While detailed enough to lend vividness to the story, Kleinhenz’s treatment avoids what is probably the biggest danger for such biographies: a suffocating and gratuitous examination of the minutiae of the subject’s life. She has written a page-turner, though not by means of cheap sensationalism... Kleinhenz acknowledges the criticisms and leaves the reader to decide what to make of it all. The Greer that emerges is a complex character whose powers of insight and invention are consistently confounded by her enthusiasm for controversy. Kleinhenz’s achievement is to have produced a sympathetic, thoroughly readable portrayal of an ultimately unsympathetic figure.
The Australian diaspora? That’s better than being remembered as a ratbag; but Greer is far too large a figure to be diminished in this way, and there will surely be better biographers to do her justice. Kleinhenz leaves her at Cave Creek, “a lone figure as always, struggling through the underbrush”. I much prefer the image in David Plante’s Difficult Women (1983) of an indomitable Greer in her Tuscan garden, shouting “Come on, you fucking flowers, come on! Bloom, bloom!” Oh, Germaine! Greer will be eighty on January 29. Those flowers better bloom for her bouquet.
Kleinhenz’s conclusion cements a feeling of being short-changed. After 400 pages of Greer’s volatile behaviour and controversy-seeking impulses, Kleinhenz decides she must be… a genius. Why? “Geniuses think and behave differently from the rest of us, their conduct may seem odd and they can be difficult.” Yes: being rude, “sloppy” of thought and prejudiced are now symptoms of genius. Or, as Kleinhenz puts it: “Madness. Not uncommon in a genius. Like Virginia Woolf and Vincent van Gogh.”
Given that Kleinhenz is the first biographer to have access to the forbiddingly immense archive Greer recently sold to the University of Melbourne...she had rich opportunity to explore Greer’s exceptional achievements as a scholar and teacher... Instead, disappointingly, Kleinhenz has riffled through the scholarly papers in search of lines that make Greer sound quotably absurd... Kleinhenz’s failure should not deter Greer’s future biographers. I only hope that the next one has better luck in dislodging the mask that here continues to protect an extraordinary woman from view.
Kleinhenz ends up banging on rather too long about Greer’s new Australian rainforest abode in Cave Creek, Queensland, though that could have been desperation. This is clearly not the book that she set out to write and her mounting frustration with her elusive subject gusts out from the pages...
Increasingly, what some of us “see” and “get” is a controversy-seeking missile who’s in grave danger of trashing her own amazing legacy. Still, despite everything, I, for one, wouldn’t have missed Germaine Greer for the world.
Elizabeth Kleinhenz, a former teacher, deserves a bravery medal for writing this biography. She received no help from Greer, who turns 80 in January, but she was able to draw on Greer’s vast archive, which she sold to Melbourne University five years ago... Kleinhenz’s biography glosses over this ageism and gives too clouded a window into Greer’s world. All the information is here, but it reads like a cuts job, all taken from the archives, not the mouths of friends... The book’s working title was “behind the mask”. But Kleinhenz decided to change it, because she believed there was no mask: “What you see with Germaine Greer is what you get.” Yet I don’t feel I got under Greer’s skin by reading this book. I want to hear from the brilliant, mad, revolutionary genius herself.
... you can’t contain a beast as big as Greer on a canvas this flat. Those who are cubist in character need to be painted as such. While Greer has never written a dull sentence, Kleinhenz has yet to write a good one; and her vagueness on certain important issues is careless and insensitive... The poverty of her prose, punctuated by exclamation marks and ‘ironic’ asides... is put in stark relief when she quotes from Greer herself, who despite her first-person narratives is bored by the topic of her own evolution... Nor does Kleinhenz know why Greer is the way she is: why she is so fluent, so frightening, so bloody contradictory... Kleinhenz despairs over her character as though she were a disappointed mother confronting a messy bedroom. But where Kleinhenz’s duty to her subject fails most seriously is her disregard of Greer’s literary scholarship... Had she pecked a little harder, Elizabeth Kleinhenz might have reached the ‘truth’ she was looking for.
Cleverer, ruder, wittier and more articulate than all around her, she is fiercely opposed to being written about. Twenty years ago she called her only previous biographer, Christine Wallace, a dung beetle... So we must respect the bravery of Elizabeth Kleinhenz... An Australian academic, only a few years younger than Greer, she has produced a terrific book — even-handed and entertaining. Greer may hate the intrusion, but she cannot deny its source; Kleinhenz was one of the first to access the Germaine Greer Archive at the University of Melbourne... Kleinhenz’s biography is richly human and intellectually lucid, uncontaminated by cheap psychology. She lays bare Greer’s personal flaws, cruelties and venomous tongue, but her quiet triumph is to balance them with the majestic achievements. Kleinhenz comes to the conclusion that Greer is a genius: unique, prescient, with an extraordinary intellect and energy. And if she’s a bit mad, well, that too is a hallmark of genius. Best of all, Kleinhenz suggests, she showed women how to escape the curse of being nice.