It would be a rare reader that didn’t feel an affinity for the protagonist in Alice Pung’s charming coming-of-age story, Laurinda. The is something universal about fifteen year old Lucy Lam’s dislocation as she tries to navigate the clique-iness, the odd social mores, and the subtle bullying that takes place at Laurinda, a prestigious private school to which Lucy has received the first equity scholarship.
All three novels explore guilt and innocence, good and evil, and the individual versus the state or government, using changing tense and viewpoints. The grand conception is fairly ambitious, but Maiden handles it all smoothly and the stories read like ordinary thrillers. The binaries that charge these books are played with in all sorts of interesting ways as the characters swap positions, power matrices, emotional landscapes, and unravel the structures in which they work.
Always there’s a sense that the world is not quite fixed and that what we’re experiencing is illusory (so much smoke), and charged by scars, memories, hunger, and all that we’ve lost. The stories that make up So Much Smoke are powerful, not so much because of what happens, but because of the way they hint at how much lurks below the surface
An outstanding collection of short stories makes up this book of the Margaret River Short Story Competition for 2016. It is sponsored by Margaret River Press, who believe the ‘short story genre is greatly undervalued’, according to their website. The competition has been run since 2011, producing five published collections so far, with the 2017 competition having just recently closed for submissions.
Though each of the pieces works well individually, taken collectively, Letter to Pessoa presents a multifaceted world that builds new linguistic spaces through correspondence and conjunction. By blurring the distinctions between author and narrator/narration, reader/writer/voyeur, past/present, and even life/death, Cahill has created an exciting and powerful collection that continues to shift, change and reveal new insight with each re-reading.
The Natural Way of Things is an easy book to read but a hard one to digest. It holds up a mirror that shows an ugly reflection of the relationship between capitalism and misogyny that once glimpsed cannot be unseen. Though it’s disturbing, The Natural Way of Things is also powerful, beautiful, and utterly important.
Life isn’t always a linear path though, and there is a strong though subtle meta-fictional aspect to this story that reminds us we are always working towards a broader meaning making than a single story might provide. It’s here that the themes re-emerge, along with questions about genetic inheritance, about how we make and remake ourselves, how meaning is created, and the role of language and love in all of its forms. The Last Thread is about all of those threads and more.
It’s not just the characters that descend to their lowest level in this book. It’s also the medical profession, governmental welfare programs, and Mobil Oil where Gavin works scraping rust off pipes. However, Laguna never lets the characters – not even the most peripheral – slip into stereotypes. The Eye of the Sheep is a tender and delicate novel, rich with sympathy and understanding, even when it becomes almost unbearably dark.
While it might be tempting to contain the magic of the Old Kingdom series under genre classifications like “fantasy,” or “young adult” fiction, I think it’s fair to say that Nix is a writer whose work goes well beyond genre definitions and edges towards the classic. The work will appeal to readers of all tastes – particularly those who want to be transported into a world richly drawn and exotic, and yet so full of a very human verisimilitude of life, coming-of-age, and loss.
Danny’s growth process through Barracuda raises questions about the nature of what it means to be a ‘good’ and self-fulfilled person, about marginality and the politics of difference – in terms of race, sexuality, and capability, about notions of ‘home’ and nationality (and not only with respect to migrants, though the migrant perspective is strong), how we make meaning in our life even when our dreams falter, the notion of privilege, and questions of class. All of these things are handled subtly and powerfully, through dichotomies that play out naturally through the course of the narrative.