North of Nowhere, South of Loss by Janette Turner Hospital

I’m afraid this will be going on my rapidly growing shelf ‘Books you won’t read before you die.’ But who am I to be giving lectures, I hadn’t heard of Hospital until I speculatively handed over $1 for this in an op shop.

And wow, what an investment that turned out to be. She’s gone straight to the top of my list of short story writers. She’s good at the lot. Describing trees – usually an eyes-glaze-over time for me, her voice is always true, vivid settings and tight stories. Well, maybe I shouldn’t have said that about her voice. Her Australian voices are absolutely dinkum. I’m not the one to make the judgement about the ones set in the US, but I have an expectation not to be disappointed there either.

Her writing is beautiful without that being a luxury, which is to say, the words are necessary, not an indulgence. The beauty is despite the anguish and angst. She herself would probably call it music rather than beauty. She wants the words to sing and they do. Scattered through are several stories about the same characters, it reminded me of John Clanchy, but they are very different in their writing. Notably there is no humour in Hospital’s work, at least not in this book.

Half way through reading this I went down to East Ave Books to see if they had others by her and came back with three. It will be interesting to see how she fares with the novel. I will report.

For those who know the stories, but not the backstory of Philippa and Brian, Brian is the Peter to whom the book is dedicated. She makes you feel that you, too, have lost him, a matter of considerable regret.

Oh, if only people understood what a perfect form the short story is, and appreciated its great practitioners.

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