Joan London

Let's start with the title. The act of reading is anything but simple, as Fiona McFarlane and Gabrielle Carey both point out. Eyes, brain, and mind cooperate to create from a series of symbols with no intrinsic representative value a coherent message, or some amusing nonsense, or a persuasive argument, or a boring anecdote, or a parade of transparent lies.

D ...

When the polio epidemics at the hinge of the twentieth century were catching hundreds of Australian children and adults in their web of pathogens, a pub in suburban Perth called ‘The Golden Age’ was converted – with its name unchanged – into a convalescent home for children who were recovering from polio but still unready to go back into the world. Joan Lond ...

Over the last couple of decades in Australia, short fiction has been a poor cousin to the literary novel. While this country continues to produce fine writers of short fiction, many of them struggle to achieve book publication of their works. Larger publishers often seem no more interested in collections of short fiction than they are in poetry collections. Their argument: short fiction, like poetry, does not sell. It has often been left to smaller Australian publishers to produce and promote short fiction writers, who are sometimes taken up by a major publisher if they achieve a notable success with a longer work.

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Joan London’s new novel, Gilgamesh, is the story of several generations of travellers, moving between Australia, London, and Europe, as far east as Armenia. As such, it is part of a long and venerable tradition in Australian fiction: a tradition of quest narratives organised around topographical and cultural difference ... 

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And the fourteen are: Brian Castro, Sara Dowse, Joan London, Gillian Mears, Kim Scott, Brenda Walker, Marele Day, Tom Flood, Gail Jones, Beverley Farmer, David Brooks, John A Scott, Simone Lazaroo, and Carmel Bird, in the order anthologised. In summary: no contribution is less than satisfying, many are gripping, most are distinguished. It’s just that I have a problem with ‘risks’ as the postulated organising principle, though editor Brenda Walker might indeed take comfort in this exchange from Carmel Bird’s contribution, which might serve as epigraph to this review.

Too bad; I’ll risk it. This is a weird sort of writing, I have been told. It isn’t fiction; it isn’t essay; it isn’t poetry. What is it?

Ken wonders about this too. What do you actually think you’re doing here, writing this stuff! he says.

It is a slow search with words for the point where consciousness and understanding intersect with unconsciousness and confusion ...

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Fiction which is well-choreographed is difficult to resist. Joan London’s first collection of short stories, Sister Ships, is a dancerly go at mimesis; poised, unerring, it keeps its promises. And to run the tautological line between ‘literature’ and life, as all writing must, reminds us of the possibility for faux pas as well as the pas de deux; in one instance, an amnesia as to what has already been said, and in the other, stories which are so gracefully designed that they can say the same thing twice, or more, and we remember and witness such repetitions with pleasure.

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