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The End of the World

Paddy O'Reilly

On the kitchen table, the creature's limbs shivered, and its skin, the colour of raw chicken, puckered in the chilly morning air. With my hands encased in rubber gloves, I carried it from location to location in the house. No matter where I put the creature down, it squirmed, so I would lift it, hurriedly, worred I was causing it distress. Finally, when I lowered it into my underwear drawer, it nestled into the silk fabric of an old petticoat like a puppy snuggling into a dog's belly"

Reviewed by Tania Hershman

Paddy O'Reilly has a wicked sense of humour. Who else would start a short story collection with the words:

Not all fantasy writers are geeks, I tell my friends.

Is 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.

If 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 employ humour:

It's 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,"
says the narrator of Save our School,  who 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 pain.
It 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 familially (Inheritance, Where We Come From, The Last Visit). These stories take place mainly in
Australia,  O'Reilly's home 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.
Obsession 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.

Tania 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. 

Tania's other Short Reviews: Etgar Keret & Samir el-Youssef "Gaza Blues"

Melvin J. Bukiet "A Faker's Dozen"

Rusty Barnes "Breaking it Down"

Roy Kesey "All  Over"

John Klima (ed) "Logorrhea: Good Words Make Good Stories"

Kelley Eskridge "Dangerous Space"

18 Lies and 3 Truths: StoryQuarterly 2007 Annual

Aimee Bender "Wilful Creatures"

PublisherUniversity of Queensland Press

Publication Date: April 2007

Paperback/Hardback? Paperback

First collection?Yes

Author bio: Paddy 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' (USA).  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.

Read an interview with Paddy O'Reilly

Buy this book (used or new) from:

The Publisher's Website: UQP




And...don't forget your local booksellers and independent book shops! Visit  IndieBound.org to find an independent bookstore near you in the US

If 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"

What other reviewers thought:

New Haven Review

Literary Minded


The Australian

The Courier Mail