Thursday 5 July 2012

Back Burning and Other Stories by Sylvia Petter, Interactive Press

Back-burning is the term used when man-made fires are deliberately started in a desperate bid to swamp other, out-of-control, brushfires and steer them away from habitation as damage limitation. Here, fire is used throughout as a metaphor in differing situations amongst different characters. Collectively, this might be summed-up in the title story.

A daughter accompanying her mother from her second husband's funeral challenges her allegiance: '"Why didn't you leave Dad...if you loved Ralph so?" "There was you." "Then why didn't you let Ralph go?"(Her mother) sighed. "You know what happens when the brush fires come. You can't escape them when the wind hits and the bush starts to burn."' Petter should know. Born in Vienna and a graduate from the University of New South Wales, she has divided her literary education between these alliterative nations. Such a fate takes a hand in the following twenty-seven titles - each an easily digestible two - six pages - where subjective perceptions are suddenly subverted - and diverted - by circumstance.

In 'The Colour Of Haze' I am reminded of another Sylvia P. with Austrian roots. A German couple are bringing up their daughter, Anna, born in post-war Australia where they now live. One day, Anna returns home from school in tears having been accused by a classmate of being a Nazi; a word she's never heard. Her mother comforts her, but the cold receipt of the news of the death of her father's brother - innocently brought to the kitchen table by Anna - reveals his allegiance. I also wonder if Anna is Petter herself.

The following tale - 'The Past Present' - continues the theme, dealing again with Austrian emigres in Australia. The now middle-aged husband, down on his luck, is encouraged by his wife to teach the old language. But it is one he'd been trying to forget, considering the rest of his past it would inevitably bring up. But a brief contact from a grateful Polish mother of two students builds a touching, unforeseen bridge. The final story builds another bridge; back to the first tale. Only by now the perception has darkened. A seemingly innocent relationship between a daughter and her mother's boyfriend has tragic consequences. Again, the daughter figure narrates, to whom, again, the author seems to relate. Though not obviously 'uncanny,' these tales - making up Petter's second collection - pleasingly twist into shadow as much as light. While there is a faith in human nature that, assuredly, embraces both.


An Antique Land: A Cryptic Caprice Collected & Edited by John Shire, Invocations Press

A slender pocket book running to just 56 pages, you will find, concieved within, a little esoteric patchwork of past meditations on travel; specifically, two metaphysical journeys intercut with mystical woodcuts of vague or unknown provenance. Its contents - piecemeal and incomplete - are inspired not so much 'found' formations as disparately 'sent' submissions, the point of their acquisition long forgotten by the equally long forgotten editor who first advertised for them more than a century ago.  

In his letter accompanying this copy for review, John Shire - Invocations Press founder - admitted to a lack of any grand vision. "I'm still making it up as I go along." What he described to me as "a small love letter to books, disguised as an experiment in cheap publishing..." pulls you in with moments of 'Boys Own' high drama, suddenly interrupted with the seemingly unrelated woodcuts and scenes from a second tale of haunting melancholy. Each is incomplete and the source of nearly all, anonymous. But there is no frustration in this. Rather, such brief glimpses into worlds that never were only serve to whet the pallet for further metaphysical glimpses. On this evidence, I hope what Shire considers a lack of clear direction sustains him further. Then, perhaps this was because I was in transit myself at the time - on a number 31 bus.


A last word on another great new £2.99 release from Wordsworth Edition's 'Mystery & the Supernatural' range. 'Night Terrors: The Ghost Stories of E. F. Benson' fills a gaping void with tales out-of-print for the last twenty years. Credit to Derek Wright, David Stuart Davies and their colleagues for the additional research, bulking out the seminal collection with further uncovered titles, clocking in this release at an extraordinary 702 pages.

1 comment:

  1. I thoroughly enjoyed John Shire's "An Antique Land" - although I'm a bit surprised at his "making it up as I go" comment. It really held that feeling of hidden 'intent' - although that's a reader's interpretation (and just one interpretation at that!) What was clear throughout was the author's love of books - something I can definitely relate to. A very enjoyable read!