In this extraordinary short story collection, human frailty is put to the test by the relentless forces of dark and light, man and beast. Each tale offers glimpses into familiar, shadowy worlds that push the boundaries of the spirit and leave the mind haunted with the knowledge that black juice runs through us all.
I included this collection of short stories in my magic realism challenge because it appeared in a "best of magic realism" list. While the majority of the stories are not magic realism, two might be considered magic realism. The other stories are better described as fantasy/sci-fi/dystopia.
Margo Lanagan was unknown to me. After reading this book I will be looking out more books by this highly talented Australian author. The stories reminded me of the works of Alan Garner and Russell Hoban's Riddley Walker, with their modern or post-apocalypse settings which at the same time feel medieval. This blurring of history with the present is something I am fascinated by. It creates a sense of the familiar mixed with the strange. I suppose it is why I felt so at ease with these stories. As a magic realist fan I was also at ease with the lack of explanation of the context for the stories, in fact it contributed to my enjoyment.
The central characters of the stories are teenagers or young adults and most of the stories were written in the first person. The themes explored are not surprisingly therefore family relationships, coming of age and alienation. The stories are dark but not horrific. The book often is categorized as young adult fiction, but to my mind that does the book a disservice in that it appealed to this adult and I am sure would appeal to others.
Lanagan's use of language and imagery is remarkable:
Those angels started me thinking; their smell was like crushed mint to my brain, breathing open new spaces there that I’d not the faintest notion how to fill.
This wind doesn't shriek or moan - nothing so personal. When the river took Jenny Lempwick last spring and half-killed her while we watched, it was doing what the wind's doing now, racing so strongly that a little thing like a person was never going to matter.
As in Russell Hoban's Riddley Walker Lanagan sometimes develops language, introducing new words or resurrecting old ones to imply the post-apocalyptic world in which the stories are set.
I really enjoyed this book, so much so I recommended it to other members of my family, but it only magic realism in parts.