AS the author of three previous literary biographies: that of an over- excitable South African poet, later fascist and anti-semite; of a talented South African boy who transforms himself into a cool, homosexual, London literary man; and of an irascible South African novelist and secular saint, Peter Alexander seems ideally prepared for the melodramatic world of Les Murray. And the biography begins melodramatically, with Murray's desperate ambulance ride to the John Hunter Hospital in Newcastle to be operated on for kidney failure and an abscessed liver. It is briefly tempting to read this decision of the biographer as a transferred desire to kill his subject, to write about some- one safely dead, but that would be to give in to the temptation of over- psychologising that this biography, blessedly, avoids. Nevertheless, it is very conscious of the fact that it deals with a writer still living, and it tries to deal overtly with the issues that this raises. Essentially, and inevitably, it is a co- operative project with Murray's desire to make sense of his own life as powerful an impulse as Alexander's to write it. Criticism of the book, that it is too close to its subject, seems to me to miss the point exactly; it can be written from nowhere else.
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