Prize-winning Australian author Margo Lanagan‘s novel Sea Hearts will be launched at The Hobart Bookshop tomorrow.* Author Krissy Kneen says of Sea Hearts “In Margo’s skillful hands we are woven a tale that resonates with so much in our real lives… a longing for something that is missing from our hearts”. Her review of the novel, written for the AWW challenge, can be found here.Last week, Claire Corbett wrote an article on Lanagan’s earlier work which questions the common classification of Lanagan’s audience as primarily Young Adult (YA). Corbett’s post has already appeared in short form on her own blog and in full at Online Opinion. She kindly gave permission to cross-post an extract here.

I’ve just read my first Margo Lanagan books, two collections of short stories titled Red Spikes and Yellowcake. The colour theme is upheld through two other collections, Black Juice and White Time.

The covers are also consistent, each showing a feminine figure in a mysterious landscape with totemic creature spirit: butterfly, beetle, spider. I mention this  because marketing a writer with a consistent approach is one of the themes of my review; it intrigues me in Margo Lanagan’s case because it says much about the state of literature in this country.Lanagan is a literary writer, a writer’s writer with a beautiful turn of phrase (“drops of salt sorrow in its strands here and there like smooth-tumbled crystals in a cunning necklace” – Chapter 2, “The Golden Shroud”) and a rigorous style. The quality of her writing has been recognised with several World Fantasy Awards and Printz Honor Awards. What intrigues me is why has Lanagan’s work been corralled within the definition of Young Adult (YA)  fiction? I am not suggesting there is anything lesser about YA fiction, nor do I know how Lanagan herself feels about this.To me though, classifying Lanagan’s work as YA makes about as much sense as classifying Angela Carter, Italo Calvino, Jonathan Swift or Robert Louis Stevenson as YA writers. Just because some of her protagonists are young and just because there are fantasy elements in her stories do not seem valid reasons.

Lanagan’s subject matter is dark and adult, though I think teenagers should read it. They should read Carter, Calvino, Swift and Stevenson too. In Red Spikes, for example, there is a clever, brutal story, “Monkeys Paternoster”, about the overthrow of the alpha male of a monkey colony, told from the point of view of a young  female. She sees baby monkeys butchered by aspiring bachelor males who then rape their mothers; her own rape is vividly described. In what sense is this story not  adult?

The controversy that blew up in 2011 over Lanagan’s Tender Morsels at the Bitch Media website# originates partly in this confusion over what is/is not YA.  The website published a list of 100 Young Adult books for the feminist reader. After a complaint accused the novel of failing to critique characters who used rape as  a tool of vengeance, Tender Morsels was removed from the list, sparking furious debate…

Read more of Corbett’s discussion here. Please feel free to comment below.

Claire Corbett
Claire Corbett was born in Canada and moved to Australia as a child. She has had essays and stories broadcast on Radio National and published in Cinema Papers, Picador New Writing and The Sydney Morning Herald, among others. She has completed the MA Writing (UTS), has taught at UTS and undertook a  Varuna Mentorship with Amanda Lohrey in 2000.

Corbett’s own novel, When We Have Wings, also arguably defies generic pigeonholing, although Claire describes it as a “speculative fiction crime novel”. It was published by Allen & Unwin in July 2011.

Notes: * According to Lanagan’s blog, Sea Hearts will be published as The Brides of Rollrock Island by David Fickling Books and Jonathan Cape in the UK, and by Knopf in the US.# Lanagan’s response to the Bitch Media website controversy, dated 3 February 2010, is archived here.