The Details (Scribner 2020) is a slim collection of essays on writing that really packs a punch. Written by Tegan Bennett Daylight and subtitled On Love, Death and Reading, this non-fiction writers’ companion is a thoughtful meditation very much in the vein of one of the author’s literary heroes, Helen Garner. It features the same sparse prose, the sharply-observed details of the minutiae of life, the same intimate interrogation of literature and connections.
With peers and friends such as Charlotte Wood and the late Georgia Blain, Tegan Bennett Daylight belongs to a group of authors who write with compassion, curiosity about the human condition, admiration for other writers, and an endless exploration of what writing means and the relevance of writing and reading in relation to the details of our days.
The essays are sometimes humorous, sometimes poignant, sometimes distressing. But they are always intelligent, searching and thoughtful. There is memoir writing about her early life and her introduction to books and reading. There are love songs to her favourite authors; a traumatic account of her birth experiences; a discourse on the role of teaching creative writing. She dissects whole stories, or paragraphs, or parses the meaning from individual sentences, trying to understand why that piece of writing works – why it is so funny or so complex or so moving. She talks about friends and family, and about death and dying and losing those we love. She interrogates international authors and Australian writers. With a few well-chosen black and white photographs included, this book would be the perfect gift for a writer friend or an emerging writer, or for someone who loves to read. If you enjoyed the literary conversations found in Charlotte Wood’s The Writer’s Room, or if you are drawn to authors such as Helen Garner, George Saunders, Toni Morrison and Kazuo Ishiguro, this is the book for you. Tegan Bennett Daylight interrogates the craft of writing, its role and its many forms, its structure and meaning. ‘The difficulty is the point’, she concludes, which is heartening, in a strange way. She challenges the reader / writer to experiment, to study the classics, to learn from those advancing in unusual forms, and to always – always – remember the emotions behind the words.