Black Juice by

ISBN: 0575077816 A Once Upon A Time reading challenge read.
See also: Margo Lanagan’s blog ; LibraryThing ; Scooter Chronicles ; The Merchant Princes ; The Genre Files ; Emerald City ; Infinity Plus ;

We all went down to the tar-pit, with mats to spread our weight.

This was an impulse purchase; my reason being the cover. It grabbed my eye and passed my usual “read a random sentence or two” test. So I bought it. And I am glad to say that I loved it. It is a collection of short stories, many told in the first person, and as usual with short stories there are some I loved and some I thought were merely okay. None were bad though.

The first one, singing my sister down[1] is the story of a young boy and his family keeping his sister company as she slowly sinks into the tar, punishment for the murder of her husband. It sounds a little dark, and it is, but is written in such a wonderful way that you’ll enjoy the short story. My personal favourite though is Sweet Pippit which tells the story of a herd of elephants, from the point of view of one member, as they set out to rescue their mahout. I loved the elephant names, in a way they reminded me of Tolkien’s ents, being Large and taking longer to speak, they have longer, more fitting names, such as Hloorobnool or Booroondoonhooroboom. Names that contrast with the shorter names of humans, like Pippit:

His name was something like Pippit. It was too short for our ears to catch, as all people’s names are; twig-snaps and bird-cheeps, they finish before they properly start. But his smell was a lasting thing, and his hand.

and, in this story especially I loved the way the physical was made abstract, and vice vearsa.

‘How our minds have become circle-shaped, from all our circling, squard from pacing that square! …’
I was more wakeful; with every step I took that was not circle-path, or earth we had trodden as many times as there are stars, something else broke open in me. My mind seemed a great wonderland, largely unexplored, my body a vast possibility of movements, in any direction, all new.

Other stories, such as red nose day which seemed to be about two hitmen taking out clowns, were more than interesting and wonderfully odd. The combination of Lanagan’s surreal plots and her writing creates short stories full of atmosphere, she writes with a compelling style that you just can’t help but read. As these were all short stories there was never really a chance for much character development, but I still felt that she had well drawn characters that I would have enjoyed reading more about.

I doubt that everyone will like these stories, too odd some, and Lanagan has a style of writing that means a reader must concentrate and figure out what she means, there is little explanation for what is going on. It simply happens. I like it.

The short stories:
singing my sister down
my lord’s man – a version of the song, The Raggle Taggle Gypsy
red nose day
sweet pippit
house of many – this I’m less sure of. I liked it while reading, but to be honest I’m not certain i know what it was about.
wooden bride
earthly uses
perpetual light
yowlinin
rite of spring
the point of roses

Linknotes:

  1. read it here

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7 Responses

  1. Kelly says:

    I think I'll look for that book, Fency. I've been searching out good short story anthologies lately, because they're such quick reads – perfect when your life is temporarily on the busy side. I just went through a Stephen King phase, and that was fun.

    And I didn't have a chance to thank you for including me on your "blogs that make me think" list. Um, what does it make you think about? Are you possibly thinking, "WTF is SHE thinking??" Because I wonder that about myself all the time.

  2. Sir Jorge says:

    I buy so many books because of covers, it's ridiculous.

  3. Fence says:

    Kelly I wonder that about myself too. I think that Lanagan has another two collections out as well, so even if you don't find this one you may find another.

    Sir Jorge, I guess it just shows that first impressions really do count :)

  4. Nymeth says:

    That cover would definitely have caught my eye at a bookstore as well. I'm glad to know the book lived up to the cover!

    I'm not familiar with the author, but it sounds like a good book. I like the passages you shared.

  5. Carl V. says:

    Love the cover, I can see why it attracted you in the first place. This sounds like an interesting book that I'll have to keep my eye out for.

  6. Kim says:

    That's a lovely cover, I would have picked it up too! The prose seems very lyrical. Thanks for introducing it :)

  7. Fence says:

    it is always nice when that happens Nymeth, isn't it?

    If you find it let me know what you think Carl.

    Hi Kim, the prose is lovely.