Following is the last of the 2015 Stella Prize book reviews from Angela Long. All of Angela’s fine reviews on Welcome to My Library can be seen HERE. Follow Angela on Twitter as she tweets her reading progress! Thanks Ange for sharing your reviews on my blog! 

The Stella Prize is awarded on Tuesday 21st April. 

  • Title: Heat and Light
  • Author: Ellen Van Neerven
  • Category: Literary Fiction
  • Publisher: August 2014 University of Queensland Press
    Review by Angela Long for Welcome to my Library

Summary:In this award-winning work of fiction, Ellen van Neerven takes her readers on a journey that is mythical, mystical and still achingly real.

Over three parts, she takes traditional storytelling and gives it a unique, contemporary twist. In ‘Heat’, we meet several generations of the Kresinger family and the legacy left by the mysterious Pearl. In ‘Water’, a futuristic world is imagined and the fate of a people threatened. In ‘Light’, familial ties are challenged and characters are caught between a desire for freedom and a sense of belonging.

Review: Ellen Van Neerven has presented an eclectic mix of stories for her debut fiction Heat And Light. Part mythical, traditional storytelling and part contemporary narrative, Van Neerven’s writing is sharp, sensual and modern. Winner of the David Unaipon Award in 2013, the stories are presented in three parts – Heat, Water and Light, and although each of the parts are very different, there is a general thread of cultural and sexual identity that snakes through the entire work.

Through five linked pieces ‘Heat’ unravels the story of the Kresinger family, from the mystical dreaming story of Pearl through to the present-day world of her granddaughter Amy. Two styles of storytelling spun almost seamlessly. Does desire and need drive each of the generations or are they cursed, destined to be captives of the wind, their sexuality controlled by the wind men; shaped by family and inheritance and cursed by those who have gone before.

‘Water’ is a futuristic foray into the politics of Aboriginal land rights and cultural cleansing. Daring and confronting, the dystopian story sees Australia, 2022, in a new era of reconciliation. The President has declared the ‘Australia 2’ land project in the guise of advancing native title and all things Aboriginal appear to be ‘in vogue’, commodified. But everything is not as it seems. When Kaden is employed as a cultural liaison officer she is given the task of relocating a new creature, part person, part plant, known as the ‘sandplants’. As she becomes involved in their life, she also uncovers the real intentions behind the new government policies. Her connection to the land is renewed and the outcomes are life changing.

The first two sections are short novellas in form, whereas the final section ‘Light’ is a fragmented clutch of short stories that lay bare the family and social dynamics of Australia’s marginal societies. There is a push-pull in each of the stories as they search to reconcile their sense of belonging, through their sexuality, heritage, family or place. The stories are raw and real; where love and violence sit side by side. The final story of the set ‘Sound’ is shocking and tender, questioning family ties, love and loyalty and leaves the reader questioning all three.

Heat and Light doesn’t follow standard structure and I felt that combining the three may have diminished their strength. There is also a self-indulgence in the writing that detracts from the strength of the collection; however Van Neerven is a strong writer who can bring characters to life and is prepared to experiment with style and form. Once this ability is harnessed she will be a brave new voice for Australian writing.

Buy this book: University of Queensland PressBooktopia, Bookworld or download from iBooks or Amazon.

Read all Welcome To My Library Book Reviews HERE


Author Bio: Born in 1990, Ellen van Neerven is a writer of Mununjali and Dutch heritage. She belongs to the Yugambeh people of the Gold Coast and Scenic Rim. She won the David Unaipon Award for an Unpublished Indigenous Writer in the 2013 Queensland Literary Awards for Heat and Light. Ellen’s short fiction, poetry and memoir have been published in numerous publications, including McSweeney’s, Voiceworks and Mascara Literary Review. She lives in Brisbane. For more information about Ellen Van Neerven visit University of Queensland Press 

aww-badge-2015This book has been read and reviewed by Angela Long for WTML for the 2015 Australian Women Writers challenge. To read more about the challenge see their website

44 replies to “Book Review: Heat and Light by Ellen Van Neerven”

  1. I think the cover of this is just beautiful. I’ve had this one on my TBR list for a while now. I’m really interested in it. Great review, it’s made me want to read it sooner. Thanks for sharing.

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