We’re nearly at the end of the wrap-ups of reviews of Australian women’s writing for 2012, which have shown that writing and reading by Australian women is diverse, enthusiastic and unabated. While poetry and short stories may not be as widely-read as other forms, they offer a huge range of styles and content, just as with the AWW Challenge itself.
Over 2012, there were 76 reviews of 42 works by Australian women writers, including both collections and individual stories. Speculative fiction featured strongly, with 22 reviews of collections in the Twelve Planets series published by Twelfth Planet Press in Western Australia. As Tsana notes in her AWW Challenge 2012 Speculative Fiction wrap up, the aim of the series is to publish twelve collections from twelve Australian women writing speculative fiction, and many of the stories have Australian settings. Below is a list of those which have been published and reviewed to date (I’ve included alternative links to Tsana’s where I can, to show how widely they were reviewed):
Bad Power by Deborah Biancotti (reviewed by Tansy Rayner Roberts); Showtime by Narelle Harris (reviewed by Marg); Nightsiders by Sue Isle (reviewed by Tsana, who summed it up as ‘collection full of strong and well drawn female characters’); Cracklescape by Margo Lanagan (who made Sean cry); Love and Romanpunk by Tansy Rayner Roberts (reviewed by Dave); Thief of Lives by Lucy Sussex (also reviewed by Tsana) and Through Splintered Walls by Kaaron Warren (also reviewed by Dave, who called it a ‘complete success … Creepy, daring and provocative). The consensus among reviewers was that the Twelve Planets series was a great initiative, and a good way of sampling an assortment of speculative fiction.
Other speculative fiction collections which were reviewed include Isobelle Carmody’s Metro Winds (reviewed by Maree), the gigantic volume Matilda Told Such Dreadful Lies by Lucy Sussex (reviewed by Narelle M Harris, who struggled with its size over breakfast), and another Margo Lanagan collection, Black Juice, (reviewed by Marg).
In the literary fiction genre, Amanda Curtin’s Inherited was praised for its spare, but haunting writing (see Angela Myer’s comprehensive review), while Janette Tuner Hospital’s new collection, Forecast: Turbulence, was described as ‘exquisitely crafted’ by Rebecca Howden. Jennifer Mills’ The Rest is Weight was enthusiastically reviewed for the variety of its stories by Sean and ShellyRae, while Bronte mused on the dark undertone of the stories from Brothers & Sisters, edited by Charlotte Wood. Genevieve Tucker’s tender and sensitive review of Josephine Rowe’s Tarcutta Wake was like poetry itself. ‘Each story,’ she writes, ‘carries others nesting within it, and they unfold like the precisely engineered wings of migrating birds.’ Fittingly, Black Inc.’s annual The Best Australian Stories made an appearance. This edition was collated in 2011 by short story connoisseur Cate Kennedy, and was reviewed by Sophie.
Memoir also featured, through Ilsa Evans’ Once a Poner Time (reviewed by Jayne from The Australian Bookshelf ) as did romance – see Kate Rizzetti’s review of URL Love. It was heartening to see reviews of works by Indigenous authors too, with Jenny writing on Me, Antman and Fleabag by Gayle Kennedy, which was the winner of the 2006 David Unaipon award for unplublished Indigenous authors. Sally wrote a review of Marie Munkara’s Every Secret Thing, which also won the David Unaipon award, this time in 2008.
Short fiction, as Matthew Lamb, editor of the Review of Australian Fiction has noted, ‘is a concentrated form of writing. It requires a concentrated form of reading. It requires occupying a certain mental space for the duration of the story, reading it in one sitting, as a coherent whole, in order for the effect of that whole to have an impact upon the reader.’
For this reason, it’s pleasing to see reviewers focussing upon individual short stories as well as collections. Sue of Whispering Gums was prompted to read the Bush Studies version of Barbara Baynton’s ‘The Chosen Vessel’ before it was edited and re-named to align with The Bulletin’s masculinist bias. She also reviewed Thea Astley’s ‘Hunting the Wild Pineapple’ and Paddy O’Reilly’s ‘The Salesman’, both stories about tense relationships between men and women. Jayne of The Australian Bookshelf also picked up some individual romance titles on her eReader (see her reviews of Anne Brear’s ‘A Most Serious Gentleman’ and ‘Caroline and the Captain’ by Maggi Andersen), while James Tierney commented on Barbara Baynton’s harsh story ‘Squeaker’s Mate’.
Such a diverse range of storytelling across all these genres is testimony not only to the talent and elasticity of writers, but also their readers, who willingly engage with any number of characters and settings with ease. A full list of the collections and stories can be found here. Meanwhile, collections are already being reviewed for 2013, which is wonderful.
Bronte from Stilts Journal opens her review of Michelle Dicinoski’s Electricity for Beginners with an astute comment: ‘When I ask people if they like poetry I often get told that, no, they don’t understand it. It’s too pretentious, it’s outdated, or it’s just too hard. And I think to myself, what a shame. Poetry can be such a pleasure if you’re willing to give it a go.’ I’m in complete agreement with her and, as she notes, Michelle’s volume is a great place to start.
Seven volumes of poetry by Australian women writers were reviewed over 2012, from the historical to the contemporary. Poet Adam Ford penned detailed reviews of two debut collections, Lisa Gorton’s Press Release and Fiona Wright’s Knuckled, which was also reviewed by Phillip Ellis. Angela Myer outlined the intriguing story and language of Kristin Henry’s verse novel All the Way Home, Timothy reviewed Dorothea Mackeller’s classic My Country and Other Poems, and Deb Matthews-Zot discussed Heather Taylor Johnson’s ‘feminine and fecund collection’, Letters to my Lover from a Small Mountain Town. Skin Painting, by Indigenous author Elizabeth Hodgson, which won the David Unaipon award in 2007, was reviewed by Heidi.
Poetry is a way of sampling both the tiny and the grand through pockets of writing. The collections reviewed here – often attentively – are testimony to readers’ willingness to focus intently, or to cast their minds wide. If, like me, you’ve been inspired to head to your local bookstore or library to pick up one of these volumes, you can find the list of reviews here. Alternatively, you might be taking up the gauntlet to read some new ones and, if so, I’m really looking forward to reading about them in the 2013 AWW Challenge.
I’m Jessica White, a novelist and researcher. I have a PhD from the University of London and have published two novels with Penguin, A Curious Intimacy (2007), about botany and lesbianism, and Entitlement (2012), about Native Title and grief. I’ve also published short stories and poetry, which you can find at my website. I’m also on Twitter @ladyredjess.