‘Dessaix is one of perhaps three Australian writers whose
every appearance in print is a not-to-be-missed event’
— Sydney Morning Herald
‘Dessaix is some kind of national treasure because he represents with a kind of Helpmann-like elegance and virtuosity
the side of our sensibilities we publicly repress’
— Peter Craven, Australian Book Review
‘Dessaix writes with great elegance, with passion,
compassion and sly wit’ — John Banville
One Sunday night in Sydney, Robert Dessaix collapses on a Darlinghurst pavement, and is helped to his hotel by a kind young man wearing a T-shirt that says FUCK YOU. What follows are weeks in hospital, tubes and cannulae puncturing his body, as he recovers from the heart attack threatening daily to kill him. While lying in the hospital bed, Robert chances upon Philip Larkin’s poem ‘Days’.
What, he muses, have his days been for?
What and whom has he loved – and why?
This is vintage Robert Dessaix.
His often surprisingly funny recollections range over topics as eclectic as intimacy, travel, spirituality, enchantment, language and childhood, all woven through with a heightened sense of mortality.
“The pleasure and elegance of all Dessaix’s writing is in the language, the erudition, the delicate, often unexpected and lovely connections, and the intimate, conversational voice. Anyone who listened to him during his decade as presenter of the ABC’s Books and Writing program will immediately ‘hear’ him.
“What Days are For is an illuminating companion to A Mother’s Disgrace (1994), which recounted Dessaix’s childhood as a much-loved adopted son, his early studies and travels, but mainly his sense of emptiness until he finds his birth mother and a new identity. He notes: ‘I would like to move hearts, not just minds.’ And he does.”
— Agnes Nieuwenhuizen, in The Australian
After teaching Russian language and literature in the 1970s and ’80s, and presenting the ABC’s Books and Writing program for ten years, he became a full-time writer in 1995. He lives in Hobart.
His autobiography, A Mother’s Disgrace, was published by HarperCollins in 1994.
Robert’s best-selling novel Night Letters was published to great success in Australia, U.K. and the U.S.A. as well as being translated into German, French, Italian, Dutch, Finnish and Portuguese. This was followed by Corfu, released by Scribners in the UK in 2001 and in the Netherlands by Muelenhoff.
Twilight of Love followed, which highlighted Robert’s fascination with Russia and in particular Russian writers. He is a fluent Russian speaker and his doctoral thesis was as study of the author Ivan Turgenev. In Twilight of Love he revisits the Europe he experienced more than twenty years ago and follows the footsteps of Turgenev. Robert weaves together Turgenev’s time in the nineteenth century, his own Soviet experience, and Russia as it is today. Released at the Melbourne Writers’ Week in 2004 by Pan Macmillan, it was also published in the UK by Simon and Schuster and in the US by Shoemaker and Hoard.
Robert’s next book (Pan Macmillan 2008) was Arabesques, based on the life and travels of Nobel Prize winning author André Gide. Part travel, part memoir, Arabesques explores Robert’s fascination with Gide’s attempt to find a balance between his homosexual desires and an almost puritanical core.
Robert’s recent collection of non-fiction, As I was Saying, is a swirling conversation with the reader on everything from travel to dogs and cats, from sport and swearing to the pleasures of idleness.