Deborah Biancotti

Twelfth Planet Press (2009)

ISBN: 978 0 9804841 5 1

Reviewed by Tansy Rayner Roberts, May 2010

I promised myself I would get to this one eventually. I had read most of the individual stories before the release of this, Deborah Biancotti’s first short story collection, and I read all of the new stories last year, as I read most original short stories, in electronic form and in a rush, in order to sift out the best ones for Last Short Story blogging.

But that’s the whole point of a short story collection. It doesn’t matter if you’ve read the stories before. They are being presented anew, forming part of something else, and you haven’t actually read it as a collection unless you have sat down and read it, in order, turning all the pages.

I promised myself that one day I would lounge on a couch, with a box of chocolates or a tall jug of iced tea, and spend a whole afternoon taking in this particular book properly, instead of just waving my hands and telling other people to read it. Of course, my life doesn’t work that way. I consumed it in three parts – one part lying on the bed in my library, glaring at the various members of my family attempting to visit me in there and loudly announcing THIS IS MUMMY’S QUIET TIME, one part perched on my couch while the baby ran ever so slightly amok at my feet, and one part in an armchair today, while eyeing the workmen busily digging holes and swapping power poles outside my window.

Each time, despite my surroundings, I dipped into a source of calm while reading these stories. It’s hard to explain, if you haven’t read Biancotti’s work. She does creepy and weird and murderous and horrific (and someone *really* has to do a study one day on how many excellent Australian writers also do creepy, weird, murderous tales so very well, a Biancotti-Warren-Lanagan triptych anyone?) and very few of her stories make a complete amount of sense if you stare at them too hard (sometimes it’s better to sneak up on them from the side) but the language is so fluid and lovely, the characters regularly grab you by the throat and make you feel their pain/angst/confusion, and the overall reading experience is simply… well. Calming.

There isn’t a genre label you can hang on Deborah Biancotti. Not quite horror, not quite speculative fiction even, she hovers between the borders of genre. I suppose something like ‘urban weird’ would sum her up, with a heavy emphasis on ‘dark Australiana’. Her stories are grungy and powerful and often meander in directions other than those you might have expected. There’s a modernity to her work which makes her stand out as noticeably different to, for instance, Margo Lanagan, whose stories have more of a rural and fantastic tinge. Even when Biancotti writes fantasy, hers is unlike any other, and her stories seem more at home among broken suburban landscapes. While the speculative fiction community claims her with good reason as one of their own, there is a very mainstream literary sensibility about these stories, and it would be an excellent gateway drug to lure ‘mundane’ readers into the world of spec fic.

The book is simply beautiful. Not just the cover by Nick Stathopolis which looks fantastic – I can see it over on my maroon couch right now and it catches my eye every time – but the overall production values. I think it’s the prettiest of the Twelfth Planet productions. But mostly when I say the book is beautiful, it’s because of the way it has been put together. The stories – and Biancotti herself acknowledges in her afterword that people find her endings problematic and inconclusive at times – merge into each other in a remarkably smooth way. I found myself going from one to the other without wanting to stop, which is so rare in a collection of short work.

I enjoyed the way that the A Book of Endings is divided into three sections, emphasising thematic links, and as I said above, I read it in three parts, which worked out very well for me despite the lack of mint tea and a soothing jazz quartet in the corner.

It was fascinating, actually, to see how well the new stories blended with the old, and while I was aware of particular stories that I had read many years ago, particularly those which have been recognised by awards committes and the like, there was no obvious jarring between the older and more recent work. That’s pretty damn impressive for a collection which spans at least 9 years. Revisiting so many old – well, I’m not going to say friends, more like creepy strangers you don’t want in your house – was a really inspiring reading experience.

If you have even the slightest interest in short fiction, and you haven’t read Deborah Biancotti, then you should. If you like Biancotti’s work and haven’t yet picked up this book, what are you waiting for? You might think you’re well versed with her fiction, but believe me, if you haven’t read A Book of Endings properly, you have no idea what she is capable of.

Disclaimer: I am friends with both the author and the publisher of this book, and Twelfth Planet Press have also published a great deal of my work. You may wish to take this into account when considering my opinion. But please be assured that if I was less than enamoured with a book written by a friend I would be changing the subject and humming innocently to myself, not blogging a review of it.

Double disclaimer: if you are an author I am friends with, and I have not reviewed your work, please do not assume that this is because I am less than enamoured with it. My silence is far more likely to be embarrassment at not having read it yet.