In this collection of short stories, there is a poetic lilt to Womersley’s prose.
Chris Womersley’s A Lovely and Terrible Thing.
A Lovely and Terrible Thing is an apt title for this collection of 20 short stories. The title is taken from one of Chris Womersley’s previously published stories, which is included in this volume. In it, the narrator is a man who works for Ripley’s Believe It or Not. It is an allegory about freedom and possessiveness. Like many of the other stories, the plot itself is captivating and is used to convey a message.
Two of the stories are capable of sending shivers down your spine: they tell of revenge. As the saying goes, in these instances revenge is sweet. In one case what happens is horribly unfair on the victim; in the other case, it is satisfying and well-deserved.
One of the more optimistic of the stories is about a hunchback’s relationships, including one with a beautiful woman who has problems of her own. Many of the stories are told by a young person, told in such a way that the reader knows what is going on while the narrator is largely innocent of the implications. Among the subjects covered are drugs, death, unexplained phenomena, child molestation, family relationships, suicide and murder.
In ‘The Age of Terror’, an older woman tells of the opportunities she missed in life: ‘Naturally, there are other, more profound, regrets: affairs never pursued; opportunities squandered. Once, forty years ago, a gentlemanly artist ... made me an offer I could – and did – refuse but have pondered ever since.’
She goes on to say, ‘Sadly, the middle of the night is also the moment when one is most acutely aware that one will never get around to accomplishing these undone things’. This woman is old, but as the story progresses it shows she has a pragmatic approach to death.
Womersley is quoted as saying ‘stories are rarely only stories’ and that is most certainly true of the 20 in this collection.
Technically, they are flawless, but they exhibit so much more than good technique. Each one abounds in detail, such that you feel the heat or the cold, smell the stink, see the birds fly, share the joy and the pain.
There is a poetic lilt to Womersley’s prose. And he certainly knows how to end a story. In this collection the excellent endings are masterful: some leave you contemplating what might happen even after the story ends; others effect a satisfactory full stop to the narrative.
Most of the stories are told in the first person. And while their plots and subject matter show great variation there is a familiarity of voice, as if the same person were narrating each tale. The subjects treated are serious and important, which may be the reason there is no humour in these stories. That said, this fascinating collection makes for enjoyable reading and will further enhance Womersley’s well deserved place among Australia’s foremost writers.
4 ½ stars ★★★★☆
A Lovely and Terrible Thing
By Chris Womersley
Published by Picador
Format: Trade paperback/ebook
Publication date: 23 April 2019
Categories: Fiction & related items/Short stories