Review: Matilda Told Such Dreadful Lies – The Essential Lucy Sussex (AWW Challenge #7)

Matilda Told Such Dreadful Lies: The Essential Lucy SussexIt’s been a while since my last Australian Women Writers challenge post. That’s because I’ve been immersed in Lucy Sussex World, reading-wise, since February.

The Essential Lucy Sussex is 500-odd pages of some of the most textured, intelligent, witty, erudite and imaginative spec fic ever produced. That’s not what took me so long to read it, though. The book is also bloody heavy, which created certain problems with trying to keep it open as I read over breakfast. The whole experience prompted a blog post about some things I really like about e-books.

Still, the physical weight of the thing notwithstanding, this collection is full of heft on its own accord. Which isn’t to say it isn’t also sometimes melancholy, funny or even surprising. The 25 stories that make up this collection are textured and fabulous.

Particular favourites in a book stuffed full of goodness are:

My Lady Tongue: This SF story about the vibrant Saffy, from a wimmin’s commune, getting injured and ending up in the care of her natural enemy, a man remains as fresh and exciting as the first time I read it. It references Shakespeare, particularly Beatrice and Benedick and their sharp, sparring dialogue. Such a fresh, lively voice in Saffy, is a joy to read and re-read.

Duchess: I’m not much into fashion, but this story make me see the attraction, with this intelligent, outrageous character and the suggestions of displacement in time, though it could just be madness.

Ardent Clouds: Love, volcanoes and disaster. Beautiful.

La Sentinelle: An intriguing take on the legendof the golem. I’ve always thought lifelike dolls were kind of creepy. This story has set the seal on that opinion.

Something Better than Death: This is a modern take and entertaining analysis of the folk tale of The Musicians of Bremen. It demonstrates Lucy’s capacity to go off in surprising directions, though admittedly, most of her stories do that.

Matilda Told Such Dreadful Lies:  A sly and entertaining retelling of the Waltzing Matilda story by the other witness to those (and related) events.

The collection contains a lot of stories playing with history, versions of reality, research and discovery, and twists on old folk tales. Every story shines a lot on something you knew nothing about, or thought you knew but didn’t really.

Lucy Sussex was born in New Zealand but now lives in Melbourne. She’s researched and travelled widely, and has done Australian literature the great service of rediscovering one of the nation’s (and one of the world’s first) nineteenth century crime writers, Mary Fortune.  Lucy’s awesomeness has many facets and very possibly no limits.

If you haven’t heard of Lucy Sussex, you should have. This amazing collection of her body of work spanning almost 20 year is not the whole of Lucy Sussex, but I’d agree it’s essential.

If you feel a bit daunted by the size of the book, get Lucy’s Twelve Planets book, Thief of Lives, first. You’ll be rushing to get her back catalogue once you’ve whet your appetite.

Narrelle M Harris is a Melbourne-based writer. Find out more about her books, iPhone apps, public speaking and other activities at www.narrellemharris.com.