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Thursday, August 15, 2019

'A Constant Hum' by Alice Bishop

From the BLURB:

It’ll all be okay, my mother said, and I remember the way her familiar face scrunched, afterwards – reflected back at me, in the fogged bathroom mirror, when she thought I couldn’t see. 

Before the fire – before the front of flames roars over the hills—the ridge is thick with gums. After the fire, all the birds have gone. There is only ash and melted metal, the blackened husks of cars. And the lost people: on the TV news in borrowed clothes, in temporary accommodation on the outskirts of the city, or remembered in small offerings outside the town hall. 

A Constant Hum grapples with the aftermath of bushfire with an eye for the telling detail. Some of these stories cut to the bone; others are empathetic tales of survival, even hope. All are gripping and stunningly written, heralding the arrival of a vital new voice in Australian fiction.

Well, that was a feast made from grief and completely, hauntingly, divine. ‘A Constant Hum’ by Alice Bishop is a Short Story Collection based on the aftermath of the 2009 Black Saturday bushfires. 

It features a variation of viewpoints and Short Story forms - everything from minisagas to microfiction, and microstory (of only a few words) interspersed with flash fiction and longer form short stories too. 

There were still reports, years later, of the horses that night: their coats matted and sweet from sweat in smoke-blurred headlights.  

The pace of them - longer and short form one after the other - makes it read like the waves and stages of grief. And sometimes we get the barest hint of an aspect of the tragedy, like it’s all we can handle of the whole. One line a character utters in a story hints at these fleeting moments: ‘It’s okay, Haze, sometimes things just disappear.’ 

It’s stunning, and unsurprising that Bishop herself grew up in Christmas Hills - one town devastated by the fires. This collection feels both assured and vulnerable, a hard and hurting reading but necessary and so very, very fulfilling. I loved it.

It’s also worth reading her acknowledgments at the back - and the very end, where Bishop lists all the places where many of the stories were previously published or recognised: journals and magazines, websites, and short story prizes ... it highlights how long Bishop has been writing and finessing this collection, and it’s proof-positive that building a writing resume (particularly of your short-story work) is well worth doing. It takes time, but the best things often do.


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