As there are fewer reviews of collections of short stories, and individual short stories, than in other genres, we’ve scheduled the roundups of these for every few months. However, in the nearly-four months of this year, there have been 38 reviews of short stories, which is half of the number reviewed last year! It’s great to see so much enthusiasm for the form.
Of the books reviewed, the most popular was Cate Kennedy’s Like a House on Fire, with five reviews. This book has already done well in the prize lists, with a shortlisting for the Stella Prize, and longlistings for the Australian Literature Society Gold Medal and the Kibble award for established women writers. Kathy from Play, Eat, Live, Learn ‘connected deeply with Kennedy’s stories and her characters,’ finding them ‘unbearably moving, some thought-provoking, some peppered with humour (although on the whole, these are not funny stories) but none heavy handed or contrived.’ Janine of Resident Judge, who isn’t a fan of the genre, became a convert (at least with this collection), writing that ‘Every single one of [the stories] is memorable, and for me that’s a big thing. All too often I find myself reading the next story in a collection because the last one has been too insubstantial.’ Denise on Goodreads found the stories easy to read, but their subject matter was hard to stomach as so much of it was about loss and lack. I also enjoyed the collection, and reviewed it here. If Not, Read, who is familiar with Kennedy’s work, found the collection inconsistent, commenting that ‘Kennedy’s skillful writing comes through in some stories but several pieces fall well short of her usual precise story-telling ability.’ It’s always refreshing to read a variety of responses to a work, as literature is fiercely subjective and reviews should reflect this.
Other collections of short literary fiction included reviews of individual stories from Barbara Baynton’s collection Bush Studies. Sue of Whispering Gums analysed Baynton’s masterful use of the Gothic in ‘A Dreamer’, and of her use of humour as a screen for the less savoury aspects of early bush life, such as misogyny, in ‘Scrammy ‘and’. Kate Rizzetti penned a review of Fire, edited by Western Australian academic Delys Bird, and referred to it as an ‘important piece of work, reminding us that we live in a dangerous time in our history and we are less in control of our surroundings than we believe ourselves to be.’ The work also needs to be consumed slowly, she writes, like very dark chocolate. Marisa wrote that Amanda Curtin, in Inherited, ‘will drag you into the landscape of her stories,’ while the writing in Jess Huon’s The Dark Wet was the loveliest I’ve read in ages.
Speculative Fiction was the most popular genre, making up nearly half of the reviews (17 in total). A number of books in the Twelve Planets series, which consists of twelve books of speculative fiction by Australian women writers, were covered. Kaaron Warren’s Through Splintered Walls, which consists of three short stories and a novella, was reviewed by Tsana. She describes the short stories as ‘almost the kind of creepy tales you might tell around a camp fire at night’ whereas the novella was unsettling, and seems to feature a cat food factory grinder (I’m glad I got the heads up on that one). Sean also reviewed the collection, and recommended it to those who enjoy ‘good, understated horror, horror in the everyday’. Meanwhile, Tansy Rayner Roberts’ Love and Romanpunk was reviwed by Mel at Subversive Reader, who has found the Twelve Planets series to be ‘a great way to be introduced to Australian speculative fiction.’ Asymmetry by Thoraiya Dyer is the most recently published book, contributing to the Twelve Planets series’ extremely positive reception. Alex from Randomly Yours describes the theme of its stories as ‘a lack of balance, especially in power; sometimes, also, a lack of balance in an individual’s life, making them particularly vulnerable to direct manipulation or simply life’s vicissitudes’ while Tsana found the stories complex and innovative, dealing with different ways of belonging.
Other speculative fiction titles that were reviewed include two by the prolific Isobelle Carmody: Green Monkey Dreams (which Mel at MelReviewsBooks really enjoyed and Metro Winds (also reviewed by Mel), while fairy stories and myths also made an appearance in Prickle Moon by Juliet Marillier, reviewed by Stephanie, and in Fairy Tales for Freya by Georgina Ann Taylor, reviewed by Lynxie at Goodreads.
Romance also featured in reviews of Christmas Wishes and Valentine’s Dates by Lauren at The Australian Bookshelf, who enjoyed both of them. Lauren also reviewed Room Service, which ‘didn’t quite dish up what was on the menu.’ Sally from Oz found Loretta Hill’s One Little White Lie ‘fast paced, light and entertaining read,’ while ShelleyRae from Book’d Out reviewed Margaret Lynette Sharp’s Long and Short Australian Stories, describing it as a ‘congenial, mellow short story collection and an easy read for a quiet evening.’
There were quite a few other collections reviewed that I don’t have the space to refer to here. If you’d like to see what else is being reviewed, or if you need some ideas for reading, head over to the 2013 Short Stories page.
I’m Jessica White, a writer and researcher. I have a PhD from the University of London and have published two novels with Penguin, A Curious Intimacy (2007) and Entitlement (2012). My short stories have been published in Overland, Island, Southerly and the Review of Australian Fiction. You can find more information about me at my website. I’m also on Twitter @ladyredjess.