Singing My Sister Down And Other Stories by Margo Lanagan

singing my sister downTitle: Singing My Sister Down and Other Short Stories

Author: Margo Lanagan

Genre: Fiction, Short Stories

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 26th January. 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 208

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: An outstanding collection of thirteen short stories from the internationally acclaimed, multi-award winning author of Sea Hearts and Tender Morsels.

‘We all went down to the tar-pit, with mats to spread our weight.’ So begins ‘Singing My Sister Down’, Margo Lanagan’s internationally acclaimed, award-winning short story.

Singing My Sister Down and Other Stories brings together ten celebrated short stories, along with three new ones, from the extraordinarily talented author of Tender Morsels and Sea Hearts.

A bride accepts her devastating punishment. A piece of the moon is buried. A ferryman falls into the Styx. Wee Willie Winkie brings a waking nightmare. A new father dresses a fallen warrior princess. A sniper picks off clowns one by one. Margo Lanagan’s stories will stay with you, haunting you with their quiet beauty and fine balance.

~*~

aww2017-badgeSinging My Sister Down And Other Stories by Margo Lanagan brings together a collection of surreal, fantastical and timeless short stories. They are not interconnected, but each reflect on the human condition, and aspects of the fantastical. In the title story, Singing My Sister Down, a bride is forced to accept a devastating punishment while her family watches and assists – it is heartbreaking and yet, has a feeling of fairy tale or the distant past, where punishments were harsh. One story, Ferryman, draws on Greek Mythology and the underworld, with the ferryman of the River Styx falling into the river he crosses every day, ferrying the recently departed to the Underworld to live with Hades and Persephone. Not All Ogre is an unusual retelling of Sleeping Beauty, with a not so happy ending for the sleeping princess. These are just three of the thirteen stories that are included in this anthology, and that evoke a sense of timelessness mixed with a fairy tale or mythical feel. Another story shows a more sinister side to the Wee Willie Winkie nursery rhyme.

Each story is written in first person, and set in undetermined times and places, and at times, drawing on myth and fairy tale to create the story. This gives each story an eerie feel, but at the same time, it works really well, allowing the reader to immerse themselves in the stories that Lanagan has written. In some tales, the sinister side of tradition and fairy tales or nursery rhymes emerge –Wee Willie Winkie is shown as a living nightmare, a world where the worst dreams come true and haunt people for a long time. Yet others are more surreal, where I was unsure about the setting and plot and characters – yet at the same time, show a world that is not quite perfect at times, but idealised through the eyes of some of the narrators. The characters are all flawed, but driven by their own natures and desires towards the final outcomes of each story.

Within each story, Margo Lanagan has created a world we can recognise – the world of human nature and human flaws, not a physical world. It is lyrical and full of rich language and imagery that makes each read compelling, something that I didn’t want to set aside. It is another book that can be devoured or savoured, and I tried to do both, wanting to know how each story ended, yet not wanting to finish it too quickly.

In most anthologies, the stories can be linked by a theme, or even a series of characters or other plot devices. Yet in Singing My Sister Down, each story is its own entity, and yet, this works. I liked the different stories and characters within each tale, alternating between timeless worlds or worlds of magic and wonder, or unknown worlds hinting at a non-human existence. She does all of this in a wonderful way that captures the imagination and brings together ideas of what makes us human – and how an individual might deal with certain circumstances. If I had to pick a favourite, or at least one that sticks with me, it is probably Not All Ogre – I recognised the fairy tale motifs and this was exquisitely done, even though the conclusion and events that led to the conclusion were unexpected. I think this worked well for this tale in particular, leading the reader to believe one thing and then allowing another to happen – this made it intriguing and memorable.

A good read for young adult and adult readers. It can be read in a few days, and I hope to revisit it.

Booktopia

Advertisements

The Odditorium by David Bramwell and Jo Keeling

isbn9781473640313.jpg

Title: The Odditorium

Author: David Bramwell and Jo Keeling

Genre: Non-fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 11th October, 2016

Format: Hardcover

Pages: 224

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: THE ODDITORIUM is a playful re-telling of history, told not through the lens of its victors, but through the fascinating stories of a wealth of individuals who, while lesser-known, are no less remarkable.

Throughout its pages you’ll learn about the antics and adventures of tricksters, eccentrics, deviants and inventors. While their stories range from heroic failures to great hoaxes, one thing unites them – they all carved their own path through life. Each protagonist exemplifies the human spirit through their dogged determination, willingness to take risks, their unflinching obsession and, often, a good dollop of eccentricity.

Learn about Reginald Bray (1879-1939), a Victorian accountant who sent over 30,000 singular objects through the mail, including himself; Cyril Hoskin (1910-1981), a Cornish plumber who reinvented himself as a Tibetan lama and went on to sell over a million books; and Elaine Morgan (1920-2013), a journalist who battled a tirade of prejudice to pursue an aquatic-based theory of human evolution, which is today being championed by David Attenborough.

Elsewhere, we uncover the lesser-known obsessions of such historical giants as Sir Isaac Newton (1642-1726), whose beloved alchemy led to a lifetime’s search for the philosopher’s stone and elixir of life; and philosopher Ren Descartes (1596-1650), whose obsession with cross-eyed ladies led him to seek a ‘cure’ through the first recorded case of CBT.

While many of us are content to lead a conventional life, with all of its comfort and security, THE ODDITORIUM reminds us of the characters who felt compelled to carve their own path, despite risking ostracism, failure, ridicule and madness. While history wouldn’t be the same without the likes of Shakespeare, Caesar and Einstein, it is when curiosity and compulsion meet that conventions are challenged, culture is re-invigorated and we find new ways to understand ourselves and the world around us.

~*~

The Odditorium is the sort of book that can spark the imagination and provoke thought through the names and their achievements within the pages. Filled with unknown names in the world of invention, of discovery, of the mind and other areas, this book brings to life some of the strangest people and what they did, but also, positions them within their historical context and in some cases, such as the entry on Joseph Campbell, creator of The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949), and the archetype of the hero’s journey that has been played out in movies and literature forever, or the extremely odd, such as Reginald Bray, who sent a multitude of objects through the mail, including himself. Some of these entries are amusing, and leave the reader wondering what possessed the person to do what they did, to the little known names such as Elaine Morgan, who battled prejudice to pursue her theory of aquatic based human evolution – something best known today through Sir David Attenborough.

 

The characters within these pages – the odd, the outsiders, the ones who just wanted to make a mark on the world, bring a part of history to life that may not always be found in history books. Whether ignored because of prejudice or merely seen as too strange for “the norm”, these characters, these people, have still contributed to the world as we know it, and their stories are well worth knowing.

 

An intriguing read that can spark the imagination, and leave the reader wanting to know more about these strange yet fascinating people.