Tag Archives: Melbourne

Review: Little People by Jane Sullivan

Jane Sullivan draws on the true-life events of 1870, when a troupe of little people toured Australia. General Tom Thumb really did fall into the Yarra River and was rescued, and from this starting point, Sullivan creates a fictionalised account of their adventures.

Strange beliefs, secrets and mystery surround Mary Ann’s unborn baby. Who should she trust, and what will the truth mean for her, the child and the theatre folk on whom she now depends? Chapters from the point of view of the web-fingered governess, Mary Ann, who saved the General instead of drowning herself as planned, are interspersed with chapters narrated by the other players in the story. The General’s rival, George Nutt and Nutt’s brother Rodia; the General’s tiny wife, Lavinia and her sister Minnie.

Sullivan draws her cast with just the right touch of the outre and the humane. Her exploration of the little people reflects the time in which they lived and were treated as curiosities, celebrated but not always considered quite ‘real’. Web-fingered Mary Ann, a pregnant woman without a husband, is equally suspended between two views. Her determination not to be ‘tractable’ leads her to both trouble and to find her courage.

Little People draws on the arcane and bizarre, the same fodder for curiosities that fuelled sideshows, PT Barnums’ wonders and the science/fantast hybrid fiction of Jules Verne, HG Wells, Mary Shelley and Robert Louis Stephensen. The book is also full of humanity and warmth, so that when all the arcane beliefs are taken away, the reader is left with a story of love and courage.

Buy Little People by Jane Sullivan.
Buy the e-book of LIttle People.

Review: Black Glass by Meg Mundell

Black Glass by Meg MundellMeg Mundell’s debut novel, Black Glass, is set in a dystopian near-future Melbourne. A friend recently asked me why so many books set in the future were dystopian. Thinking about it, I think that very few books (historical, present or future) are ever set in a Utopia. If everything is happy and perfect, there isn’t a lot of dramatic potential. A spanner has to be thrown in the works to get a story going.

Black Glass has multiple spanners and multiple works, but the two key ones are the lives of Tally and Grace, sisters who are separated at the beginning of the book by a violent explosion. As the book flashes towards an ending that is also violently explosive, it’s anybody’s guess whether the sisters will find each other again.

The story is told in fragments, echoing numerous images of shattered glass, from the sisters’ world suddenly blown apart to the abandoned glass factory that Tally later makes her home. Some fragments follow Tally’s story, others follow Grace, while yet others follow journalist Damon, the artist Milk or others who will eventually converge in the final pages.

The technique has a very cinematic quality, and sometimes has a very strobe-like sense of disorientation. It suits the world that Melbourne has become very well—a disjointed patchwork of zones inhabited by strict policing, manipulative power brokers, the correctly documented and the ‘undocs’, the definite ‘have nots’. And although it’s not an immediately recognisable Melbourne, I did enjoy the passing references to places I knew and places I could imagine.

Tally and Grace, and most of the people they meet, are undocs, scraping a living on the streets and avoiding both police round-ups and the nastier elements in their precarious world. Each sister falls in with a different circle of folks living on the edge, which gives Mundell ample room to explore issues of identity and control. Everyone we meet, whether undoc or legit, has competing interests, potential dangers and a need to hide part or all of themselves in order to survive.

Mundell’s style flows easily. The deceptively simple approach seems to gloss many things over, except that enough clues have been given that we know what is really going on without things having to be spelled out. These story shards seem slight at times, but they are sharp.

Dark but never hopeless, Black Glass is a fast-paced, intriguing piece of speculative fiction.

Buy Black Glass from Readings as a paperback or as an e-book from Booki.sh.

See the b0ok trailer!