AWWNYRC#6: Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan

This isn’t on my list of 10 for the Australian Women Writers 2012 National Year of Reading Challenge, but what the hey.

Sea Hearts

By Margo Lanagan
Allen & Unwin, 2012, ISBN: 978 1 74237 505 2

sea hearts by margo lanagan

THIS delightful novel began life as a novella of the same name, in the rather clever novella anthology X6 (Coeur de Lion), and that novella forms the mainstay of this longer work. It’s an interesting read, the narrative strung together by a series of first-person narratives revealing how life on the island of Rollrock went through some amazing changes: the why, the how, the thereafter.

The short version: a witch finds revenge for being the subject of derision when she discovers the power to pull people out of seals. The women so brought forth are rather delectable, moreso than the common weather-beaten and life-worn specimens already available. The island’s menfolk are happy to pay for the privilege of a seal wife, a fairly docile offsider amenable to performing all the household chores and breed some sons as well.

In a kind of flip on the Lesbos tale, the women leave the men to their magical arrangement and the witch grows rich.

australian women writers challenge 2012I’m not entirely convinced I needed to read the before and after, the novella having proven quite enchanting in and of itself, but the opportunity to do so shouldn’t be missed. The novel is most enjoyable and provides a possibly more evenly rounded tale centred around that core; the set-up providing more insight and the denouement given more time to breathe.

And then there’s Lanagan’s wonderful prose, her playful way of recasting words and phrases, and describing things afresh. (See Sean the Bookonaut’s review for more on this.)

This is a gently told fantasy, presented unusually and quite beautifully in this Allen & Unwin paperback version, with a rather horrible narrative kernel.

Previous Challenge reviews

  • Burn Bright, by Marianne de Pierres, fantasy.
  • The Courier’s New Bicycle, Kim Westwood, fantasy.
  • The Road, by Catherine Jinks, horror.
  • The Shattered City, by Tansy Rayner Roberts, fantasy.
  • Frantic, by Katherine Howell, crime.
  • AWWNYRC #3: The Road, by Catherine Jinks

    This is the third book I’m reading as part of my list of 10 for the Australian Women Writers 2012 National Year of Reading Challenge.

    The Road

    by Catherine Jinks
    Allen & Unwin, 2004, ISBN: 1 74114 356 X

    the road by catherine jinks

    IT’S no surprise that The Road namechecks The Twilight Zone and The X-Files several times. It’s premise is quite supernatural, taking more than a dozen travellers and subjecting them to the strange phenomenon of not being able to get anywhere. This particular stretch of rural road is cursed, it seems; running out of petrol is the least of their problems.

    The story begins with a woman and her infant son hiding from her abusive partner on a rural property. He finds them, bad things happen, and then the weirdness kicks in.

    Out on the bitumen, car after car of disparate travellers — holiday makers, a truckie, locals going about their business — are caught up in the loop, driving without getting anywhere outside a certain radius.

    It takes a while for this large cast to be assembled, primarily because each group gets its own point of view. We find out who they are, what has brought them to be driving this stretch of highway, what they hope to find at their destination. The characters are wonderfully drawn, but the back stories become tedious, a way of trying to provoke some care for the fate of each increasingly desperate set of travellers, but ultimately operating more like speed bumps or cattle grids, forcing the story to slow right down while the latest piece is introduced to the board. Few of the pieces have much to do; their back stories generally tend to be of negligible connection to their plight or the situation’s resolution.

    australian women writers challenge 2012There are two characters who provide some continuity, thankfully, but this is a far cry from the incredible tension to be found in the work of another master of this kind of ensemble story, Stephen King. Perhaps because the situation the stranded travellers find themselves in never manifests a deeper message — ordinary people behave ordinarily — or because the characters have only the vague sense of the danger they’re in. The reader knows, which is where the suspense comes from as the story picks up its pace.

    Having said that, however, the story is, once it gets out of low range somewhere around the halfway mark, most enjoyable, primarily for its use of landscape. There are some wonderfully descriptive scenes of nature gone awry; provoked, it seems, into being an agent of justice. And Jinks’ prose is a delight.

    This is one of those yarns where patience is rewarded — where the destination is actually more rewarding than the journey.

    Previous Challenge reviews:

  • The Shattered City, by Tansy Rayner Roberts, fantasy.
  • Frantic, by Katherine Howell, crime.
  • Australian Women Writers 2012 National Year of Reading Challenge

    australian women writers challenge 2012So, I’ve signed up for the Australian Women Writers 2012 National Year of Reading Challenge, because it seems like a worthy way to help celebrate 2012 as the National Year of Reading.

    I’m going to be an official dabbler, reading across more than one genre, and I’m setting the bar at the Franklin level of challenge — 10 books. And here’s the likely suspects:

    1. The Shattered City, Tansy Rayner Roberts
    2. The Courier’s New Bicycle, Kim Westwood
    3. Burn Bright, Marianne de Pierres
    4. The Road, Catherine Jinks
    5. Frantic, Katherine Howell
    6-9. I figure the Twelfth Planet Press Twelve Planets titles will fill these spots, but if not, I’ll slot Kimberley Freeman’s Duet in there (I can see her shaking her head at me now).
    10. Carpentaria, Alexis Wright.

    What a great kick in the pants to catch up on some reading I’ve been meaning to do for ages!

    If spec fic’s your thing, or you’d like to sample it, then Tansy Rayner Roberts has assembled a list of award-winning Aussie women’s titles to plunder, and the AWW site also has multi-genre suggestions, too.