Heat and Light by Ellen van Neerven
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. “Heat and Light” presents an intriguing collection while heralding the arrival of an exciting new talent in Australian writing.
First Impressions: Wow. What an amazing and innovative writing style!
Highlights: In addition to getting a small thrill from all the references to place locations in Brisbane and South East QLD…
I loved the originality in the first section Heat. The author has really taken traditional indigenous story telling and turned it on its head. If you made a list of everything you would expect to find in a multi-generational indigenous story, I can assure you that you won’t find any of that here. Leave you preconceptions behind and slam the door on them! The problems and issues faced by the characters are clearly real but not not what I was expecting which made it a refreshing read. To transform a genre so much really should open it up to a wider audience (I hope, anyway). One one final note, telling the stories out of chronological order added to the reading experience.
I really admired the innovate middle section Water. Again, highly original and with the added bonus of human-plant gay sex which has been mentioned on other blogs (it shouldn’t be sexy or graphic enough to alarm). This story in a way reminds me of a zany cross between Michel Faber’s The Book of Strange New Things (establishing the anthropology of the Plant People) and Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation (for the tone and work of the narrator). The sheer creativeness of the story compounded my enjoyment. I particularly liked the background of the Plant People’s existance – so fitting for such a work.
In the final section Light I loved the very first and very brief short story (the name of which I don’t have with me now). One word: atmosphere. I wanted to learn more.
If I was an editor: This collection would confirm my opinion that there are many brilliant undiscovered writers out there. One niggle I had with Water were the few paragraphs early on providing the a political and cultural overview of Australia in the future; in my opinion, not really needed as the story immerses you in this world. The final section Light was a great collection of short stories but I don’t think they really added to the effect of final product which is unfortunate to say as van Neerven’s talent shines through. These stories did start to feel a bit similar after a while and I would have loved this section of stories to be linked too, ideally beginning with the first story I loved for the atmosphere! I guess I was anticipating a more profound conclusion to the collection but it’s hard to be disappointed with such innovative writing.
Overall: Cutting edge – and it works!
Heat and Light: 5 Stars
6 thoughts on “Leave Assumptions Behind: Heat and Light”
I know very little about Aussie lit despite the fact that we are neighbors. I’ll keep an eye out for this one as it sounds like it has some very gorgeous prose and I’m all for that.
It is another book that I can’t get off my mind. There’s so much to think about and the storytelling is just amazing.
I read this book earlier in the year and haven’t been able to get it out my mind ever since! I loved how the plant people in particular have stayed with me…and your prompt about Faber book has made me more determined to fit this chunkster into my schedule somehow too.
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