the names for clues.” “If the protagonist is unnamed, it’s autofiction. If the protagonist is named, it’s fiction. But if the protagonist …

Culture November 13, 2021

The Dogs

“It seems to me,” writes the narrator of W. G. Sebald’s 2001 novel Austerlitz, that “all the moments of our life occupy the same space, as if future events already existed and were only waiting for us to find our way to them at last, …

Culture October 30, 2021

How to End a Story: Diaries 1995-1998

Helen Garner’s third and final volume of published diaries covers three years, from 1995 to 1998, during which her marriage to author Murray Bail finally broke down. As a diary – one, moreover, written by an author with an avid and democratic eye …

Culture October 16, 2021

Scary Monsters

The first thing to know about Scary Monsters is that it consists of two novellas bound top to tail within a single paperback. It’s a design decision that reinforces the world-turned-upside-down nature of the stories contained: one a narrative …

Culture August 28, 2021

Red Heaven

For Virginia Woolf, it was Hamlet. A play the Modernist giant found so resonant and abundant with meaning that she thought an annual re-reading, along with a record of the reader’s shifting responses to the text over time, would form a kind …

Culture August 14, 2021

Dark as Last Night

Tony Birch has published four short story collections in a little over a decade, a dedication to the form with few comparisons in contemporary Australian literature. He writes stories as Ernest Hemingway suggested a true practitioner of the craft should …

Culture July 17, 2021

The Tribute

W. H. Auden loved detective fiction for the soothing inevitability of its narrative arc. An ordered world is disturbed by an act of murder. The person responsible for that crime is sought, discovered and punished. The world is returned to rights. But …

Culture June 19, 2021

The Other Half of You

“Never marry an outsider, never have less than five children, never go against the family, never go against the village, and never question me.” So ran the script that Arab men in Michael Mohammed Ahmad’s family passed onto their sons. Presumably …

Culture June 05, 2021

Stranger Care

Like many before her, Sarah Sentilles had no idea that whole regions of her heart lay dormant until she had a baby. These emotions come in hard and fast and change you physically. It’s like the letting down of mother’s milk. But there is a wrinkle …

Culture May 15, 2021

Night Blue

American author William H. Gass believed colour stood for consciousness and feeling in a world where our vocabulary for such states was impoverished. He wrote an entire book about the colour blue to expand his point. Angela O’Keeffe’s novella about …

Culture March 20, 2021

My Year of Living Vulnerably

Rick Morton writes prose like drag artists perform gender: with unabashed enthusiasm, stylistic flair and carefully calibrated exaggeration. Readers are first distracted by the glitter-bombs of wit on display. Only afterwards do they note the pathos and …

Culture February 20, 2021

The Death of Francis Bacon

Feelings of desperation and unhappiness “are more useful to an artist than the feeling of contentment”, said Francis Bacon, one of the most notorious figures of 20th-century art, “because desperation and unhappiness stretch your whole sensibility”. Agreed, …

Culture October 24, 2020

Our Shadows

In the winter of 1893, the Irish prospector Paddy Hannan and two compatriots noted the presence of gold in the place that would become known as Kalgoorlie. The diggings were soon swarmed, and a bustling mining town grew up in the years that followed, …

Culture September 19, 2020

Ordinary Matter

A scandalous discrepancy links the 20 short stories contained within Ordinary Matter. They are fictions inspired by scientific achievements belonging to women over the course of the 20th century. Yet these same women are embedded in an undertaking …

Television April 04, 2020

Westworld, season 3

With today’s sequels and spinoffs often eclipsing their source material, Westworld, now entering its third season, takes the trend to a whole new level – presenting a futurist world of automatons with staggering richness and intricacy.

Culture March 28, 2020


Philosopher Glenn Albrecht calls it farmosophy – thinking philosophically and creatively in relation to the practice of farming. It’s a new name for an old undertaking – Hesiod’s agricultural poem “Works and Days” is one of the earliest …

Film February 01, 2020

True History of the Kelly Gang

Despite its limitations, Justin Kurzel’s True History of the Kelly Gang is the first film to capture the verve and intensity of this iconic story.

Culture October 12, 2019

Ducks, Newburyport

James Joyce wrote Ulysses, he suggested, as a way of making the novel safe for women and children. He meant that the stream-of-consciousness technique he developed, with its concentration on interior psychological states and mundane domestic …

Television September 28, 2019

Ryan Murphy’s The Politician

Contemporary mores are viciously skewered in the amoral world of Ryan Murphy’s The Politician, but the series has just enough humanity to keep its heart beating.

Culture September 21, 2019

The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance

Although rebooting Jim Henson’s The Dark Crystal may seem a strange choice, the Netflix prequel Age of Resistance is technically impressive and speaks to contemporary concerns.

Culture September 14, 2019

The Man Who Saw Everything

“It seems to me then,” says the eponymous narrator of W.  G. Sebald’s 2001 novel Austerlitz, “as if all the moments of our life occupy the same space, as if future events already existed and were only waiting for us to find our way …

book July 27, 2019

The Nickel Boys

“Freedom,” wrote James Baldwin, still the most subtle and anguished anatomist of race in American letters, “is not something that anybody can be given. Freedom is something people take, and people are as free as they want to be.” Colson Whitehead’s …

Culture June 29, 2019

This Is Shakespeare

Let me count the ways in which Emma Smith’s This Is Shakespeare is the ideal book of its moment for unlocking the works of that most miraculous, mysterious and be-pedestalled figure in English literature. First, but least obtrusive in her …

Culture June 22, 2019


By focusing on the human stories of the world’s worst nuclear disaster, HBO’s Chernobyl offers a portrait of ordinary heroism – and a vision of how we might deal with climate catastrophes to come.

Culture May 18, 2019

Game of Thrones

The penultimate episode of Game of Thrones generated enormous controversy among fans. Why has the HBO series provoked such strong feelings?

Culture March 23, 2019

Kindred: A Cradle Mountain Love Story

It is the photographs scattered through the text of Kindred that grab our attention first. Two pairs of battered boots in close-up, hanging on a nail. A rudimentary bush campsite where a couple of thin ropes are tied between two trees and draped …

Culture February 16, 2019

The Photographer at Sixteen

On July 31, 1975 – in the midst of an uncharacteristically hot English summer – Magda Szirtes, a Jewish Hungarian survivor of World War II, took an overdose in her North London home. The ambulance dispatched to revive her was delayed by a minor traffic …

Culture February 09, 2019

Escape at Dannemora

Ben Stiller’s small-screen directorial debut, Escape at Dannemora, a dramatisation of a real-life prison break, invites viewers’ sympathy for two violent criminals and then churns it into a grim vision of Trump’s America.