Australian Fiction

In July 1999, ABC’s 7:30 Report ran a story on the Western Suburbs Magpies, an NRL club struggling financially and playing out its final season before a merger with the nearby Balmain Tigers. For that human touch, the story featured shots of a family decking out their children in the Magpies’ black and white, their relationship with the ninety-year-old club described as ‘something in the heart’. It was all very warm and fuzzy, at least until the camera cut away and a voiceover delivered a neoliberal sucker punch: ‘love does not necessarily deliver dollars’. Set in the same Western Sydney suburbs still mourning the loss of their team, Max Easton’s terrific début novel, The Magpie Wing, tracks a trio of Millennials as they similarly battle to retain their identities in a rapidly gentrifying world.

... (read more)

A year before his death in 2015 following a cancer diagnosis, the writer–playwright Henning Mankell responded to a question about his love of the crime genre. He stated that his objective was ‘to use the mirror of crime to look at contradictions in society’. Mankell’s mirror was evident in his Kurt Wallander series (1991–2009), in which the detective was faced with contradictions not only in the landscape of crime and murder but also in his own domestic life. Great crime fiction does not need to focus a lens on the overlapping worlds of the private and the public. But well written, the genre’s interconnected spheres address the moral complexities that drove Mankell’s passion for crime fiction.

... (read more)

Rachel isn’t the last woman in the world, but she might as well be. Cloistered in her bushland home on Yuin country, in New South Wales, Rachel’s days consist of birdsong, simple meals prepared from a pantry stocked with home-made preserves, and glass-blowing in her private studio – a craft that is both her livelihood and her religion. It’s a peaceful yet precarious existence. The land is scarred by bushfires. Rachel’s senses are attuned to the absence of wallabies and small birds. For all her proficiency with sourdough starter, Rachel isn’t self-sufficient. Her older sister, Monique, provides an emotional tether to the world, while townswoman Mia delivers supplies and transports Rachel’s glassworks to a gallery. When Mia fails to show, Rachel rues the lack of a back-up plan. When Hannah, a young mother, raving about a nation-wide outbreak of death, arrives on her doorstep with a sick infant, luddite Rachel must choose between taking Hannah’s word for it or rejecting her.

... (read more)

One of the hardest challenges for a novelist is to write a story for adults from the point of view of a child. In 1847, Charlotte Brontë set the bar high with Jane Eyre, the first novel to achieve this. The story ends when Jane is a woman but commences with the child Jane’s perspective. So effective for readers was Brontë’s ground-breaking feat that Charles Dickens decided to write Great Expectations in the voice of the child Pip, after just hearing about Jane Eyre, even before reading it. But the risks are great: creating a child narrator who knows, tells, or understands far too much for their age; dumbing down the story to fit with the character’s youth; striking the wrong notes by making the voice too childish or not childlike enough. It’s a minefield, and any novelist, especially a debutant, who pulls it off deserves praise. Thus Harper Lee, who never had to produce another book to maintain her legendary status.

... (read more)

Joe Exotic. Carole Baskin. Tiger King. There was a moment in early 2020 when these were names to conjure with; when a plague-ridden world became fascinated with the outlandish behaviour of these larger-than-life Americans and their unbelievably legal menageries of ‘exotic’ animals. Now, as we inch closer to ‘Covid-normal’, revisiting this surreal world through Emily Bitto’s exuberantly baroque second novel, Wild Abandon, is an unsettling experience.

... (read more)

by Christos Tsiolkas

by
November 2021, no. 437

On page 20 of my advance copy of , I insert a line in the margin: ‘Starting to sound like Sōseki’s Kusamakura here’. I had met the author of the passage – a man named Christos Tsiolkas – at the Sydney Writers’ Festival in May, sidling up to the Clare Hotel breakfast bar at an enviably early hour each morning to enjoy fruit and festival conversation. As my pen hovers, I wonder how that gregarious and personable figure squares with the bittersweet register of this novel.

... (read more)

One of the hardest challenges for a novelist is to write a story for adults from the point of view of a child. In 1847, Charlotte Brontë set the bar high with Jane Eyre, the first novel to achieve this. The story ends when Jane is a woman but commences with the child Jane’s perspective. So effective for readers was Brontë’s ground-breaking feat that Charles Dickens decided to write Great Expectations in the voice of the child Pip, after just hearing about Jane Eyre, even before reading it.

... (read more)

Ambiguity, done well, has a bifurcating momentum that can floor you. The late Argentinian writer Julio Cortázar, a master of unsettling short stories shot through with ambiguity, knew this and used it to pugilistic advantage, declaring that ‘the novel wins by points, the short story by knockout’. Ambiguity is likewise central to S.J. Norman’s début collection, Permafrost, seven eerily affecting stories that traverse and update gothic and romantic literary traditions, incorporating horror, queer, and folk elements to hair-raising effect. No matter how often you read these spectral tales, they simply refuse to resolve themselves definitively. It could be that things have gone spectacularly wrong and that, simultaneously, everything is okay – a see-saw in constant motion, made all the creepier by the fact nobody is sitting on either side.

... (read more)

Great art provokes by taking great risks. It goads, teases. When we recognise we’re in the hands of a master, the banal becomes profound, the sacred profane, and the grandest of truths reveal themselves in the most innocent of questions. Take Pauly Shore’s scathing 1994 cinematic rebuke of the complicity of heteronormativity in the military industrial complex, In the Army Now. In it, two gay soldiers signal their intent to defy the US Army’s ‘Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell’ policy and serve their country in a neo-colonial war by asking, simply, ‘Is it hot in Chad?’

... (read more)

Scary Monsters by Michelle de Kretser

by
October 2021, no. 436

To read Michelle de Kretser’s fiction is to sense important details swimming under the surface of our awareness, forming patterns that will come into view by the end of the story, or after contemplating it for a time, or while rereading. There is always enough to satisfy our immediate needs – rich aphorisms, sharp characterisation, satirical wickedness, the play of language, political and historical concerns, mysteries explored – but the presence of morphing repetitions and suggestive references leaves the pleasurable impression that you have only just started reading the novel even as you finish its closing sentence. The structural integrity of de Kretser’s fiction, its intelligence and purposeful virtuosity, combine to induce keen readerly attentiveness. Scary Monsters is no exception.

... (read more)