Are The LathamDiaries getting a proper run from Australia’s serious book reviewers? So far, long reviews have appeared in The Sydney Morning Herald (Rodney Cavalier), The Age (John Button), The Monthly (Robert Manne) and The Canberra Times (Andrew Fraser). But two weeks after its release quite a few publications – including The Australian – are yet to tackle a serious assessment of The Latham Diaries in their literary pages.

Latham Diaries
publisher Louise Adler said this morning she wasn’t disappointed with
the critical reception and she expected more serious reviews in the
coming weeks. “The Australian hasn’t done a review yet, but I
think the review pages have a bit to contend with, you just have to take
your place in the queue.” But she might be waiting quite awhile. The Weekend Australian’s books editor Murray Waldren said he hadn’t ruled out reviewing The Diaries but no one had yet been given the job.

In the meantime, here are extracts from two reviews well worth a read:

Robert Manne in The Monthly: “What the politicians and the journalists have told you is that in his Diaries
Mark Latham has written a bitter, biased, scurrilous, self-centred,
self-aggrandising and ultimately self-destructive book. They are right.
What they will not tell you is that, in addition, Latham has produced
the most intelligent, perceptive, honest and absorbing book about
Australian politics since Don Watson’s Keating masterpiece, Recollections of a Bleeding Heart. The publication of The Latham Diaries
raises many troubling ethical questions. Yet in the end these seem less
important than the contribution he has made to an understanding not
only of the dilemmas of federal Labor during the Howard years but, more
deeply, of the sicknesses of the democratic political culture in the
age of material plenty. Once Latham has been discredited, and perhaps
destroyed, some citizens will notice that the Diaries – for all
their grandiosity, occasional cruelty and vituperative madness – are
considerably more important in their implication than we have been lead
to believe.”

“After his election loss Latham felt he had nothing
left to lose. He did more than leave the political club. He decided to
broadcast its secrets to the world. For the club members this
represented an unspeakable betrayal. Rather than ask each other about
the serious and specific allegations Latham had raised – about
politicians’ dirt files, about journalists’ duplicity, about their
collusion in the trivialisation of democratic politics – the members of
the club instantly closed ranks. Latham had tried to tell the people
that the Emperor had no clothes. Clearly, he was unhinged. He had to be
destroyed.”

John Button in The Age: “Now that the Diaries are
published, politicians and political journalists will have flipped
though the index looking with apprehension and horror for the entries
about themselves and cackling with delight at the author’s jibes about
their colleagues. How many of them will read the book and understand
its value as commentary on Australian political culture is a different
matter…”

“It would be a pity if ALP politicians decided to claim that The Latham Diaries provided an alibi for lacklustre performance. The Diaries
should be seen as a testament of things to think about if Labor is to
become an effective social democratic party. Sadly, Latham doubts this
will happen. These doubts – and illness – drove him out of politics.”

Peter Fray

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