#8: Whale Station, by Megan McGrath

They said there were no more whales but I’d caught one.

Megan McGrath’s Whale Station, published in Griffith Review 46: The Novella Project II, opens with the protagonist Rick chasing down and harpooning a whale off the coast of Brisbane. The novella takes us back to Tangalooma’s history as a whaling station that operated from 1952-1962, a history that I was only dimly aware of as someone who grew up in Brisbane. Located on Moreton Island, Tangalooma is now a tourist resort known for offering hand-feeding of dolphins and whale watching. I’ve been there just once, when work took me there for a social outing; it’s clear from McGrath’s evocative prose that her personal connection to and sense of this beautiful place is stronger than mine.

Whale Station is available to read online, but please do buy either the print or ebook version of Griffith Review 46. Reading from websites doesn’t work so well at a length of nearly 22,000 words.

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#6: Former Glory, by Cate Kennedy

What are Australia’s forgotten stories, those tales from history that don’t get enough of an airing? This 17,000-word novella by Cate Kennedy is the first of five that were selected for Griffith Review 46: Forgotten Stories (The Novella Project II). The subtitle promises fiction with a historical bent, but also something that strays from the well-worn beaten paths that Australian history tends to tread.

Former Glory is a quick read that felt shorter than it actually is, almost like a long short story, and it can definitely be read in a single sitting. It’s told from the present by Ed, a first-person narrator, so it doesn’t have the dusty texture that some might expect from historical fiction. Instead, it’s about an attempt by two artsy out-of-towners to restore the pub in a dying country town, with Ed’s reluctant help.

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#5: Panthers and the Museum of Fire, by Jen Craig

In her Calibre Prize winning essay, Staying With The Trouble, Sophie Cunningham writes about walking:

Percy Grainger walked to avoid self-flagellation. David Sedaris walked to placate his Fitbit. Virginia Woolf walked the streets of London, and later the South Downs, endlessly: because she loved it, because she was walking her dogs, because she needed to think clearly.

In Panthers and the Museum of Fire, by Sydney writer Jen Craig, the protagonist—also named Jen Craig—spends the entire novella walking from her home in Glebe to a café in Surry Hills. She has in her possession a manuscript—also titled Panthers and the Museum of Fire—written by her recently-deceased friend, Sarah, and is walking to return this manuscript to Sarah’s sister, Pamela.

The physical space of this novella could become a two-dimensional prison, a line tracing a simple journey across inner Sydney and yet, as in Virginia Woolf’s Mrs Dalloway, it’s the expansive mental space of the protagonist that has the power to free us from the physical; a simple journey in time and space becomes a complex layering of different times, places, thoughts, characters and anxieties.

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