by Tania Hershman
O'Reilly has a wicked sense of humour. Who else would start a short
story collection with the words:
all fantasy writers are geeks, I tell my friends.
she talking about herself? wonders the reader for whom this is their
first taste of O'Reilly's writing. And do I want to read a story where
the writer is writing about being a writer? 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. As with many
of O'Reilly's stories, which have won an impressive sheaf of awards,
the tale does not go in the direction you might imagine, and,
thankfully, there are no neat endings.
you were to break this collection up into its constituent parts, I am
not sure you would immediately say that these stories had all been
written by the same hand. There is a refreshingly wide range here, of
subjects, locations, characters, voices, tones. A few of the stories
3.30 already and Jake and Melissa will be waiting at the school gate,
ready to jump in and whine about how everyone else's mum always gets
there before I do. Maybe I'll drop them off at the orphanage,"
narrator of Save
yearns for her white knight on a shiny maroon Harley. However, this is
not a comic story and it deals, as most of O'Reilly's writing does,
with the pain - emotional and physical - that we inflict on each
other. In the astonishing Future
Girl, I ached for the freakishly oversized heroine, who
has a trademark instead of a real name, and is paraded around the world.
At night my joints ached and I felt the
motel beds, pushed together to
fit my length and weight, creak under me as I turned over to ease the
seems at first as if her manager, Ray, is the bad guy in this
scenario, but, as I said, O'Reilly's stories rarely go where expected.
People are often in places where, for various reasons, they do not fit,
either culturally (My
Mother-in-Law in the Family Tree, The Rules of Fishing), or
Come From, The Last Visit). These stories take place
mainly in Australia,
country, and Japan,
where she lived for
several years and worked as a translator. It is perhaps this
work that has made her
so attuned to nuance and rhythm in her mother tongue, and the power of
clear, precise and unadorned language, which is felt
throughout her book.
can lead to chaos, Mr Kato said to me
once. We were sitting and rocking together, two men in a small boat off
the coast of the island of Honshu. (The
Rules of Fishing)
Objects, whether real or imagined, are frequently called upon to
symbolise themes in O'Reilly's work, from the poisonous nut which is
delicious of properly prepared in My
Mother-in-Law in the Family Tree to the glass heart in the
story of the same name, the photographs the father took to prove
insurance fraud in Snapshots
of Strangers, and the Armadillo in Armadillo.
As in any collection, there are stories that stand out and stories that
recede. The Litter didn't
work for me because I felt it was too obvious in its parallels between
the cruelty shown by the grandmother towards the kittens the
grandchildren wanted to keep and the family situation.
O' Reilly is also not afraid to experiment with form as well as content
and the final story in the collection, Distance Runner, is
in fact a set of short pieces, where the footnotes are an integral part
of the story. In the hands of a less skillful writer, this
might distract, but here it serves to add layers to the main body of
the story to deepen and expand. This is a deeply satisfying collection,
beautiful writing, original and often painful stories that don't shy
away from violence or tragedy, and characters that linger long after
the book has been put down.
Intrigued? Read one of the
stories from this collection on The Age.com.
Hershman is a
short story writer and the editor of The Short Review. Her own short
story collection, The White Road and Other Stories, will be published
by Salt in Sept 2008.
Publisher: University of Queensland Press
O'Reilly is a writer from Victoria, Australia. Her
work has been published and broadcast widely both in Australia and
internationally. The stories in The
End of the World have won a number of national and
international story awards including The Age,
the Glen Eira My Brother Jack and Zoetrope All-Story'
Paddy's debut novel, The Factory, was also in the best books of the
year lists in Australian Book Review and the Sydney Morning Herald. She
has also written screenplays, been Asialink
writer-in-residence in Japan, a fellow at Varuna: the Writers' House,
writer-in-residence at Kelly Steps Cottage, Tasmania, and a full fellow
at the Vermont Studio Center, USA.
Paddy spent several years living in Japan, working as a
copywriter and translator.
with Paddy O'Reilly
Buy this book (used or
Publisher's Website: UQP
forget your local booksellers and independent book shops! Visit IndieBound.org to find an independent bookstore near
you in the US
you liked this book you might also like....
Aimee Bender "Wilful Creatures"
Roy Kesey "All Over"
A L Kennedy "Indelible Acts"
Ali Smith "Other Stories and Other Stories"
other reviewers thought:
New Haven Review
The Courier Mail