You know when you open the pages of a new Griffith Review that the writing within will be thought-provoking, opening your mind to new authors and voices you have not heard before, and cementing the talent of established authors that you already know and love. Each edition is usually a mixture of academic writing, fiction, memoir, essay and poetry. Griffith Review 66 The Light Ascending (Text 2019) is special: one of the novella editions, focusing on fiction, poetry and memoir. The Novella Project VII is a treasure trove of literary language, considered memoir, transportive poetry and fictional stories that clutch at your heart.
I found it very difficult to choose a favourite from this edition. The standard is so very high; the writing so varied and engaging. Let’s start with the poets: Shastra Deo, Sarah Holland-Batt, Stuart Barnes, Ella Jeffrey and many more all give us poetry that sharpens our senses, focuses our minds and expands our thinking. If you are not normally a poetry reader, this edition of GR is a great way to sample some of our most progressive poets.
I was lucky enough to read an early sample of the one memoir piece in this edition, Alexsandrinke: A Mapping of Women by Krissy Kneen, an extract of her forthcoming memoir The Three Burials of Lotty Kneen, to be published next year. In this warming mixture of personal reflection (as she uncovers her grandmother’s secret history along with the other women who have come before her) and fantastical mythology and fable, Kneen blends together the past and the present and builds a world of curiosity and community.
The opening story by Julienne van Loon is a mind-bending journey of existentialism as the narrator’s life flashes before her eyes after a steep descent on a bicycle. Again, this story is a mixture of fable and history, of the now and the what-if, everything going back and forth from desire to decision to consequences.
In Annah the Javanese, Mirandi Riwoe returns to the success of her novella The Fish Girl with a reimagining of the life of a woman previously relegated to the fringes of a famous man’s story. This time it is a young Malay girl, Annah, model and muse to the painter Paul Gauguin. Riwoe subverts the traditional story to give us Annah’s perspective: a 15-year-old child handed between ‘owners’ and expected to live, dress and perform as requested. Riwoe’s rewriting of classic narratives makes us question the accepted version of history and of fame, and shines a spotlight on those ‘minor’ players who otherwise are relegated to a forgotten place.
Holly Ringland’s story about an ethereal market seller who creates sweets that cast some sort of magic spell is utterly absorbing. Told from multiple perspectives, this feels like a fairytale with a secret message at its heart.
Cleave, by Keren Heenan, is an emotional and moving story about three outcasts and misfits who find themselves – at last – together in a proper Home, only to realise that their dreams might not match their reality. The characters of Stick Man, Paisley and Parker will stay with me: their yearning for normality; their search for belonging; their struggles against difference and discrimination; their innocent vulnerability; the chance for them to be hurt or disappointed.
The casual violence and racial prejudice of the family in Allanah Hunt’s Spectrums, based on her own experience of loss and the absence of justice, offer a window into circumstances happening in our own backyard; scenarios that might seem like merely a newspaper article are brought to vivid life through the eyes of the characters immediately affected. This is a story of empathy and compassion, and one that interrogates the truth behind the headlines.
And of course, the novella collection is opened by editor Ashley Hay, this time with a beautiful meditation on light, dawn, sunrise, birds, beginnings, discoveries, endings and sunsets. An exhortation to follow the rising sun, and to remind us of our small place in the vastness of the universe.
If you love Australian writing, this GR edition will delight you. If you want to know more about Australian writers, but don’t know where to begin, Griffith Review is a very good place to start. I highly recommend The Light Ascending.