Bibliophile | Robert Dessaix celebrates magic of reading in ‘Abracadabra’

by Robert Dessaix
Brio Books

Currently living in Hobart with Peter Timms, his partner of 40 years who is also a writer, Robert Dessaix is in demand as a guest speaker but sometimes the audiences for his words of wisdom are quite small. While podcasts can attract huge audiences around the globe, Dessaix’s talks have been in more intimate spaces … but for the first time, all these works are accessible in print.

Dessaix, who presented the weekly Books and Writing program on ABC Radio National for a decade, says that the collection is “Part memoir and personal record, Abracadabra is a work many years in the making, an engrossing collection of observations and ideas which remind us why we read: for pleasure, after all.”

As well as sharing his love of languages and of travel, many of the short works have the author reflecting on his writing and the writing of others. After a lifetime of reading Russian, French, English and Chilean literature, he has come to the conclusion that the best stories are about love of some kind “and in the best books it always ends badly, as does life itself”.

Dessaix shares how he became a writer. Teaching Russian language and literature for many years at ANU, Dessaix credits the Russian writer Nikolai Gogol as guiding him to find his voice, but he also credits Enid Blyton who allowed him to escape to the secret places children like to escape to.

Blyton “first kindled in me an inner life – an inner narration, an inner re-telling of the world around me”, with an adventure transforming the narrative before you make it home for tea and cakes.

It was Thea Astley, who has won the Miles Franklin Award four times, who indirectly encouraged Dessaix to write his autobiography A Mother’s Disgrace. As well as meeting his birth mother at the age of 45, who said she was disappointed he didn’t have a proper job.

Dessaix’s writing is absolutely delightful and Abracadabra is a magical collection of short works, entertaining an audience of one. It can be taken anywhere and at any time it can be dipped into at random for your enjoyment.

Lezly Herbert

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