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.
Though solving the crime does certainly drive the narrative pace in The Lost Girls, this book is a rich, dense novel, that goes so much deeper than whodunit. As is almost always the case with Wendy James, her blockbuster, airport styled covers belie the fact that this is as much literary fiction as it is a crime novel, driven, above all, by character development and exquisite writing.
Though The Narrow Road to the Deep North is very much a novel of war, and the impact of the war experience, it is also a love story. It is perhaps the love story itself – and the many manifestations of love, as it appears in the book, that affects the transformation. Love too is a permanent force, leaving its imprint, and changing us.
All of the characters in this book are needy in one way or another, even those, like Keely’s mum Doris, who appear to be self-contained. These needs, some of which are complex and subtle, form a subtext that operates as a perfect contrast to the thriller-like action that escalates as the story progresses. The result is a beautiful, deep and engaging story that illuminates human frailty, teases out the nature of risk and compassion, and goes very deep into the heart of love, loss, and personal responsibility.