Playwright and author Lucy Caldwell raises the issue of national identity early in her introduction to this long-running anthology series. She grew up in Belfast but lives in London. Her children sing Bengali nursery rhymes and celebrate Eid. She holds two passports, neither of which adequately captures who she is.

‘I feel apologetic and fraudulent to varying degrees, depending on who I’m with, or where I’m going.’ ‘Who is more Irish?’ she asks. Is it the writer born in Ireland who consciously chooses not to live there, or the writer born elsewhere who moves to the island? What about the writer born outside of Ireland whose parents maintain their link to the country through songs, St Patrick’s Day, and a romanticised sense of patriotism for a place they may have never visited? Or, in a scenario that will be recognisable to many contemporary Australian authors: ‘A writer born in Ireland to parents from elsewhere, who constantly has to answer the deathly question, No, but where are you really from?’

The right to identity in a world of porous borders is arguably the greatest philosophical issue of our times. Caldwell chooses an all-encompassing approach in her author selection, commissioning stories from born-and-bred residents like Kevin Barry and Sally Rooney alongside expats Adrian McKinty, Eimear McBride, and Kit De Waal. We are also treated to work from new arrivals, notably Arja Kajermo (Finland), Melatu Uche Okorie (Nigeria), and Chinese sensation Yan Ge.

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    Playwright and author Lucy Caldwell raises the issue of national identity early in her introduction to this long-running anthology series. She grew up in Belfast but lives in London. Her children sing Bengali nursery rhymes and celebrate Eid. She holds two passports, neither of which adequately captures who she is ...

  • Grid Image (300px * 250px) Grid Image (300px * 250px)
  • Alt Tag (Grid Image) Chris Flynn reviews 'Being Various: New Irish short stories' edited by Lucy Caldwell
  • Book Title Being Various: New Irish short stories
  • Book Author Lucy Caldwell
  • Author Type Editor
  • Biblio Faber, $29.99 pb, 304 pp, 9780571342501
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The inciting incident in Josephine Rowe’s short story ‘Glisk’ (winner of the 2016 Jolley Prize) unpacks in an instant. A dog emerges from the scrub and a ute veers into oncoming traffic. A sedan carrying a mother and two kids swerves into the safety barrier, corroded by the salt air, and disappears over a sandstone bluff. Three-quarters of a family are erased. And it all happens ‘in a glisk’, Fynn, the driver of the ute, will say years later.

After the hearing, in which he is acquitted, Fynn either ‘ran, slunk, snuck, crawled, choofed off, fucked off, hauled arse or simply went’ – depending on who is doing the telling – to the Northern Isles of Scotland to lose himself in ‘some shit-kicking work’ at a whisky distillery. Back in Perth, the narrator of the story, Fynn’s younger half-brother Raf has married and become a cytologist. One Saturday morning in January six summers later, Fynn resurfaces with his duffel bag and bomber jacket, his blond hair greying at the temples and gone to seed. He’s missed the mining boom, the ice boom, the rehab boom. He missed his father’s bypass. Fynn has come back to confess what really happened that day at the bluff. The truth, like all gifts, conceals within it a burden.

Rowe writes about place and memory with a potency that pitches beauty against its wreckage. By day, an island looks like ‘a rough dog slouching up from the ocean’; after sunset the ‘putrid birds’ and ‘bogans sinking tinnies’ are obscured by nightfall. Perched on a high bluff in a sprawl of blankets, a young Raf witnesses a swarm of bioluminescent phytoplankton ‘on their anxious, brilliant way to who-knows-where’. It is an ‘eerie sort of magic’ he knows he will never see again. But this, Raf tells us, is not the point.

Rowe is an author deeply concerned with the human animal. Bioluminescence is mere ornamentation in her larger purpose, which is to stage the ‘bright migratory-animalness’ of a family wading to island during a neap tide. At the deepest point of the crossing, their makeshift raft breaks apart and Fynn scoops his little sister onto his shoulders. Seawater, stinking of dead things, fills his nose and mouth. He delivers his sister to dry sand and, when his mother turns away, regurgitates seawater onto a patch of salt brush. His legs, Raf sees, are quaking and lashed by stingers. The future hasn’t happened yet and everyone still has a chance to live.

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    The inciting incident in Josephine Rowe’s short story ‘Glisk’ (winner of the 2016 Jolley Prize) unpacks in an instant. A dog emerges from the scrub and a ute veers into oncoming traffic. A sedan carrying a mother and two kids swerves into the safety barrier, corroded by the salt air, and disappears over a sandstone bluff ...

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  • Alt Tag (Grid Image) Bronwyn Lea reviews 'Here Until August: Stories' by Josephine Rowe and 'This Taste for Silence: Stories' by Amanda O’Callaghan
  • Book Title Here Until August: Stories
  • Book Author Josephine Rowe
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  • Biblio Black Inc., $29.99 pb, 208 pp, 9781863959933
  • Book Title 2 This Taste for Silence: Stories
  • Book Author 2 Amanda O’Callaghan
  • Biblio 2 University of Queensland Press, $29.99 pb, 200 pp, 9780702260377
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Despite seven years of expatriate life in Germany, the Argentine Samanta Schweblin’s writerly gaze, like that of Australia’s Peter Carey or Janette Turner Hospital, remains trained upon her homeland: ‘I write from outside, literally and in a literary sense. But always looking toward Argentina.’ Schweblin acknowledges a debt to the fantastic, the genre that, in Tzvetan Todorov’s influential formulation, suspends the reader between belief and disbelief in the supernatural. In Latin America, lo fantástico refers, above all, to a style of literary short story produced in and around Buenos Aires since the 1940s. The influential Anthology of Fantastic Literature (1940), edited by Jorge Luis Borges, Adolfo Bioy Casares, and Silvina Ocampo, inaugurates the genre, and Julio Cortázar’s work during the 1960s Latin American Literary Boom represents its high-water mark. This ‘river plate’ tradition of the fantastic – a poetics of uncertainty and strangeness that emerged through the confluence of avant-garde aesthetics, psychoanalysis and modernity – nourishes contemporary Argentine writing.

Born in Buenos Aires in 1978, Schweblin studied film at the University of Buenos Aires because she considered literary studies too theoretical. The stories that make up her first two collections, in their attention to the intersection of the fantastic and feminine subjectivity, sometimes resemble those of Argentina’s most underappreciated twentieth-century master of the form, Silvina Ocampo (1903–93). In 1979, a male-dominated judging panel denied Ocampo the Argentine National Literary Prize on the grounds that her imposing oeuvre, spanning four decades, was ‘far too cruel’. Schweblin’s fiction, like Ocampo’s, contains its share of violence toward the vulnerable, but this usually occurs in the context of a clear-sighted critique of power.

During a 2012 fellowship in Berlin, Schweblin discovered that life abroad allowed more time for her writing. She never went home. With no German and basic English, she was thrown inward and began to produce the strongest work of her career. Her first novel, Fever Dream (2014), was published in English in 2017. A suspenseful, deathbed monologue in the voice of a woman trying to understand the illness that is killing her, the novel explores the intensity of maternal love and the impact of the agrochemical industry in the Argentine countryside. It won Schweblin critical acclaim, a cult following in the United States and the United Kingdom, and a nomination for the 2017 Man Booker International Prize.

Mouthful of Birds (2009), her second book to be translated into English, is an uneven selection of twenty short stories written before the move to Germany. While the collection only intermittently approaches the technical command and emotional impact of Fever Dream, it is not difficult to imagine the best of these pieces being anthologised for decades to come. In the title story, the narrator’s troubled thirteen-year-old daughter Sara has developed a habit of eating live sparrows and his ex-wife Silvia threatens suicide unless he takes custody. The father is repulsed by his daughter’s diet: ‘I wondered what it would be like to have a mouth full of something all feathers and feet, to swallow something warm and moving.’ But when Sara refuses other food, he must overcome his disgust and locate a reliable source of birds. It’s a disturbing but recognisable study of a teenager gaining control over her parents through extreme attention-seeking behaviour.

The other outstanding story, ‘Olingiris’, first appeared in Granta in 2010 and is named for an imaginary species of ‘delicate fish’. It tells of an encounter between two emotionally withdrawn women who have separately moved to the city and found work in an unusual beauty institute. One of them receives a salary for allowing strangers to pluck her body hair; the other grades her ability to withstand the discomfort without flinching. Neither the reader nor the characters understands the purpose of this absurd labour, but the story holds our attention through its meticulous observation of female power relations within a total institution. Gradually, the two women’s inner lives are revealed – absent fathers, punishing mothers, and important connections with water and fish – as the story builds to a powerful moment of mutual recognition.

Realist setting disappears all together in a cluster of allegorical tales: ‘The Digger’, ‘Toward Happy Civilization’, and ‘Rage of Pestilence’. These Kafkaesque stories, with their skilful management of indeterminacy, linger longer in the mind than those of outright horror like ‘Heads Against Concrete’ and ‘The Heavy Suitcase of Benavides’, where the violence sometimes feels gratuitous.

Megan McDowell’s English translation ably matches the lean precision of Schweblin’s Spanish. Indeed, Mouthful of Birds is shorter and more visceral than Pájaros en la boca (Birds in the Mouth). My main quibble as an Australian reader was that a number of Americanisms that have crept into the text without an aesthetic rationale. Kilometres are converted into miles, though Argentina uses the metric system. Colloquialisms and insults are sometimes rendered in an out-of-place, frat-boy drawl: ‘dumbass’ for ‘imbécil’; ‘sorry ass tramp’ for ‘¡infeliz!’ (miserable person). The English language possesses plenty of more geographically neutral alternatives.

None of these minor reservations will deter me from seeking out Schweblin’s second novel, Kentukis (published in 2018, in Spanish, forthcoming in English), or the upcoming Netflix adaption of her first. It is pleasing to see an Argentine woman writer enjoying a level of international success that was denied Silvina Ocampo by the sexism of her era. 

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  • Custom Article Title James Halford reviews Mouthful of Birds: Stories by Samanta Schweblin, translated by Megan McDowell
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    Despite seven years of expatriate life in Germany, the Argentine Samanta Schweblin’s writerly gaze, like that of Australia’s Peter Carey or Janette Turner Hospital, remains trained upon her homeland: ‘I write from outside, literally and in a literary sense. But always looking toward Argentina.’ Schweblin acknowledges a debt to the fantastic ...

  • Book Title Mouthful of Birds: Stories
  • Book Author Samanta Schweblin, translated by Megan McDowell
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  • Biblio Oneworld, $29.99 pb, 240 pp, 9781786074560

‘If you think you know what this collection will be like, you’re wrong,’ Carmen Maria Machado (author of the brilliant Her Body and Other Parties, 2017) states on the back cover of Kristen Roupenian’s provocatively titled début, You Know You Want This. It is an unusual description of a short story collection from an emerging author, but Roupenian is not your average débutante. She is the author of ‘Cat Person’, the short story that launched a thousand hot takes after the New Yorker published it in December 2017.

Published during the rise of the #MeToo movement, ‘Cat Person’ – a finely written, conversation-starter of a story – relates the prelude to, and aftermath of, a bad date between twenty-year-old Margo and thirty-four-year-old Robert in confronting, nuanced detail. ‘Cat Person’ captured the public imagination to an extraordinary degree. Roupenian, then an MFA student at the University of Michigan, became the author of the ‘first short story to go viral’. A subsequent bidding war by publishers resulted in a seven-figure book deal.

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  • Custom Article Title Amy Baillieu reviews You Know You Want This by Kristen Roupenian
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    'If you think you know what this collection will be like, you’re wrong,’ Carmen Maria Machado (author of the brilliant Her Body and Other Parties, 2017) states on the back cover of Kristen Roupenian’s provocatively titled début, You Know You Want This. It is an unusual description of a short story collection from an emerging author, but Roupenian is not your average débutante ...

  • Book Title You Know You Want This
  • Book Author Kristen Roupenian
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio Jonathan Cape, $29.99 hb, 227 pp, 9781787331105
Tuesday, 28 February 2017 16:34

News from the Editor's Desk - March 2017

Porter Prize

We received almost 1,000 entries in this year’s Peter Porter Poetry Prize – by far our biggest field to date. Entries came from twenty-two countries. The judges – Ali Alizadeh, Jill Jones, Felicity Plunkett – have now shortlisted seven poems. The shortlisted poets are Ronald Dzerigian (USA), Louis Klee (Victoria), Anthony Lawrence (NSW), Damen O’Brien (Queensland), Michael Lee Phillips (USA), Jen Saunders (NSW), and Jessie Tu (NSW).

The winner (who will receive $5,000 plus an Arthur Boyd print) will be named at the Porter Prize ceremony on Thursday, 23 March (6 pm) at the Collected Works Bookshop in Melbourne (see below). First, though, a number of friends and admirers of Peter Porter will read some of his poems, and the shortlisted poets will read their poems. These are always great occasions for poetry (and Porter) aficionados, and everyone is welcome. Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

More poetry gigs

To celebrate the second edition of States of Poetry (South Australia), state editor Peter Goldsworthy will introduce his new cohort of poets during Adelaide Writers’ Week. The six featured poets this year are Steve Brock, Cath Kenneally, Jules Leigh Koch, Louise Nicholas, Jan Owen, and Dominic Symes. The session will take place on 6 March at 5 pm, at the Pioneer Women’s Memorial Garden, Adelaide. For more information, visit the Adelaide Writers’ Week website.

Single poems from each writer appear in our mini-anthology.

The April issue will feature a mini-anthology of poems from the Tasmanian edition of States of Poetry. Peter Rose and state editor Sarah Day will host a reading from the six poets included in this year’s anthology: Adrienne Eberhard, Graeme Hetherington, Karen Knight, Louise Oxley, Tim Thorne, and Jane Williams. The event will take place at the Hobart Book Shop, 22 Salamanca Square at 5.30 pm on Thursday, 6 April. Email: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Trumping the media

‘Journalism is on the back foot,’ writes Diana Bagnall at the start of her review of an anthology of writings about the 1960s from The New Yorker. Sad to report, it’s an understatement, given recent developments. We all know the fate of countless journalists around the world in recent years: the arrests, the intimidation, the derision, the assassinations, especially in Russia (so close to Donald Trump’s commercial heart). In his first days as US president, Trump demeaned the office by pursuing his maniacal attacks on the media, beginning with a pathetic and fraudulent attempt to ‘correct’ attendance figures at his inauguration.

Donald Trump swearing in ceremony 550President Donald Trump being sworn in on 20 January 2017 (Wikimedia Commons)


So much was left to the thinking press during the recent ignoble election campaign: one thinks in particular of the New York Times’s exposé about Trump’s startling business incompetence and his record-breaking financial reliance on US taxpayers. Now it seems that the Times and every questioning journalist will pay a high price for their audacity. Trump, puffed up with amour-propre, resembles a drunk at a party who won’t brook any opposition or criticism. Now he – bizarre though it still seems – runs the United States. What price logic, perseverance, intelligent doubt? What future for investigative journalism? Will it be safe or even legal to practise or publish dissent?

And how, to paraphrase Diana Bagnall, did it come to this? The Obama administration, in some respects, paved the way. Barack Obama was no great friend of the fourth estate, despite his cosy relations with admiring editors such as David Remnick of The New Yorker. For some, Obama was the most controlling and secretive president since the paranoiac Richard Nixon. Menacing too. Time and time again reporters were stymied or threatened with prosecution. No other administration has denied so many Freedom of Information requests. Notoriously, the Obama regime threatened New York Times reporter James Risen with jail for his refusal to name a source. Risen has dubbed Obama ‘the greatest enemy of press freedom in a generation’.

Jerkish plot

Philip Roth 1973Philip Roth (Wikimedia Commons)In our previous issue, Advances wondered, with eerie retrospective prescience (to coin a phrase to rival ‘alternative facts’), if Philip Roth – that rara avis, a retired novelist – would emerge from literary exile to update his ahistorical novel The Plot Against America (2004), in which Charles Lindbergh, the isolationist and Nazi-inspired aviator, defeats Franklin Delano Roosevelt in the 1940 presidential election and introduces anti-Semitic measures against young ‘Philip Roth’ and other Jewish characters in the novel. Other publications have followed suit, including The New Yorker, which interviewed the author for its January 30 edition.

Philip Roth, retired though he is and responding via email, still gave them good copy. ‘Lindbergh, despite his Nazi sympathies and racist proclivities ... had character and he had substance ... Trump is just a con artist,’ he wrote. ‘I found much that was alarming about being a citizen during the tenures of Richard Nixon and George W. Bush. But ... neither was anything like as humanly impoverished as Trump is: ignorant of government, of history, of science, of philosophy, of art, incapable of expressing or recognizing subtlety or nuance, destitute of all decency, and wielding a vocabulary of seventy-seven words that is better called Jerkish than English’.

MoMA takes a stand

The Museum of Modern Art in New York has responded impressively to Trump’s obnoxious executive order banning travel to the United States for citizens of seven Muslim nations. MoMA promptly removed some of the jewels in its crown (including Picasso’s Card player) to make way for contemporary art from Iran, Iraq, and Sudan. Each work is accompanied by a statement: ‘This is one of several such artworks ... installed ... to affirm the ideas of welcome and freedom as vital to this Museum, as they are to the United States.’ Jason Farago in the New York Times writes: ‘This welcome new voice ... is not how MoMA has spoken in the past – but, then again, this is not how presidents have spoken in the past, either.’

It will be interesting to see if any Australian galleries follow MoMA’s example and send a similarly ringing message to our super-ally.

Story time!

Since it began in 2010, the ABR Elizabeth Jolley Short Story Prize has attracted thousands of new entries and grown in stature both here and overseas. Now international, the Jolley Prize is worth a total of $12,500 (thanks to the remarkable generosity of Ian Dickson, our Acmeist Patron). Earlier this year, The Writers’ Academy from Penguin Random House in the United Kingdom listed it as one of the world’s ‘Best Writing Competitions’.

ABR’s commitment to short fiction doesn’t end with the Jolley Prize. We publish new short stories on our website as part of ABR Fiction, and we welcome submissions from new and established writers. Unlike Jolley Prize entries (2,000 to 5,000 words), the stories can be any length – though not Tolstoyan please. They must not have been previously published. We pay a minimum of $400 for stories published in ABR Fiction on our website. Please visit the ‘Submissions’ page there for more information.

Meanwhile, the 2017 Jolley Prize is open until April 10.

Kris Hemensley’s entourage

Your scratch entourage 250More Cordite Books have appeared, and one of them is especially welcome: Your Scratch Entourage, Kris Hemensley’s first collection in many years. Hemensley, who turned seventy in 2016, published countless books in the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, but was then overtaken by – well, books. For many years he and Loretta Hemensley have run Collected Works, that gem of a bookshop in the smudgy old labyrinthine Nicholas Building on Swanston Street opposite St Paul’s Cathedral. Hemensley has done more for the circulation and appreciation of poetry in Melbourne – this country – than most. Collected Works is the first place to go to for poetry in Melbourne. How needed it is too, given the dearth of poetry sections in most general bookshops (Kahlil Gibran and Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Rod McKuen do not, alone, constitute a decent poetry library). Sydneysiders will be familiar with Kinokuniya’s fantastic poetry section. But is there anything this vast bookshop doesn’t stock. (Kinokuniya is situated in The Galeries at 500 George Street.)

So it is good to have this new collection from Kris Hemensley. The poet himself, who introduces it in a witty Preface, recalls ‘a year-long conversation with prospective publisher K MacCarter about singularity, locality, expatriation, eased by occasional tots of the Japanese good stuff during which I sometimes recast him as a Jonathan Williams, dual squire of Dentdale, Cumbria, and Scaly Mountain, North Carolina, notwithstanding the Minnesota Lutheran he owned up to be’.

Poetry galore

Yet more poetry. After all, it is our annual poetry issue. Despite jeremiads of yore, Advances can’t remember a time when so much new poetry was published in Australia. UWA Publishing has weighed in with six more titles in its UWAP Poetry Series. They are Rallying (Quinn Eades), Flute of Milk (Susan Fealy), A Personal History of Vision (Luke Fischer), Charlie Twirl (Alan Gould), Dark Convicts (Judy Johnson), and Snake Like Charms (Amanda Joy). The latter includes ‘Tailings’, which won the 2016 Peter Porter Poetry Prize. Published in February, these paperback collections cost $22.95 each.

Dorothy Hewett Award

The winner of this year’s Dorothy Hewett Award is Melbourne-based writer Odette Kelada for Drawing Sybylla, a short novel ‘depicting Australian women writers’. The judges, Lucy Dougan, James Ley, and Terri-ann White, described it as ‘an intense reading experience’. In addition to a publishing contract with UWA Publishing, Odette Kelada receives $10,000 from Copyright Agency Limited Cultural Fund.

Two shortlisted writers, Carolyn Abbs (WA) and Ann-Marie Priest (QLD), were both highly commended and each receive a publishing contract and cash prize.

Monash Undergraduate Prize for Creative Writing

Entries are now open for the Monash Undergraduate Prize for Creative Writing (presented by Monash University in partnership with the Emerging Writers’ Festival). The prize, now in its sixth year, is open to students from Australia and New Zealand who are enrolled in an undergraduate or honours degree. The judges are Julie Koh, Khalid Warsame,and Rebecca Do Rozario. Entries are open until midnight on April 12 and the winner receives $4,000.

R&R in Brisbane

In the wake of Bob Dylan’s Nobel Prize for Literature, and Bruce Springsteen’s ‘thoughtful’ and ‘absorbing’ autobiography Born to Run (reviewed by Varun Ghosh in this issue), we can assume that the boundaries between music and writing have well and truly dissolved. The Rock & Roll Writers’ Festival in Brisbane this year (1–2 April) will explore this fusion in a series of talks. Speakers include Tim Rogers, Brentley Frazer, Kirsty Eagar, and Peggy Frew.

In true rock and roll fashion, the festival will hit the road ‘for one show only’ in Melbourne on 9 April. Visit their website for more details.

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  • Custom Article Title News from the Editor's Desk - March 2017
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Susan Midalia's Feet to the Stars references Sylvia Plath's poem 'You're', in which Plath addresses her unborn child: 'Clownlike, happiest on your hands, / Feet to the stars, and moon-skulled, / Gilled like a fish ...' This clever title foreshadows Midalia's exploration of children in the family dynamic and the use of intertextuality, which are integral to her short stories.

This is Midalia's third book of short stories. In Feet to the Stars, joy and ambivalence mingle in stories that reference the filial (often mother–daughter) relationship. The emphasis on propagation is illustrated by the number of characters who are childless or have miscarried and is further complicated by the question of whether the drive to produce children might be, 'An ego thing. You know, just wanting to replicate your own miserable life.'  Women in 'The Inner Life' and 'Working It Out' have miscarried; in 'Oranges', the baby is 'failing to thrive'; in 'The Hook' and 'A Blast of a Poem', the protagonists mourn the absence of a child in their lives:

We kept on trying. We kept on talking. It'll happen soon. Don't worry. We've got plenty of time. No earthly reason. Just relax, our friends began to chorus, the ones with fuzzy-haired gurgling babies and dimpled toddlers ... Relax was what my GP said as well, what the expert on the radio said. I tried different kinds of herbal tea and St. John's Wort, also known as chase-devil.

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  • Custom Article Title Cassandra Atherton reviews 'Feet to the Stars' by Susan Midalia
  • Contents Category Fiction
  • Book Title Feet to the Stars and other stories
  • Book Author Susan Midalia
  • Author Type Author
  • Biblio UWA Publishing, $24.99 pb, 180 pp, 9781742587547

Our national literary landscape would be seriously depleted without The Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award. It jump-started the careers of Tim Winton, Julienne van Loon, and Andrew McGahan, authors who have been willing to explore the harsher aspects of Australia’s identity, however confronting these journeys may sometimes have been. Others, such as Gillian Mears, Danielle Wood, and Eva Sallis (née Hornung) wove lyrical meditations on loss and identity into their début novels. With the exception of Wood, who has since straddled styles and formats, they continue to do so to this day.

More recent Vogel-winning novels from Christine Piper and Paul D. Carter explored regional politics past and present in their respective works, After Darkness (2014) and Eleven Seasons (2012). Most striking about these texts was their ability to transcend their setting, be it temporal or literal, and to make astute commentary about society, and more poignantly, the permanence of memory.

Much of the work of past Vogel winners have belonged to the genre of literary realism. Murray Middleton’s When There’s Nowhere Else to Run continues this trend, but it also represents a departure from the norm. Alongside the 1986 winner, Robin Walton’s Glace Fruits, it is one of only two short-story collections to win the Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award in its more than thirty-year history.

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  • Custom Article Title Laurie Steed reviews 'When There's Nowhere Else to Run' by Murray Middleton
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  • Book Title When There's Nowhere Else to Run
  • Book Author Murray Middleton
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  • Biblio Allen & Unwin, $27.99 pb, 243 pp, 9781760112332

Recently I drove east from Perth through wheat belt country to the Helena and Aurora Ranges, past Cunderin, Kellerberrin, and Koolyanobbing, towns whose names echo the rhythms of the landscape; past the shimmering salt pan that was once Lake Deborah East; down rutted tracks which changed abruptly from red earth to yellow sand; past the ravages of iron ore mines to the sacred Aboriginal ochre quarries of Bungalbin Hill. This is the wheat belt region of Western Australia to which John Kinsella appears to lay claim as surely as Tim Winton claims the coast.

Kinsella is a prolific and laurelled poet, essayist, author, and editor. His poetry, in particular, has been variously praised for its sparse realism, attention to detail, lyricism, and metaphoric resonance.

The twenty-seven stories in this latest collection are seldom longer than a few pages. Themes and images – white imperialism and bone-white silos, red earth and the damage humans wreak on a fragile ecology – are recognisable from Kinsella’s poetry. The intensity and precision of the poetry is, however, rarely matched by the prose of Crow’s Breath. The scrupulous narrator of the poems is replaced by a number of not entirely successful voices, almost as if Kinsella has challenged himself to reproduce overheard conversations, or to elaborate on snippets gleaned from a newspaper’s ‘OddSpot’.

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  • Custom Article Title Francesca Sasnaitis reviews 'Crow's Breath' by John Kinsella
  • Contents Category Fiction
  • Book Title Crow's Breath
  • Book Author John Kinsella
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  • Biblio Transit Lounge, $25.95 pb, 208 pp, 9781921924811

Reading Lydia Davis’s stories is akin to getting new glasses – or glasses for the first time. Suddenly the world shifts into sharp, bright focus. Disturbing. Disorienting. What you see, or understand, won’t necessarily gladden your heart. It may pique it, but you may not want to be brought so close to life, to the poignancy of it all. Not at first, anyway.

Davis seems to think so too. Or she plays at thinking so. ‘Oh, we writers may think we invent too much – but reality is worse every time!’ she says, at the end of a perfect fourteen-line narrative (called ‘The Funeral’) translated from Flaubert.

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  • Custom Article Title Morag Fraser reviews 'Can't and Won't' by Lydia Davis
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  • Book Title CAN’T AND WON’T
  • Book Author by Lydia Davis
  • Biblio Hamish Hamilton, $29.99 hb, 289 pp, 9780241146644
Friday, 31 October 2014 10:07

'Six' by John Clanchy

At the start of ‘True Glue’, Dale the postie is called a Luddite by his mate and wonders if this is some religious or political splinter group he hasn’t yet heard of, before going home to google it. In ‘Slow Burn’, Daryl Turtle has a troublesome close encounter with a yellow toaster while suffering from ‘man flu’, resulting in a hilarious scene in a chain store when Daryl walks down the aisle in his pyjamas dropping bread, ‘Is it Hansel and Gretel?’ asks a little boy.

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  • Custom Article Title Rachel Robertson reviews 'Six' by John Clanchy
  • Contents Category Fiction
  • Book Title Six
  • Book Author John Clanchy
  • Biblio Finlay Lloyd, $25 pb, 245 pp, 9780987592934
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