The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart

The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart

Holly Ringland

Harper Collins 2018


I picked up The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart shortly after its release, and since then I’ve read it not just once, but twice. This is something that is highly unusual for me, particularly in such a short period. The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart, Holly Ringland’s bestselling debut novel, has been out since March and since then the rights have been sold to a number of countries internationally.

Ringland takes her readers on a journey through Alice’s harrowing life and her healing process. Wounded by secrets and lies, Alice truly comes into her own when she is allowed to live her life as herself, exploring her talent for writing, embracing her family, and preparing for her next journey.

The novel’s opening is dedicated to Alice’s childhood among the sugar canes with her mother, her father, and her little deaf dog Toby. Her mother was loving and unfortunately prone to periods of depression, but her father was volatile; Alice liked it better when he wasn’t there. Toby was just Toby, her first and best friend. But beneath this basic information we see something more sinister. We see this in the bruises on Agnes, Alice’s pregnant mother, or Alice never going into town, even for school. After a fire on their property destroys everything, Alice is left orphaned of both parents, her baby-brother and her speech.

Terrified and unable to protest, Alice is taken by her absent grandmother to her new home at Thornfield. Alice makes a life there with the women on the flower farm and the boy next door, Oggi. She grows up among the flowers with June, Twig, and Candy Baby, but Alice has always wanted something more. She longs to get away. It’s only when Oggi and Alice decide to run away to Bulgaria together that Alice’s life once again takes a dramatic turn. Oggi leaves for Bulgaria without her and without even an explanation. Furious and confused, Alice does the only thing she can: she continues her work at Thornfield.

Alice was never meant to stay at Thornfield, and while June and the others only ever wanted to protect her, she kept Alice in the dark for her entire life. Truths have a way of slipping out and it is the truth of Oggi’s disappearance that drives Alice out into a night of torrential rain as flood threatens the flower farm. It is time for Alice to move on.

Alice is eager to live on her own and quickly finds that while finding her feet she will inevitably make mistakes along the way. When she meets Dylan, Alice is unable to stop thinking about him and as their relationship blossoms she misses the all-too-familiar warning signs that should have encouraged her to run. Instead she finds fault with herself, as many tend to do. It is only with the help of her friends and her family that Alice finds her way forward again, this time moving towards the truth and light that has always hidden behind the secrets and lies.

There is a lot of beautiful, floral language throughout the piece which some readers might criticise. However, I would say that it is important to the novel being a very poignant work to give both the reader time to process not just the story, but how they relate to the work.

The novel addresses several heavy issues including: child and domestic abuse, illegal immigration, conservation, alcoholism, and the treatment of Indigenous Australians and their culture. Not only does this work of fiction have a healing element, but  encourages readers to consider these issues and their complexities.

The story revolves around all those things that remain unsaid. In life, it is impossible for June to admit why she never knew Alice prior to her parent’s death. As June never reveals this secret, Alice cannot deal with the guilt heavy on her heart over her parent’s deaths. Alice’s life is filled with unsaid things and it takes their revelation for her healing to begin.

Nature is presented as crucial to the healing process in a very unobtrusive way. Alice is always running for the ocean or the river, identifying flowers, going for walks, or tending to the farm. She is very in touch with the land, often remarking during her time in the dessert about the red earth and the dunes. This lends the novel an element of tranquillity as the reader must slow down and take it all in.

Ringland’s debut novel is unlike any other I’ve read before, taking the Victorian language of flowers and presenting it in an Australian context is a nice touch, drawing readers not just into the story but to the natural world around them. Set across the Australian landscape this novel demonstrates the diversity of our country and focuses on its beauty.

I absolutely loved this book. I loved it the first time and I loved it the second time. I would highly recommend it, particularly if you’re agitated as the language is very calming, the story engaging, and the introduction to floriography fascinating.

 


4.5/5 stars

Words by Kayla Gaskell

Miss Marryat’s Circle

Miss Marryat’s Circle

Cheryl Williss

Wakefield Press


Miss Marryat’s Circle is a comprehensive and well-researched exploration of the role of women in South Australian history. Focusing on the influential Marryat family, Williss chronologically details the contributions of the Marryats from their 1836 arrival to Miss Mabel Marryat’s death in 1949.

 

Williss attempts to tell the story of the first 110 years of South Australian women’s history in one 300-page non-fiction book, under the guise of focusing on one woman. Walking through the buildings of North Terrace and the rest of the city, the reader is entreated to the history of such landmarks as Trinity Church, Adelaide University, and West Terrace Cemetery, explaining their creation and their role in influential Adelaide women’s legacies. Further highlighting the role of the Marryats, Williss has selected newspaper clippings, letters, and diaries of South Australians to recreate the atmosphere of a small settlement trying to find its feet and bloom into a functioning society.

 

Miss Mabel Marryat’s role during both World War I and II revolutionised South Australian women’s role in society, with their collective aim to provide support to Australian troops overseas. Her involvement in the Red Cross, at Keswick Hospital, and League of Loyal Women in various leadership roles, cemented her position in history as a pioneer and social philanthropist, only for her to then be denigrated as someone who simply partook in “home duties” on her death certificate.

 

It is important to record women’s role in our history as it has been dismissed in our national narrative. However, Williss seems to have bitten off more than she could chew in writing this supposed biography. It read like a history textbook with dates and names thrown at the reader with no explanation of why they were important to the life story of Miss Marryat and her dedication to her “diggers”.

 

In order to set the scene, it took Williss 100 pages to introduce and focus on the titular woman. She recounted a brief and superficial history of Adelaide, rather than providing the reader with a deep, focused biography on the aptly named “fairy godmother” of Australian soldiers. It often took paragraphs – if not chapters – of trawling through dates, names and quotes to reach the point that Williss wanted to make, resulting in a book that drags along slowly.

 

Overall, Williss has provided an extensive history of South Australia and some of the women who have been forgotten, allowing them a play a role in our state and national narrative. However, to do Miss Marryat justice, a more focused study should have undertaken to truly tell her story.

2/5 Stars

Miss Marryat’s Circle is available for purchase through Wakefield Press here.


Words by Georgina Banfield

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Georgina Banfield is currently studying a Bachelor of Arts majoring in English at Flinders University. When she’s not reading, writing or listening to podcasts she can be found looking at conspiracy theories and true crime. She loves anything to do with history, literature and unsolved mysteries.

The Midnight Watch

The Midnight Watch

David Dyer

Penguin 2016


Published in 2016, The Midnight Watch is a historical fiction novel by David Dyer, a former London lawyer who now writes and teaches in Sydney.

The novel is set in 1912 and takes place during and after the sinking of the RMS Titanic. We all know of this infamous ship that sank to the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean after colliding with an iceberg. But not all of us know about the SS Californian: the closest ship to the Titanic while she was sinking, but failed to come to her assistance. If the Californian had come, many or perhaps all of the 1,500 people who died could have been saved.

Why didn’t the Californian come to Titanic’s assistance? This is what John Steadman, a fictional American journalist, endeavours to find out. It turns out that Herbert Stone, the Californian’s Third Officer, saw the Titanic firing distress rockets on the horizon from midnight onwards, and he wasn’t the only one. The Californian’s captain, Stanley Lord, was notified, but didn’t issue any orders until 5am the next morning, when it was too late (the Titanic sunk at 2:20am). Lord’s explanation as to why he didn’t go to Titanic’s rescue immediately changed over time, and Steadman finds that pages from the Californian’s log had been torn out. This motivates him to discover the truth, no matter what.

The novel is well-written and is historically accurate. It’s clear that Dyer heavily researched everything to do with the Titanic. In fact, he lifted quotes from original letters, witness statements, and inquiry testimonies, along with other primary documents, and used them in the novel’s dialogue. The story is told from multiple points of view, which I found jarring at first, but I quickly became accustomed to it.

The novel’s themes are easily identifiable. The main theme is perhaps truth versus point of view. The truth can easily be warped by people’s point of view. As Obi-Wan told Luke in Return of the Jedi: “Many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our own point of view”. This is certainly evident in Stanley Lord’s case, as his version of events confused many but obviously made sense to him.

But being a former journalism student, the theme that stood out to me the most was miscommunication. Early press reports in the immediate aftermath of the Titanic’s sinking gave false information. For example, it was thought at one stage that the Titanic, heavily damaged from the iceberg, was being towed to the nearest port by another ship. This obviously wasn’t the case. But back in 1912, they could only communicate using Morse code on one wireless frequency, so it was easy for information to become jumbled. Steadman came across as an admirable journalist, as he goes to extreme lengths to uncover the truth.

Despite being set in 1912, all the characters are believable in the sense they’re relatable and realistic. They are written as human beings, not as stereotypical twentieth century people who come across as two dimensional. They all suffer grief, internal conflict, anger, confusion – the list goes on!

I thoroughly enjoyed The Midnight Watch, and would strongly recommend it, especially to other history buffs.

5/5 stars


Words by Callum J. Jones

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Creative, honest, and reliable, Callum J. Jones loves writing fiction and non-fiction. In his spare time, he likes to read, watch movies and TV shows, and going on walks.

You can follow him on Facebook.

The Psychopath Test

Jon Ronson
Picador 2011

When a mysterious book is anonymously delivered to several of the world’s best brains, the Curious George of journalists gets involved when none of them can crack the code.  Someone has single-handedly sent the earth’s leading experts into a simultaneous tailspin, and Jon Ronson is sent to find out who they are and what they want. He begins his journey into the people who aren’t so plugged in, those with a screw loose: the world of psychopaths.

The Psychopath Test’ is a light-hearted, creatively uplifting approach to the potential madness of the human brain, and I have never read anything like it. It’s wonderfully easy to read and I would recommend for anyone 17 or older.

The dynamic, embarrassingly humorous book takes the reader by the hand to meet psychopaths of all shapes and sizes. Do psychopaths really exist? And who are they? The book shows interviews between several so-called psychopaths and the traits that define them. The description of how psychopathic tendencies have been treated in the past is indeed quite shocking. LSD-induced trances, deep sleep therapy, even nude group therapy baths. None of it worked.

Psychologist Bob Hare invented the Hare Psychopathy Checklist to identify psychopaths out in the wild. Equipped with this checklist, Ronson travels to high security prisons, mental health hospitals and a Dangerous and Severe Personality Disorder unit to see if he can determine who is psychopathic and who isn’t whilst trying not to be devilishly charmed in the process.

On a bizarre accusation by Scientologists that psychiatry is a farce, he reads the DSM-1V-TR; a handbook for psychiatrists everywhere containing all the mental disorders known to man. If you or I were to read this book, we could probably diagnose ourselves with several disorders right off the bat. Ronson could: he diagnosed himself with twelve. Ronson speculates that we may have taken if a bit too far with our desire to label. From experiencing shakes after too much coffee (Caffeine Induced Disorder) to procrastination (Malingering), anyone with any kind of anomaly is labelled and segregated.

Ronson forms wariness and doubt in the mind, which he gleefully explores. Is the psychiatry business just due to the compulsion to categorize things? Do the pharmaceutical companies just want to glean another profit by exploiting this compulsion? How many people have been unnecessarily labelled?

I was moved by his willingness to get down and dirty with the people that the average Joe would personally stay away from. This allowed for an invitingly fresh point of view unhindered from social censorship. His personal take on these certainly colourful characters, along with his willingness to get up close with murderers, makes for a wondrous read that I devoured.

4.75 stars


 

Words by Sarah Ingham

Neverland

Margot McGovern

Random House 2011

Everyone knows Peter Pan; it’s the tale of a young boy who finds his way to a magical land, full of adventure and pirates, and as long as he remains there he will never grow up. It speaks to our sense of existential dread about aging and having to leave behind the care-free days of childhood for serious and tedious ones of adulthood. It’s a story about arrested development. Add in a traumatic childhood and a boarding school for mentally ill teenagers and you have Margot Mcgovern’s beautiful debut novel, Neverland.

Kit Learmonth is the orphaned daughter of a famous writer, whose fantastical stories about their island home filled her childhood with a sense of magic and wonder. But her parents deaths in a boat accident when she was twelve continues to haunt Kit. After an attempt to take her own life while at boarding school, Doc, her psychiatrist uncle and guardian, brings her back to her childhood home, which she has dubbed Neverland. However, it’s not the same as it once was, and as the magic starts to fade, she’s forced to re-examine her memories, revealing a darker reality.

This book extends far beyond simply a ‘Peter Pan’ retelling. Mixed in we have heavy references to Greek mythology with a healthy dose of modern day literary references, sex, drugs, romance, and a very important boat race.

Recently there has been a rise in YA novels which address mental illness and self-harm, and as issues that many young people struggle with. It’s always great when a book manages to depict these themes in a way that doesn’t dangerously romanticise mental illness, or trigger those who may already suffer. Neverland handles its self-harm and trauma in a measured and sympathetic way. In fact, all of the student-patients of the island are treated sensitively.

While Kit and her friends suffer a range of conditions, none of the characters are defined by their ailments. Their portrayals are free from stereotypes; the resident psychopath doesn’t come with a backstory of animal abuse and seems fairly capable of maintaining his friendships quite successfully, and the main drama for the bulimic character comes from her love life as opposed to an obsession with food. Most importantly, you’re never made to feel like these characters are intrinsically lesser beings because of psychiatric help.

In fact, every character in this book feels so layered and complex; even Kit’s dead parents come to life in her memories and the stories other people tell. You feel like you’re stepping into a fully formed world with history and presence and that’s not an easy feat.

I refuse to say that the Island is a character, because that’s the most cliché line in any piece of criticism, but Neverland does indeed feel like fully realised landscape of cliffs, secret bays, giant underwater sinkholes and the mystic depictions of this setting definitely add to what makes this story work.

Finally, this book is simply captivating. I read it all in two sessions – which would have been one of I hadn’t been forced to stop to go to work. Margot Mcgovern is a brilliant writer, and I can’t wait to see what she comes up with next.

4.5 stars


Words by Simone Corletto

Renegades

Marissa Meyer has constructed a detailed future world where anarchy has finally lost to the Reign of the Renegades – a group of virtuous superheroes. Although, for the Anarchists who once ran Galton City, there is a simmering discontentment as they plot to take down the Renegades by using with their new weapon – Nova, or Nightmare.

In a bid to take down the Renegades, Nova infiltrates their ranks; however, when she is taken in by Adrian’s team, a boy with secrets of his own, her loyalties are tested. The line between who is really good in this battle between good and evil comes to head. Things aren’t always black and white.

Meyer’s dystopian novel highlights the current fear of a totalitarian government who means well but the inherent corruption in leadership prevents them from creating a functioning society. She portrays the dependence on government but also the pitfalls of anarchy, with those who advocate for it acting as a terrorist faction.

Despite taking the first half of the book to world build, which caused it to drag in places, Meyer has created diverse characters which reflect our current society. Her characterisation made the reader empathise with the moral conflicts of both Nova and Adrian whose loyalty and trust are tested. The relationships between characters never felt forced and with a palpable chemistry and tenderness among them, making Renegades an easy read.

Meyers focuses on character mentality through a dual point of view which allowed the reader to have a constant insight into both Nova and Adrian’s worldviews. The two protagonists have distinct voices and are easy to empathise with. Their attempts to understand their unravelling world feels reminiscent of every young person navigating our politically contentious world.

Despite this, the book occasionally read like a retelling of a superhero movie, with recycled catchphrases and predictability. There was no new spin on existing formulas and tropes either. There was the constant thought in the back of the mind that I’d seen this before. It ended on a cliff hanger. From the very beginning, it was clear that Meyer planned to make a series out of it; therefore, there was little conclusion to the conflict.

 

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A must read for superhero lovers, dystopian fans and those who adore good character development.  3.5/ 5 stars

 


 

30742387_1311083335660012_5949341883275673600_nGeorgina Banfield is currently studying a Bachelor of Arts majoring in English at Flinders University. When she’s not reading, writing or listening to podcasts she can be found looking at conspiracy theories and true crime. She loves anything to do with history, literature and unsolved mysteries.

Howl’s Moving Castle – the novel

It was only a few years ago that I discovered that Hayao Miyazaki’s animated film Howl’s Moving Castle was based on Dianna Wynne Jones’ novel of the same name. Given how much I enjoy the film I am almost ashamed that it took so long for me to get to the book—and to discover there were a further two in the series! So three days ago I finally found myself a copy and settled in for what I fully expected to be a great read. I was not disappointed.

There are some children’s books which you can come back to and enjoy at any age and there are quite a few you cannot. Thankfully Howl’s Moving Castle is one of the former. From the very first words I was spellbound by the novel’s fairy tale quality, by the third chapter I was buying an extra copy for my nieces and nephews, and by the tenth chapter I was so unwilling to put it down I read more than half of it in one sitting.

The story, for those that are unfamiliar with it, follows the journey of Sophie Hatter after her father’s death. Left in her step-mother’s care and full of self-degradation for being the eldest (the eldest can never do a thing right), Sophie trims the most exquisite hats, drawing the attention of the dreaded Witch of the Waste who curses Sophie with old age. Meanwhile, Wizard Howl is on the prowl for more young women’s hearts to eat—chased by a scarecrow, at a loss for what to do, and believing herself safe from the evil wizard, Sophie finds herself at Howl’s house. Despite her expectations, the house is not filled with the hearts of the women Howl terrorised, but his young apprentice, Michael, fire-demon-friend, Calcifer, and plenty of spiders. Having been forced against her will to seek her fortune and expecting only misfortune to come of it, Sophie settles in nicely in the castle, slowly discovering her talent for witchcraft and speaking things to life.

Jam packed with wonder, the novel is fairly short and quite accessible to young readers as well as being enjoyable for adults. I have yet to read any others in the series but am eagerly awaiting their arrival. I would highly recommend the novel, Sophie’s practical voice rationalises any fear the reader may have about the Witch of the Waste, Howl, and the scarecrow.


Words by Kayla Gaskell.

kaylaKayla Gaskell is an Adelaide based writer and reviewer whose work has appeared in Empire Times, Readplus, Buzzcuts, Where’s Pluto, and now Tulpa. A self-professed bibliophile, she has a pressing problem: she’s running out of bookshelves.

Robin Hobb’s Rain Wild Chronicles (A New Year Suggestion)

Why the Rain Wild Chronicles? Answer: It’s a deeply engaging series and Hobb does wizardry with the cast of characters.

As a brief background, Dragon Keeper is the first of four books in the Rain Wild Chronicles. The series is a continuation from the events in Robin Hobb’s Farseer and Liveship Traders series, though with a different cast of protagonists. Chronologically, the Rain Wild Chronicles sit at the end of Hobb’s long list of published series in her ‘Realm of the Elderlings’ universe and it is most closely linked to events in the preceding Liveship Traders series.

For readers new to Robin Hobb: if this seems like an intimidating number of books to read before you start, never fear. While reading the Liveship Traders will give you a more rounded understanding of the setting, certain characters, and previous events, Hobb does a good job in grounding these world details within the Rain Wild books and even new readers will be able to enjoy the series fully.

The first book in Rain Wild Chronicles takes you on a journey of exploration up the acidic – and deadly – Rain Wild River. Unable to fly and incapable of self-sufficiency, an array of deformed dragons stuck near the Rain Wild city of Cassarick need to find a home that will support their needs. In a bargain struck with the Rain Wild council, the dragons and their keepers journey up river to find the lost city of Kelsingra; a place once home to dragons and their mysterious Elderling companions. The people who aid the dragons have an array of personal and political reasons for joining an expedition that is rife with uncertainty and danger. This is a journey of survival for the protagonists; of seeking the true self and true belonging against the background of the inhospitable Rain Wilds and the richly written political situations. These themes of belonging and discovery run throughout the entire series and are also mirrored within the plots of the novels – yet the strength to this strength to this series is not its plot, but the characters.

And what a cast of characters: girls, women, men who are explicitly gay, outcasts, and dragons. Outsiders, all of them, in one way or another. They are what I like most about Dragon Keeper and the Rain Wild Chronicles as a whole. From the smallest supporting player to the main roles, these characters are deeply complex. They each have their own goals and motivations, as well as corresponding strengths and weaknesses. What’s more, all the characters experience challenges and growth. None of them are flawless characters, especially the protagonists, and yet they are characters to whom we relate and even sympathise with. It is not easy to do that with such a sizable cast –  yet Hobb does it and she does it with ease.

I especially like the dragons as Hobb has written them. Often, draconic characters are written on extreme ends of a spectrum: from inscrutable wisdom and altruism to unspeakable malice and cruelty. Instead, Hobb’s dragons are deeply self-concerned with the issues of dragons – especially with their survival as the last remnants of a species in a world that doesn’t value them as sentient beings. Their tenuous survival wars with their awareness that malformed dragons should not live and yet live they do. Unhuman, aloof, wise, and malicious at turns; these dragons are protagonists that are fully rounded characters in and of themselves. They are an utter delight to read, especially since they are central to the series.

I’m recommending this series because I return to it time and time again. The world of the Rain Wild Chronicles is rich and detailed, whilst the story is immersive and the characters arresting. Following the progression of the protagonists throughout the series makes you feel good for them because they grow so strong. With an empathetic eye, you can see parts of yourself and parts of the people you know in these characters. Diving into the world of the Rain Wild Chronicles is escapism at its finest; dark and uncomfortable at times, but always with that edge of hope that fights towards the light.

 


Words by Teaghan Buggy.

CRUSH- Stories about love

Confession: I do not often read romance but when I do I usually enjoy it.

Crush is an anthology of romance stories which centres around the concept of the word ‘Crush’. The term itself has multiple definitions, these definitions are used to divide the book into four distinct sections:

  1. An intense infatuation
  2. To cease or crumple by pressure
  3. To hug or embrace tightly
  4. A crowd of people pressed together.

In each of these sections are stories which explore the ideas of each definition. In doing this, the reader can choose a story more suited to what they feel like reading at the time.

There is a stigma surrounding romance fiction, which claims it has little to no literary merit. It’s usually dismissed as ‘chick-lit’. The stories collected in Crush demonstrate a wide range of writing styles and genres blended with romance. There is fiction which is clearly for everyone, for the LGBTQ+ community, for people who like experimental writing, and for those who prefer the literary variety. There is a diversity to this anthology which brokers an appeal to a wide audience. Romance is a part of almost everyone’s lives to some degree or another. When it comes to real life we don’t dismiss it. You don’t have to be a certain age or gender to experience it, just as you don’t have to be a certain age or gender to enjoy romance fiction, and you certainly don’t have to be ashamed of showing your support for the local, emerging artists who have contributed to this book.

Crush brings together a variety of talented writers who are both local and international. Quite a few Flinders current and past students are also featured in the anthology. Recent Hons. Graduate Simone Corletto and PhD Candidate Jess M. Miller worked with Amy T. Matthews (chair of the 2016 ‘Ain’t Love Grand’ conference in Adelaide), and Midnight Sun’s Lynette Washington to compile and edit the book. With a wide range of both local and international contributors, Crush is a must read for anyone involved in the Adelaide writing community.

With stories that verge on traditional, literary, and experimental, Crush has something to appeal to everyone. Women loving women, women loving men, men loving women, and men loving men. Relationships beginning and relationships ending. Good dates and bad dates. A wide variety of experiences tied together by the central exploration of love.

I’m not going to try and pick a favourite story in the anthology because they are all fantastic in their own way. Full of passion and wit, they offer both warmth and scepticism where it’s needed most.

Whether we acknowledge it or not, love forms a big part of our lives. The writers of Crush have interrogated this in their stories. We see people just like you and me fumbling through life searching for the thing that will make them feel valid and loved.

This is a potentially perfect book for those of you looking to escape into the world of fiction without the hassle of committing to a full novel. While romance is not normally my cup of tea, Crush provides something for everyone so why pick up a local anthology and read the both online and from local retailers.

As a special treat, selected authors will be sharing their work at The Jade on Thursday 16th November. Come along to The Jade, 142-160 Flinders Street, for a chance to meet Michelle Fairbarn, J. R. Koop, Michelle Oglivy, and C.J. McLean, hear them read, and show your support for local writers.


Words by Kayla Gaskell

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Crush is available in stores now. At the special reading event at The Jade on the 16th of November copies of Crush will be available for the special price of $25. For more information check the Facebook page.

 

 

Best of the Best: Modern Australian Short Stories

This powerful book encompassing 25 short stories written by the crème de la crème of Australian literary talent is worth a visit. The editor, Barry Oakley, was the literary editor of the Australian Newspaper between 1988 and 1997. Barry Oakley is a prolific Australian playwright, novelist and short story writer, and by-the-by was encouraged by the publishers to include his own futuristic dystopian peace at the tail end of this impressive body of writing.

 

Mr Oakley handpicked these 25 stories from a list of over 167 short stories he edited for Five Mile Press volumes. Most of these stories were written in the decade leading up to 2009, while his selection was based on the writers’ abilities to ‘replace our world with theirs’. Therefore, he avoids what Patrick White terms the ‘dreary, dun-coloured offspring of journalistic realism’ often encountered in shorter, year-specific collections. The result is a confluence of compelling dramas, magic realisms, and teased-out situations.

 

The Australian short story has long been linked to Australia’s isolated geography. This trend continues: coping with fears, grief and sudden change are certain features of this geography.

 

Mr Oakley has grouped the short stories under themes to assist the reader’s appreciation: Childhoods: a place where innocence is threatened; Fabulations: see myths and magic merge; Impositions: where difficulties are encountered; Letting Go: when strings are cut or should be; On the Margins: out of town; Desperations: when crimes are committed; Resolutions: in one’s family. Threads of racism, violence, multiculturalism, horror, and so forth, are equally stitched.

 

Matthew Condon’s The Sandfly Man is a story about the ghostly spirit of a caravan park that haunts a young boy: ‘If I closed my eyes I could see the Sandfly Man, coming for me through that swirling mist, moving slowly forward, his boots crunching on the dirt laneways.’ David Malouf’s Blacksoil Country examines a terrible chain reaction set off between two cultures: ‘The whole country had a new light over it. I had to look at it in a new way. What I saw in it now was hiding-places.’ Julie Gittus’s Driving the Inland Road shows relationships fraying on a bush-block in paradise: ‘At Gunnedah my headlights shine on a billboard beside a stone church. Have faith. He loves you. But I keep driving south into the night.’

 

Cate Kennedy’s Habit is about an elderly woman who attempts to pass through Customs with cocaine in tow. Carmel Bird’s The Hair and The Teeth tells of the emotional toll carried by a woman whose house was burgled. Tim Winton’s Commission begins when a son goes in search of his father at his mother’s request in the West Australian outback.

 

A majority of the stories’ POVs are written in the first person, some in the third person. Most of the plots tend to follow the traditional linear path, with or without flashbacks, with about a third circling the main issue. One jumbles its timeframes.

 

The themes in these stories should appeal to a wide variety of readers. They satisfy my personal tastes. There are an equal number of male and female characters albeit a slight majority of POVs are male-centric. Each story feels like an emotional canvas: when you least expect it, the porcelain breaks. It never once felt like any two stories covered the same ground. I give this collection 4.5 stars out of 5 stars. Worth reading with tea and chocolates.


Best of the Best: Modern Australian Short Stories

Edited by Barry Oakley

Stories from Tim Winton, David Malouf, Thea Astley, Cate Kennedy, Peter Goldsworthy, Margo Lanagan, and Others

RRP: A$24.95

ISBN 9781742117454 (pbk.)

320 pages

Printed 2009, 1st Edition, Five Mile Press, Victoria


Words by Dane Miller.

Dane Miller is an established writer and poet from South Australia.