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And do I want to read a story where the writer is writing about being a writer?

PROF Kevin Brophy - The University of Melbourne

Let me assure you, these questions will very rapidly fade from your mind as you continue reading the first story, Speak to Me , and are capitivated by the tale of the fantasy writer and the alien that lands in her backyard and who learns to speak English from romance novels. There are few other "fantastical" stories in this collection, which features what I take to be very "Australian" topics, such as droughts or floods, or both.

It's told in subtitled sections, which already sets it apart from most of the other stories, and is the story of a grandmother and young grandson as Hurricane Francesca strikes, and Turner Hospital's exceptional writing skills turn this into a quasi-spiritual experience: Face to face, the woman and the child float inside a bubble of light. Elbows on the warm oak table, chins in cupped hands, eyes gleaming, they have the air of conspirators very pleased with themselves.

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Shadowy gold from tthe candle moves like water on their skin. I greatly enjoyed Tom Cho's Today on Dr Phil , the shortest story in the book at three and a half pages, which has a very welcome dark humour. Dr Phil looks at her blankly and she explains that was was quoting from Medea , the classic play by Euripedes I can tell Dr Phil and the studio audience are struck by the fact that they are sharing the room with one of the finest scholars of ancient Greek drama that the world has seen.

I also greatly enjoyed a number of other stories including Cate Kennedy's Cold Snap , with its excellent child narrator's voice , Delia Falconer's The Intimacy of the Table , which appears to be treading the well-worn path of the meeting between a young man and the great poet he reveres but does so in a unique and fresh way, and Nam Le's Love and Honour and Pity and Pride and Compassion and Sacrifice , an autobiographical-seeming story of a young Vietnamese writer whose father comes to visit.

I experienced sheer joy at reading the work of a master, as well as a sense of utter disbelief at the skill with which he weaves this story, quietly, so quietly. Once again, the premise is unoriginal: a man is drawn back to his hometown when something dark from his childhood surfaces, in the swamp, but the prose is nothing less than luscious and the story is at once particular and universal, as the best short stories must be: My parents bought a kitchen clock which seemed to cheat with time.

A minute was longer some days than others. An hour beyond the fence travelled differently across our skin compared with an hour of television. I felt time turn off I surrendered to the swamp without warning.

Australian literature: Short stories

Every wrinkle, every hollow in the landscape led to the hissing maze down there. Winton leads you with the consummate skill of the author of 13 often award-wining books through the backstory and the present day, and the ending is pitch perfect. While I have to conclude that I don't agree with the choice to include most of the stories published in this Best of the Decade collection, I am very glad to have been exposed to all the stories above.

Our tastes are subjective, of course, and I have no doubt that other readers will enjoy a different range of stories. It is certainly a very interesting look at what is going on in the Australian literary scene, and does contain several stories that rank in my Best of list, if I am allowed my own "Best of Tania Hershman is editor of The Short Review. Tania is writer-in-residence in the Science Faculty at Bristol University. Introduce your children to the books you loved and recapture that feeling.

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The Best Australian Stories: A Ten-year Collection

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