Update: reviews (Red Spikes)
make[s] them run together [...] all of the stories took place nowhere; there are no place names here, of any kind. There's little to place these stories in time, either—a few are apparently in the modern day, but many of the others co[u]ld be set in a medieval European village, or a mud hut in prehistoric Africa, or some random secondary world [Hmm, random?]. Again, that is generally a strength in any particular story, but, after ten stories in a row, it becomes something less, a lack where a background might be. (There is one story clearly set in Purgatory...without ever using that word.) The one thing that did place this collection in time and space to me is that many of the characters speak in a rough, grating dialect, with particular grammatical errors and word choices. It's not a speech pattern I'm familiar with, though I can guess with some [misplaced] confidence that it's Australian (and with less confidence that it's lower class), and it fell unpleasantly on my ears. I felt as if all of the people speaking that way were uncouth louts who I wanted to get as far away from as quickly as possible -- perhaps that was Lanagan's intention, but I'm not sure.He is so onto me. Of course, I aim to create characters so unendearing people want to leave the collection on a train, to ensure a wider readership—or flee-ership. Smart man.
2. Anthropologist/author/panel-buddy Elizabeth Bunce had a better time:
Margo Lanagan's muse is insane. Or possibly an alien. Or both. Because there is no way that the premises of the stories in this collection came from the world you and I are living in. [...] But Margo herself is some kind of genius. She takes these utterly bizarre ideas sent by the lunatic muse, and spins them into pure magic. Somehow, she just makes them work. [...] she translates completely alien concepts into stories that grip and terrify and delight, but never never never leave the reader behind, wondering WTF? My editor called her work "brutal," and I guess that's true, too... but there's a level of clarity and perfection to the prose that transcends the disturbing.
So here's the thing. If you think there's nothing new in fantasy--if you think there are only a dozen stories in the world, constantly being told and retold--well. Margo Lanagan is out there, begging to differ.
3. Then, the chap who had such trouble with 'A Pig's Whisper' had a look:
We’re back to worldbuilding again, but this time most of the world that is built is also hidden, with only a few slivers to be glimpsed here and there. With both “Hero Vale” and “Baby Jane” I got the sense almost of eavesdropping on the characters’ experiences, of being invited to step inside their world for a brief period and piggy-back through the story with them until it was time to step back again and leave them to their affairs. It’s not that Lanagan creates a complete world on the page, it’s that she creates a complete world off it, most of which remains unseen but the presence of which can still be felt, in between the bits that are glimpsed.