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the Complete Review
the complete review - fiction

The Drover's Wife

(Contemporary Portraits)

Murray Bail

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Title: The Drover's Wife
Author: Murray Bail
Genre: Stories
Written: 1975
Length: 144 pages
Availability: superseded by Camouflage
  • Originally published in 1975 by the University of Queensland Press, as Contemporary Portraits and Other Stories
  • Re-published by Faber and Faber in 1986, as The Drover's Wife and Other Stories
  • But wait: there's more confusion ! : re-(re-)published in 2002 by Farrar Straus & Giroux as Camouflage (see our review) -- but with the subtraction of one story ("The Silence") and the addition of two ("Camouflage" and "The Seduction of my Sister")
  • But wait: the confusion doesn't end there! : the US edition of Camouflage (Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2002) is NOT TO BE CONFUSED with the British edition of Camouflage (Harvill, 2001) -- which contains only three stories (see our review)
  • Publishers: don't you love 'em ? Making life as simple as possible for readers everywhere ..... Oh, may they all go rot in hell

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Our Assessment:

A- : fine, strong collection

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
TLS . 19/6/1987 .

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The complete review's Review:

       The Drover's Wife is a collection with many lives, resurfacing apparently every decade or fifteen years in some new guise (and apparently always with some new title). First published in 1975 by the University of Queensland Press, as Contemporary Portraits and Other Stories, it was re-published by Faber and Faber in 1986, as The Drover's Wife and Other Stories, and then, in slightly different form, in 2002 by Farrar, Straus & Giroux as Camouflage. Confusingly, British publisher Harvill published a version of Camouflage too, in 2001 -- but it contains only the story "The Drover's Wife" from this collection. The earlier editions are now out of print, so Camouflage (the US edition) is the one to turn to -- and therefore our review of that volume is also the one to refer to. Nevertheless, the old volume deserves a few words as well.
       For one: we like the old titles. Contemporary Portraits was the best, a fitting summing up of the included pieces, as they do focus on individuals and Bail does create true, rich portraits in his small tales. The Drover's Wife put the focus squarely on the one story, and though it is one of Bail's best-known (and arguably one of his best), it seems a bit of a shame. (Camouflage now allows another story to rise to the fore -- and at least allows for broader interpretation than the limited Drover's Wife.)
       The one great advantage of the Faber edition is the clever cover design, integrating the Russell Drysdale painting in which the narrator sees his wife, a useful gloss on the story. (Camouflage's cover is all camouflage -- appropriate enough, but all background, not substance. The Drysdale painting is reproduced in that volume too, but merely as a header to the story The Drover's Wife, in pale black and white.)
       And then, of course, there is also "The Silence", which got lost somewhere along the way, the one story you won't find in Camouflage (though in what is probably a fair trade, two have replaced it). Still, it deserves to be remembered (and read), a successful a small slice of distant outback life, nicely done.

       Harvill now publishes Bail's work in Britain (at least this week they do), but the old Faber edition is also a nice one. Pick it up, if you chance across it. Faber put out nice books in the 1980s, and this exceptional author is always worth grabbing hold of, even if the contents of this book seem much the same as previous or later editions. These are fine stories, and there's the Drysdale painting on the cover .....

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The Drover's Wife: The Drover's Wife: Murray Bail: Other books by Murray Bail under review: Other books of interest under review:
  • See Index of Australian literature at the complete review

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About the Author:

       Australian author Murray Bail was born in Adelaide in 1941. Winner of the Australian National Book Award (for Homesickness).

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