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REVIEW: Stella Prize Shortlist and Winner

Reviews by Freya Bennett

The Swift Dark Tide – Katie Ariel, Gazebo Books

Katia Ariel’s memoir, The Swift Dark Tide is a delicious feast of rich prose, each word a succulent delight. Ariel’s intimate storytelling, presented in short, digestible vignettes, explores themes of family, marriage, desire, and identity. The Swift Dark Tide chronicles a woman’s journey of self-discovery and unexpected love, set against the backdrop of Melbourne’s St Kilda and the Black Sea town of her birth, Odessa. Ariel invites readers into her world, where love, loss, and the untamed nature of the body converge in a tender exploration of the human experience.

Hospital – Sanya Rushdi, translated by Arunava Sinha, Giramondo Publishing

I adore concise novels that prioritise beautiful prose and thought-provoking themes over grand plots, and Hospital masterfully embodies these qualities.

Drawing from real-life events, Sanya Rushdi’s debut delicately confronts psychosis, offering readers a nuanced glimpse into its complexities. Through the lens of one woman’s journey within a mental health facility, the narrative unfolds through intimate conversations and introspective musings, granting readers the privilege of exploring the intricacies of her treatment and the landscape of mental health care.

Hospital is a courageous and captivating exploration of the human psyche, sharing the multifaceted nature of mental health with empathy and insight.

Body Friend – Katherine Brabon, Ultimo Press

Body Friend tenderly navigates the complexities of chronic illness and pain, offering a serene journey through the protagonist’s post-surgery recovery and the intricate dynamics of friendships forged in shared experiences.

With its gentle pace and sparse plot, the narrative mirrors the nuanced essence of living with enduring conditions. Katherine Brabon’s prose is simple and beautiful, enveloping the reader in a comforting embrace, vividly illustrating the delicate balance between perseverance and rest in the face of constant discomfort.

Body Friend resonates deeply with those familiar with the challenges of chronic illness, inviting a profound sense of empathy and understanding.

Feast – Emily O’Grady, Allen & Unwin

Feast is a gothic, tense and compelling story told over a single weekend with just the right amount of grotesque detail.

Emily O’Grady’s prose is stunningly gothic and captivating, leaving readers deliciously unsettled.

The novel explores the complex dynamics of a peculiar household where the past intertwines with the present, disrupting the tranquil equilibrium that Alison and Patrick, two former artists turned recluse lovers, have carefully crafted. Patrick’s teenage daughter Neve has come to stay, and the novel is set in the lead up to her 18th birthday dinner when Neve’s mother, Patrick’s estranged wife, comes to visit and ulterior motives for her trip are unravelled.

Told through the alternating perspectives of Alison, Neve and Shannon, O’Grady skilfully unveils the complexities of each character, sparing no one from scrutiny.

Feast is a riveting exploration of human frailty and resilience, culminating in a revelatory finale that underscores the intricacies of relationships and the inevitability of confronting one’s past.

Abandon Every Hope – Hayley Singer, Upswell Publishing

Abandon Every Hope offers a visceral exploration of industrialised violence against animals, confronting readers with grim realities through Singer’s unflinching prose. With evocative imagery and poignant chapter titles, the book delves into the depths of consumerism and capitalism, leaving readers grappling with existential questions about humanity’s treatment of animals.

While Singer’s writing showcases moments of beauty amidst the darkness, the book’s heavy imagery and graphic depictions may prove too confronting for some. Trigger warnings for slaughterhouse scenes and animal death are needed.

Ultimately, Abandon Every Hope serves as a provocative manifesto on animal rights, demanding reflection and action from its readers.

Praiseworthy – Alexis Wright, Giramondo Publishing

Praiseworthy, the latest novel from acclaimed author Alexis Wright, emerges as a masterpiece of contemporary literature. Set against the backdrop of a remote Aboriginal community, the narrative unfolds with a kaleidoscope of characters and themes, weaving together elements of climate change, cultural heritage, and existential crises.

Wright’s prose, captivates with its sheer brilliance and depth. Through non-linear storytelling and rich imagery, she invites readers on a journey that is both mesmerising and thought-provoking. Themes of despair and dispossession are balanced with beauty, wit, and absurdity, creating a narrative that is as poignant as it is profound.

The novel’s unique structure, reminiscent of oral storytelling traditions, immerses readers in a world where time moves in circular motions, revealing layers of meaning with each iteration. Wright’s linguistic prowess dazzles, infusing the text with richness and depth.

Praiseworthy is not merely a book to be read; it’s an experience to be savored, a journey into the heart of Aboriginal culture and the human condition.

This is Alexis Wright’s second Stella win.

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