The Best Australian Stories 2010, edited by Cate Kennedy
Publication Date: November 2010
One of the chief advantages of The Best Australian Stories 2010 is that it shows that Australian writing is as varied as Australia’s population, as changeable as its weather and landscape. This collection shows that Australian literature remains as enigmatic and indefinable as ever. Its content suggests that the cosmopolitanism that in the past has had amazing writers like Christina Stead shunned from the Australian fold, is now well and truly embraced along-side more colonial visions of cattle stations and bushfires, and that any effort to define “Australian writing” would necessarily involve all of these things.
The Best Australian Stories 2010 is comprised of twenty-nine short stories, both previously published and not before printed, from authors both well-established and emerging. Kennedy has struck an admirable balance between male and female authors without it feeling like a political exercise, and much thought has obviously gone into pacing the collection. While reading it’s hard not to say, “Just one more!” because of this attention to detail.
It’s also hard not to connect the stories to one another, as Kennedy’s ability to bring well-suited stories into a collection means that they gesture far beyond themselves into the other stories in the collection, but also into Australian writing as a whole.
While there are stories in here, such as Joanne Riccioni’s ‘Can’t Take the Country Out of the Boy’, and Fiona McFarlane’s ‘The Movie People’ that are concerned with more traditional Australian landscape and colonial values, other stories like Nam Le’s ‘The Yarra’ and Sherryl Clark’s ‘To The Other Side of the World’ speak to a very modern, very high-pressure metropolitan side of Australia. All the stories in this book carry notes of a haunting and tense Australia; its inhabitants torn between yearning to belong and to run. And while the stories in this collection can be broadly connected via themes, it is refreshing to see just how diverse the concerns of these stories are.
Chris Womersley’s ‘The Age of Terror’ actually made me yell. Nam Le’s ‘The Yarra’ made me yell and want to throw the book at something because it was so true, down to his depiction of a Melbourne which I could recognize down to the river bend. Ryan O’Neill’s ‘The Eunuch in the Harem’ is impressive and original and hilarious. Paddy O’Reilley’s story is one that stood out to me as hauntingly Australian. Marcus Clarke once typified Australian landscape as “weird melancholy” and many of the stories truly had that feel – Paddy O’Reilley brings it to suburbia.
By the end of The Best Australian Stories 2010, you feel like you know what Australian writing is about, and get an idea of some of what’s happening in our literary journals, but the collection is by no means tiresome – the diversity between these covers is more than admirable.
The Best Australian Stories 2010 is a collection that we can be proud of, and one whose attention to fine form and original ideas will leave you well and truly sated.
This review appeared in the first 2011 edition of RMIT’s magazine Catalyst.
23/02/2011 at 9:08 am
I like that you find the stories in the collection as diverse as the country from which they’re from – it’s a nice way to think about it.
This gives me the impression that the collection is “even” and without bias to one subject or style. But is the writing it features something to get excited about? I’d actually forgo evenness and cop some bias if the writing was going to move and challenge and inspire me (cliche I know, but we’re talking about the best here). I’m not necessarily after the experimental or the boundary-pushing, just something that impresses and gives me hope for Aus lit’s immediate future. Does the collection do this for you?
23/02/2011 at 10:11 am
Certainly nothing boundary-pushing in terms of form, but there’s certainly some outstanding grasp on language – Nam Le’s “The Yarra” for sure, captures a spot-on vision of Melbourne. Chris Womersley’s story surprised me in terms of plot and what is provoked inside me – a pretty rare gift from a story.
There were a few stories in there that I wondered about a little, not so much why they were in there (every story was very capably written) but I did wonder once or twice what the editor was feeling the strength of when the story was chosen.
Evenness is certainly the overarching feeling of this collection – but I have to say that it doesn’t feel so much like a political kind of “representing-everyone” but a skilled editor’s hand.
23/02/2011 at 5:28 pm
That’s fair enough. I suppose a collection of this kind has an obligation to present a cross section of high quality writing – it sounds like the editor got that pretty right.