In the lead up to the announcement of the winning book, here is the first review of the Stella Prize shortlisted books by reviewer, Angela Long. #Stella16
- Title: Six Bedrooms
- Author: Tegan Bennett Daylight
- Publisher: Vintage Books Australia
- Category: Literary Fiction
- Description: Six Bedrooms is about growing up; about discovering sex; and about coming of age. Full of glorious angst, embarrassment and small achievements.Hot afternoons on school ovals, the terrifying promise of losing your virginity, sneaking booze from your mother’s pantry, the painful sophistication and squalor of your first share house, cancer, losing a parent.Tegan Bennett Daylight’s powerful collection captures the dangerous, tilting terrain of becoming adult. Over these ten stories, we find acute portrayals of loss and risk, of sexual longing and wreckage, blunders and betrayals. Threaded through the collection is the experience of troubled, destructive Tasha, whose life unravels in unexpected ways, and who we come to love for her defiance, her wit and her vulnerability.
Book Review by Angela Long
Tegan Bennett Daylight’s latest collection of short stories, Six Bedrooms, are deceptively simple but written with razor sharp perception. Nothing is dressed up, the raw cynicism and naivety of adolescence is brutal, as these coming-of-age stories revisit that time in our lives of awkwardness, betrayal and unrequited love.
The narrators share many qualities, and most identify themselves as misfits. They don’t fit in and are looking for their place, watching their peers and waiting for the people that will make them whole. Rose in J’aime Rose didn’t even feel she could be a misfit, not even that tag fitted her she ‘would be nobody until someone chose’ her. Claire, in the title story, is chosen and rejects the attention, clinging to the unrequited love of the wrong man.
Although the individuals take the spotlight, the frailties of family are often what carves out their initial paths: the alcoholic mother who turns a blind eye to the missing bottles in ‘Like a Virgin’; the ongoing presence of a missing parent in ‘Firebugs’; or the sinister manipulation and cruelty in ‘They Fuck You Up’. No one is an island, no matter how separate they feel. For better or worse, our families are intrinsic to who we are. This was no more evident than in the haunting image from Together Alone, the knowledge that—‘It took effort to separate bones from flesh, but keep the flesh together. … I can feel that effort in my own flesh, the pulling, the ripping, the resistances of my body as my mother is removed from me.’ Daylight doesn’t pass judgement, it is what it is, and we are free to ponder the addictive relationships, the betrayal, the search for identity placing our own layer of perception over the experiences uncovered.
The moments we are made privy to are characters at their most vulnerable, full of self loathing and doubt, caught in the wake of life. Will they find their way or will they get lost? Life isn’t quite so black and white. At twenty-two, Rose is on a ‘current of confidence’ when she is caught in the whirlpool of her past. She hopes ‘This would be the last time’ and knows ‘it was not.’
Four of the stories revolve around a central narrator—Tasha—she isn’t particularly likeable, and yet, like the others, her failings are familiar; human. Her stories weave through the collection like a fragmented novella that snapshots her awkward train-wreck growth through adolescence. In ‘Like a Virgin’ her need to fit in ‘I was ashamed … Judy was exposing us’ is just as palpable as her need to be different in ‘The Bridge’. The final piece, ‘Together Alone’ closes the collection and in turn provides closure for Tasha—‘Now we had an opportunity to see the real meaning of things, now that my mother’s life had arranged itself into its final composition.’ Tegan Bennett Daylight’s ability to have Tasha insightfully reflect on her shortcomings, ‘… I might have been harder to be with than I thought.’ while still retaining her basic character flaws is masterful and underpins the evident skill of the author.
For more information: www.teganbennettdaylight.com
Australian Women Writers Challenge: This book has been read and reviewed by Angela Long for Welcome to my Library for the 2016 Australian Women Writers challenge. To read more about the challenge see their website www.australianwomenwriters.com ‘Supporting and promoting books by Australian women’