While many journals and anthologies are moving away from themed editions, the theme of this anthology is urgent and worthy. The royalties from Thanks for the Mammaries will go to the National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF). Editor and NBCF ambassador Sarah Darmody writes eloquently in both the introduction and her autobiographical piece, ‘Frankenboob’, about her decision to have a prophylactic double mastectomy after discovering that she carried the gene that gave her an eighty-five per cent chance of developing breast cancer.
Everyone is fascinated by families. First we are landed in one, then most of us seek out or create yet another one, sometimes more. The success or failure of families is endless, as the contributors to this year’s Sleepers Almanac demonstrate.
Cardigan Press’s third offering, Allnighter, promises to keep its reader’s attention all night long, with ‘fiction that burns at both ends’. With forty-four short pieces in this beautifully designed book, the challenge is not to devour the book all at once, but to give each story the time and consideration it deserves.
One of the joys of this anthology is that the stories are of varying length, ranging from two to eleven pages. This allows the writers to demonstrate a feel for their story and characters. Another advantage is that many of the writers are unknown and not constrained by theme, number of words, or the weight of expectations. Their stories are vivid, playful and unusual.
South Australian publishers Wakefield Press claim on their website: ‘We love good stories and make beautiful books.’ Poinciana has narrative potential, but is undermined by weak characterisation and unpredictable changes in time and narrative. What makes it a ‘beautiful book’, though, is its exotic backdrop of New Caledonia and its depictions of the landscape, including the brilliant red-flowered tree, the Poinciana.
Debra Dean’s novel, The Madonnas of Leningrad, is an exploration of memory and demonstrates how that most mysterious of faculties can both save and fail us. Utilising parallel narratives, Dean tells the story of Marina, a guide at Leningrad’s Hermitage Museum in 1941. As the German army advances, Marina and her colleagues labour to remove and conceal precious works of art. Later, the employees of the Hermitage and their families live in the museum basement, and try to survive the harsh winter with limited provisions.