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February 16, 2013

Review – Cracklescape by Margo Lanagan

As with everything else, I’m already behind on the 2013 Australian Women Writers Challenge. Stupid self-imposed deadlines, why must you constantly mock me? Anyway, I’ve managed to do a bit of reading lately, so let’s get straight into it. This is the second book I’ve read for the AWWC13 and is my second review.

Cracklescape is award-winning fantasist Margo Lanagan‘s contribution to the Twelve Planets series from Twelfth Planet Press. It’s a collection of four short stories. The stories are unconnected, though the introduction rightly points out that they are all essentially ghost stories, albeit unusual and diverse examples of them.

‘The Duchess Dresser’ is a strange tale that seems to be more of a reflection on lifestyle and relationships in inner city apartment dwelling than it is about a piece of haunted antique furniture. The supernatural presence is a puzzle more than a threat, and most of the characters treat it as a mild curiosity when they think of it at all. I found the situation in the story a perfect expression of the routine accommodations that have to be made in living in close proximity with others that – when viewed from the outside – looks inconvenient at best and crazy at worst.

‘The Isles of the Sun’ is wonderful, a dreamy exaltation of  the power of children’s imagination on the one hand and a chilling plumb of the depths of parental fear on the other. Alternating perspectives between Elric, a young boy, and then his mother Jenny, Isles has a sense of dreadful inevitability that never quite lets the reader go, even after the point where it seems like it should.

‘Bajazzle’ is probably my least favourite of the four stories in Cracklescape (‘Isles’ is my favourite, or maybe ‘Significant Dust’). It’s a solidly told tale, but there’s something lurking behind the narrative that I don’t quite grasp. In the first half, a boorish middle-aged train commuter’s encounter with a group of young women staging an odd protest prompts him to reflect – not to his credit – on his marriage and unsatisfying sex life. In the second half he is served a supernatural comeuppance of a sort. It’s an engaging story, but I didn’t grok how the two halves fitted together or why the ending happens. The unpleasant sexist pig of a narrator probably didn’t help.

Finally, ‘Significant Dust’ rounds out the collection with, if not a bang, then a remarkably accomplished piece. It’s the story of a young woman who has fled her terrible reputation in her home town. She finds anonymous refuge among the human flotsam who have accumulated at a highway truck stop. There are ghosts and UFOs in the story – well, there might be – but the centrepiece is the slow, merciless revelation of what Vanessa did, its consequences and what she and others sacrificed in order for her to leave. There’s a cold horror to the way that the story refuses to end with the tragedy but carries the reader through the aftermath as well. ‘Significant Dust’ is powerful and accomplished.

I had been getting used to the Twelve Planets series having a strong sense of interconnectedness between the stories, but Cracklescape‘s stories (like the Kaaron Warren collection) are linked by themes rather than plots. Cracklescape continues the series’ impressive run of showcasing the talents of remarkable writers at the height of their powers. I didn’t care for a couple of the stories, but there was never a moment reading them that I was not certain that Lanagan knew exactly what she was doing and what she wanted to accomplished. Cracklescape is confident storytelling.

 

5 Comments »

  1. […] Lanagan’s collection Cracklescape out from Twelfth Planet Press, was reviewed by Dave Versace and Mel @ Adventures of a Subversive Reader. Her novel Sea Hearts, recently announced to be on the […]

    Pingback by Jan-Feb Speculative Fiction Round-up | Australian Women Writers Challenge — February 25, 2013 @ 8:01 am

  2. […] Cracklescape by Margo Lanagan, edited by Alisa Krasnostein (Twelfth Planet Press) — reviews from Mel @ Adventures of a Subversive Reader and Dave Versace […]

    Pingback by Ditmar Awards Ballot Announced | Australian Women Writers Challenge — March 28, 2013 @ 10:01 am

  3. […] Either ‘Isles of the Sun’ or ‘Significant Dust’ by Margo Lanagan, which I talked about in my review of her Cracklescape collection […]

    Pingback by TMoRP Day 7 – Magic for Beginners by Kelly Link (February) « Lexifabricographer — October 23, 2013 @ 4:36 pm

  4. […] her wrap-up of speculative fiction, Margo Lanagan’s collections Cracklescape (reviewed by Mel and Dave) and Yellow Cake (reviewed by Heidi, in her admirably titled Salute Your Shorts feature) were […]

    Pingback by 2013 AWW Challenge: Poetry and Short Stories | Australian Women Writers Challenge — February 1, 2014 @ 7:16 pm

  5. […] Lanagan’s collection Cracklescape out from Twelfth Planet Press, was reviewed by Dave Versace and Mel @ Adventures of a Subversive Reader. Her novel Sea Hearts, recently announced to be on the […]

    Pingback by Jan-Feb Speculative Fiction Round-up | New Australian Women Writers Challenge Blog — June 11, 2015 @ 8:42 am

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