Sam van Zweden



the best australian stories 2010

Review: Best Australian Stories 2010

The Best Australian Stories 2010, edited by Cate Kennedy
Black Inc
Publication Date: November 2010
ISBN: 9781863954952
RRP: $29.95

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.

Reviewing: The Problem of the Accidental Steal

I’ve recently finished reading “The Best Australian Stories 2010”. I’m reviewing it for publication, so I have pages and pages full of notes. I feel awkward scribbling in the margins of reviewing books, though it does sound like a more effective strategy. There’s something about defacing books I own that I just can’t come to terms with.

I plan on sitting down tomorrow, when everything’s had a few days to percolate, and making sense of those notes. In the mean time though, many other people who bought the book recently are finishing it too. I exchanged impressions with Alec Patric yesterday, which I found helpful in expressing some of my ideas about the stories. I talked to another friend last night about what I’d expected from certain authors in the collection and what I hope for them in future. Talking to people helps me get my ideas straight before I start writing.

However, I feel a little hesitant to read printed reviews. I have ideas about what I liked and didn’t, and suspicions as to why, but overall I’m still a baby reviewer and at times I feel like I don’t have the literary knowledge to say things with conviction in case someone tells me I’m wrong.

This morning in my Google Reader feed appeared Claire Zorn’s review of the collection on the Overland website.

The uncertainty of my own authority mentioned above means that I’m torn as to whether or not I should read this review. Overland – that’s got some heft. Good writing, authoritative voices, established opinions.

I have two options. I can ignore the review until I’ve written my own, insuring that my ideas are all mine. Or I can read the review and risk an “accidental steal”.

You know the ones. You’re reading a lot of Jane Austen, and somehow her language starts showing up in your own writing. You’re listening to a lot of hip-hop and you accidentally end a sentence with “yo”. It’s not done on purpose, but things influence you. The external worms its way in. Especially really good things – it’s natural.

I see connecting themes in the collection, and I think I’ve nutted out stylistic approaches, strengths of the stories. I have a half-baked review in my head. Claire’s review is sitting in my Google Reader feed, but I can’t decide whether I should read it yet or not, lest my review echoes hers too much.

I wonder if you’ll be able to tell from my own review whether I decided to read it or not?

Teaser Tuesday

Teaser Tuesday is hosted by MizB at Should Be Reading.

  • Grab your current read.
  • Let the book fall open to a random page.
  • Share with us two (2) “teaser” sentences from that page.
  • You also need to share the title of the book that you’re getting your “teaser” from … that way people can have some great book recommendations if they like the teaser you’ve given!

“I wonder what secrets she keeps buried beneath her blouse. I want to grab her and tell her about mine – the one lurking beneath my shirt – how I used to walk like an ape because of the rashes, an unfortunate consequence of the aluminium-rich roll-on the doctor prescribed for my hyperhidrosis.”
From David Kelly’s Armadillo in “The Best Australian Stories 2010”, ed. Cate Kennedy. p29.

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