Like a House on Fire #AWW2014

I am reading the Stella Prize Longlist for 2013 for the 2014 Australian Women Writers Challenge.

Like a House on Fire is a book of short stories by Cate Kennedy. She is an award winning author and this book was shortlisted for the inaugural Stella Prize, longlisted for the ALS Gold Medal 2013, shortlisted for the Kibble Award 2013 and winner of the Steele Rudd Award 2013 Queensland Literary Awards.

I don’t think any book has ever made me want to scream so much. Not because it was in any way bad but, like a frustrated toddler, because I wanted the stories to go on. Each story, some only a few pages long, describes a domestic scene: a teenager at a part time job saving for a holiday, people dealing with the fall out of an accident, family gatherings. Kennedy effortlessly ratchets up the tension then lets it off slowly or the story ends and you are left with the frustration of not knowing how it all works out. If it works out. There are glimpses of a happy ending, suggestions that just maybe, this time, everything will be all right but maybe, probably, not. But no answers.

Her skill is in tying you in knots over a fictional life that you are only briefly dipping into but that resonates so strongly. Perhaps not a book to read when you aren’t feeling strong, but definitely worth putting on the to-be-read list. The best thing is that she has previously written another highly praised book of short stories. That’s on my to-be-read list now. After I’ve recovered from this one.

Publisher: Scribe Publications, also available as an E-book. I have the e-pub version, Kobo, Amazon Kindle and iBookstore listed as well.

Categories: Culture, fun & hobbies

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8 replies

  1. I love this book. Kennedy is one of my favourite writers and this one really got inside me. Each life is so richly created, so simply. I’d give up body parts to be able to write like she does.

  2. Sounds like something I would really enjoy. I love stories that are just vignettes – there, and then over. I also really loved Kennedy’s book The World Beneath, have you read that one, Mindy and Kim?

  3. I haven’t Jo thanks I will look it up.

  4. I loved this book too! How does a writer draw us inside someone’s life so effectively in such a short story?
    I also really appreciated the sense of place. I’m accustomed to reading similar USAmerican collections but these were distinctly Australian, I think.

  5. Hi Jo, yes, I’ve read that one. And Dark Roots. Like a House on Fire is definitely my favourite, though.
    I just finished – and really enjoyed – Evie Wyld’s All the birds, singing. It doesn’t fit in AWW2014 (British author) but it’s partly set in Australia. I love the way Kennedy, Wyld, and Romy Ash write about the landscape – it’s definitely Australia, but not in a gumnuts and drovers kind of way. I’m less excited by Questions of Travel. Does it get better if I push on through?

  6. I liked Questions of Travel Kim. It does move along slowly but the ending is good I thought.

  7. It’s not the pace that annoys me, it just feels really self-conscious. Whole paragraphs are jarring – but that’s just a prefernce thing as I don’t like overly-descriptive writing. Cate Kennedy and Josephine Rowe are excellent at tucking details in, rather than having slabs of description. I always feel bad saying anything negative about a book that someone else has written. Hell, they’re miles ahead of me and always will be. I’ve moved it to the bottom of the pile and might come back to it later.

  8. Ahh in that case it will probably annoy you all the way through. I liked what I saw as a twist at the end, but not everyone will be surprised.

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