A presence haunts an old dresser in an inner-city share house. Shining sun-people lure children from their carefree beachside lives. Sheela-na-gigs colonise a middle-aged man’s outer and inner worlds. And a girl with a heavy conscience seeks relief in exile on the Treeless Plain.
These stories from four-time World Fantasy Award winner Margo Lanagan are all set in Australia, a myth-soaked landscape both stubbornly inscrutable and crisscrossed by interlopers’ dreamings. Explore four littoral and liminal worlds, a-crackle with fears and possibilities.
Published by Twelfth Planet Press.
This review is presented as part of my commitment to the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2016 and to my commitment to A Journey Through the Twelve Planets.
I purchased this book.
Cracklescape by Margo Lanagan is the seventh book in the Twelve Planets series of collections published by Twelfth Planet Press.
Knowing that a Margo Lanagan collection was going to be part of the Twelve Planets was, I have to admit, one of the reasons I was initially interested in the series. Lanagan is one of Australia’s best writers of short fiction (as her stack of very well-deserved awards testifies), and I knew that she and Twelfth Planet Press were going to create a collection that was something amazing (and I hasten to add that all of the authors involved in the Twelve Planets have also done the same).
For me, Lanagan’s short fiction frequently reads something like a fever dream. The conventions of what is “supposed” to make a short story work aren’t always there – there aren’t always explanations for the strange things happening, and sometimes there are no real conclusions, but Lanagan is so skilled with language and imagery that none of this matters in the least. The stories in Cracklescape fit very much in the fever dream model (albeit fever dreams which may continue to haunt your waking hours).
The collection opens with The Duchess Dresser, in which a a man picks up the titular dresser from the side of the road and brings it into his room in the flat he shares. The dresser has a mysterious stuck drawer – a drawer which begins to rattle as odd things begin to happen, all centred around the dresser. There is something both unsettling and poignant about this story. It will make the reader think about the impressions we leave on the world, and what may be seen beneath the surface of things, should you only know how to look.
Isles of the Sun is an extraordinary story (which I wonder-and I’m not sure if I’ve seen Lanagan talk in an interview about this or not-was inspired by the clip for Sigur Rós’s Glósóli) which walks the border between this world and another, dreamlike place. Part of Lanagan’s skill with writing speculative fiction is the grounding of the fantastic in the real, and this story is an excellent example of this.
Bajazzle is one of my favourites from this collection, giving the reader a glimpse into a strange group of women (they may be a cult of some kind, but it their presence is shown with essentially no explanation), the Sheelas, inspired by the the sheela-na-gig, a carved female figure seen in churches in Britain and Ireland. The use of the viewpoint character Don, a misogynist who has little respect for his wife, in a story about women reclaiming their feminine power in such a startling fashion, is a brilliant stroke.
The last story in the collection is Significant Dust, which is the most emotionally wrenching of the stories. On the surface, its the story of Vanessa, a girl who’s run away from a tragedy, but her story is interwoven with a real supposed UFO encounter. All of the stories in the collection are good, but Significant Dust is extraordinary, and amongst Lanagan’s best.
Cracklescape is a brilliant collection by Margo Lanagan, and continues the extremely high quality of the Twelve Planets collections. If you’ve never read any Margo Lanagan, this is a fine place to start – just be warned that you’ll need tissues when reading a good portion of her work, and you’ll likely find yourself wanting to devour everything she’s written.