The Best Australian Stories 2009
Black Inc., $29.95 pb, 287 pp
In the introduction to this latest Best Australian Stories, Delia Falconer – in her second and, she advises, last year as editor – contends that the short story has greater affinities with the poem and the essay than with the novel. She rightly identifies the story as often ‘misunderstood in the public imagination as a kind of less demanding novel-in-miniature’. Stories, Falconer argues, are akin to poems in ‘picking their moment’ rather than working in the novel’s ‘great swathes of time’. The short story advances an argument in the way of an essay, while ‘artfully [hiding] its workings’.
Short fiction’s affinities with poetry and the essay are amply demonstrated in the fine opening story by Gail Jones. Indeed, ‘The Bridge of Sighs’ has characteristics we might more popularly associate with the poem, in the lyricism of its main protagonist’s melancholy sojourn in Venice (‘She watches the snow fall, soft and spotted as improvised musical notation’); and with the essay in passages that capture J.M.W. Turner’s late visits to that vaporous city. But although Jones’s story alludes to Venice’s long history of opulence and degradation, and the protagonist’s shorter history of her relationship with her departed lover, the action, or meditation, is circumscribed by a short stay in Venice, and makes an argument for the inevitability of replication and of loss and death.