Lexifabricographer For when the right word just won’t do…

July 12, 2012

Review – Ishtar by Kaaron Warren, Deborah Biancotti and Cat Sparks

Filed under: books of 2012,books read,reviewage,women writers challenge 2012 — lexifab @ 11:37 am

It’s taken forever – which is to say, more than a week – for me to finish reading Ishtar, an anthology of novellas by three Australian writers about the Assyrian and/or Babylonian goddess of love and war. Not for want of trying though – all three stories are gorgeous pieces of work and I would love to have had the time to read each in a single setting. Alas, too busy even to read, much less write, so it’s taken longer than I supposed that it would to get to this review. As all three writers are Australian women, this will be another entry in my Australian Women Writers Challenge (which I think I must have just about completed by now; I must check and see how many reads-and-reviews I committed to, back in January)

Ishtar is an anthology of three linked novellas from Gilgamesh Press (edited by Amanda Pillar and KV Taylor) about the Babylonian goddess of love and war. The stories, each by a different Australian author, tells a tale of the goddess in a different time period – the ancient world, the modern day, the near future.

Kaaron Warren’s “The Five Loves of Ishtar” is a sumptuous recounting of Ishtar’s mythic origins in Mesopotamia, told through the eyes of generation after generation of the washerwomen who serve her. As the title implies, the story charts her great relationships with men, beginning with the demigod Tammuz and including great rulers like Gilgamesh and Sargon among others. Ishtar is beautiful, passionate and wise, but also murderous and fickle, delighting in war and given to tantrums and spontaneously cruelty; as centuries pass she becomes embittered with humanity and weakened by petty betrayals and boredom. Her slow decline is painted with a certain sad inevitability, though Ishtar herself is hardly a sympathetic character. As she goes, so goes the ancient world, passing through decadence into slumbering myth.

Deborah Biancotti’s “And the Dead shall Outnumber the Living” begins as a straight police procedural set in modern Sydney. Her no-nonsense, professional police detectives might have stepped straight off the set of every Aussie Cop TV Drama of the past 20 years, though their work for the (fictitious) Gender Crimes unit is an uncommon angle. Investigating a series of repulsive killings, they soon figure out that there is a supernatural angle to the murders. Once the real horror of “Dead” begins to become apparent, it builds grim energy towards a monstrous conclusion. Chilling and nasty and absolutely terrific fun.

Cat Sparks’ “The Sleeping and the Dead” is set several decades after an apocalypse that has left the world a MadMaxian wasteland. Into a fortified fertility clinic, Dr Anna endures rather than enjoys the company of a psychopathic cult of nuns as she vainly administers IVF treatments to crowds of despairing women. It’s a bleak, hopeless situation that only takes a turn for the worse when some men wander out of the desert with news that sets Anna on a quest into the figurative underworld. A metaphorical retelling of the Ishtar legend which becomes rather less metaphorical as it progressesm, “Sleeping” contains some graphic, striking imagery. No review would be complete without mention of the evocative description of the nuns as “Necromaidens. Fallout wraiths. Praising absent gods for their blisters as well as their dreams” It’s a grim, unsympathetic world where morality has worn almost to dust, with an ending that strikes just the right note of slim, ambiguous hope.

Ishtar showcases three writers with very different strengths working to similar ends. Warren applies an obvious love of research to evoke a rich sense of place and mood; Biancotti’s command of dialogue and pacing delivers the feel of the breathtaking acceleration and sudden loss of control of a high powered sports car; Sparks’ showers her story in riches of imagery, metaphor and tone to create as bleak a future as any I’ve seen. All three stand on their own. Together, Ishtar is an beautiful and rewarding collection.

1 Comment »

  1. […] by Kaaron Warren, Deborah Biancotti and Cat Sparks. Reviewed for the Australian Women Writers Challenge and […]

    Pingback by Books of 2012 – July « Lexifabricographer — August 7, 2012 @ 1:04 pm

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