The Review Of Australian Fiction is an electronic serial that, every two weeks, publishes a story from an established Australian writer, along with another by a writer who is less well known. It’s an excellent and thoroughly exciting idea. As the editor explains in the introduction of the first omnibus edition, it is hoped that readers who are drawn in by one author will also read the other, and go away with a desire to discover more of both.
The omnibus contains the first six issues, comprising twelve stories in all. The list of authors from the “established” side of things is impressive, with contributions from Christos Tsiolkas (author of The Slap), Georgia Blain (who wrote Too Close To Home) and David Foster (author of more than a dozen successful novels). The accomplishments of the authors who fall on the “emerging” side of the divide are no less impressive; most have published at least one book, and all have a track record of some kind.
The stories themselves are, without exception, strong and polished. There was, in fact, little noticeable difference between those by established and those by emerging authors… except perhaps that those from the established crowd were a little less risky. Tsiolkas’s contribution, for example, was very well-written, but also straightforward and didactic. The plot could be summarised with the words: “two grown-ups have a discussion”. His emerging counterpart Georgia Blain, on the other hand, turns in something much more jagged and mysterious: a story of sudden death and young love and tender, broken sexual relationships. It remains generally true throughout the collection that the emerging authors come up with fresher, more dangerous work.
Because of how exceptionally strong the stories on offer are, the two weakest stand out by a mile. Established author David Foster provides an excerpt from a forthcoming novel rather than a short story, and picks his own daughter as the emerging writer with whom he is to be paired. She in turn provides an extract from her forthcoming novel. Neither piece works well in its own right, although Hannah Foster’s piece is interesting in an anthropological kind of way. It’s hard to shake the feeling that they’ve missed the point of the project, and view short fiction more as a way to plug their “real” work than a form in its own right.
On the other side of the coin, the two longest pieces in the collection are perhaps two of the strongest. Weighing in at 12000 and 10000 words respectively “Wild Dreams Of Blood” by Kim Wilkins and “Provocation” by Meg Vann are both excellent, compelling, complex stories. They are all the more interesting for the fact that they expand the range of the Review with speculative and fantastic elements. A widening of genres is refreshing after so many literary stories, and it’s pleasing to see that the editors of this serial do not discriminate.
The stories aside, the Review Of Australian Fiction is a fascinating project. I had almost as much fun reading the detailed introduction provided by the editor as I did some of the stories. Seeing what was behind a particular choice, or who had picked whom for inclusion (and why) can be fascinating. The Review is published on new platform booki.sh, and you might consider picking up the omnibus edition, or simply having a look at a previous issue. It should be well worth your time.
Christopher Frost is a writer from the North of England.