Fiction

October 2019

Book cover: Islands by Peggy Frew

Reaching for a Bruised Apple: Sonia Orchard and Peggy Frew

‘When I am at my desk, the visceral voices of my little children call me back into the spaces they inhabit, an impatient reminder that my real life is elsewhere, with them. Or is it? Perhaps, this is what it is to be both a mother and an artist, and the only available consolation: to be perpetually torn, to suffer, but to exalt in the small mercy of being able to articulate well the precise nature of that suffering.’

The Ghost Creature:
The Weekend by Charlotte Wood

‘Wood can be unflinching in her depiction of her characters’ flaws, so that her reader must sometimes do some excavation to find their best qualities. Here she’s struck just the right balance: none of these women is always easily likeable, but each is drawn with insight and sensitivity.’

Book cover: Mouthful of Birds by Samantha Schweblin

Live Birds: Samanta Schweblin’s Mouthful of Birds

‘In a collection of stories where children turn into butterflies, spurned women are exiled to highways, and relationships with mermen are presented as an enticing lifestyle choice, homes and the volatile relationships that unspool inside them remain the wellspring of Samanta Schweblin’s fiction. Rather than functioning as a haven from an unpredictable, barbaric exterior, they are the scene of violent and eerie interactions where cycles are only broken when the world ends.’

She and Her Man: Foe

There are many ways to read Foe (1986), which has a shifting choose-your-own-strange-and-surprising-adventure flavour to it; I’ve tried a few. My favourite is to reverse-engineer Defoe’s Robinson Crusoe from the perspective of the castaway Susan Barton’s account of her very different experience of Cruso in Coetzee’s novel. Putting the chronological cart before the horse (a method that owes something to Jorge Luis Borges’s deadpan comic masterpiece Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote), we realise that Robinson Crusoe would have been a much duller book (not that it is free of unabridged longueurs) if Defoe had not first read Coetzee’s Foe and fictionalised and glamourised Barton’s account of her largely adventure-free time marooned on the island, in order to create a more ripping yarn. 

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The SRB is an initiative of The Writing and Society Research Centre at Western Sydney University

September 2019

Book cover: The Place on Dalhousie by Melina Marchetta

È una casa per la mia famiglia:
A house for my family

‘The different cultures thing,’ as Josie called it in Looking For Alibrandi, has become far more complex and nuanced in The Place on Dalhousie. This novel is still full of driving Nonna to bingo parties and sugo cooking in the kitchen but there is far less overt discussion of the problems of navigating hybridity. There is no pressure to conform to any cultural expectations, in part because Rosie has lost much of that connection to her migrant community through the death of her parents. She is ‘the last Gennaro of her family and the second last on her mother’s side. When Rosie and Nonna Eugenia die, there’ll be none of them left. So much for big Italian families.’

Book cover: The Thinking Woman by Julienne van Loon

All the Feels:
Julienne van Loon and Kate Richards

‘However, while van Loon gifts us with an invigorated capacity to see the ways in which the ascription of femininity is used as a slight in cultural valuation, an alternative approach – a kind of resistance to binaries by seeking out their connections – also emerges in her work.’

The Middle Parts of Fortune

In The Middle Parts of Fortune, Manning extended the technique of dialectic he used in Scenes and Portraits beyond intellectual speculation. The novel counterbalances its contrasting worldviews tightly and with maximum tension, but delicately and plausibly so, without making any of its characters mere mouthpieces for points of view. It also gives us a fleeting view, as if through breaking clouds, of a spiritual promise and a love that the forlorn, desolating inferno of war cannot ever remove or conquer.

Nervous Nostalgia

The two authors acknowledge tales of real displaced people, including refugees, as inspiration for their fictional stories. They express gratitude to be able to survive, live and write these books. In their narratives, the quieter moments of survival are most striking: how tasks considered mundane become crucial and inescapable. Robinson and Bishop invite their reader to imagine their own displacement, their own losses and even their own end.

The Other Way, The Other Truth, The Other Life: Simpson Returns

When we are faced with a world whose problems all seem ‘wicked’ and intractable, what is it that fiction can do? Isn’t it always more useful to confront real instances of the problems we face through journalism, political essays and opinion pieces, or non-fictional representations of lived experiences of all kinds? Won’t those kinds of non-fictional intervention be more useful? At the very least if one is to attempt to engage with these things via fiction shouldn’t the mode the writer uses be sombre realism? Isn’t the mode of satire, which derives its impact in large part through humour (however dark), simply disrespectful of the enormity of suffering that is being experienced? Isn’t it inconsequential in relation to how actual problems might actually be solved?