Storyhouse was thrilled to be have been approached by The Guardian to select a book for the Not the Booker Prize award. Storyhouse’s choice will be put forward as one of six choices on the final shortlist, with the winner announced later this year.
After weeks of whittling, Storyhouse’s final pick was Flames, a debut novel from Australian writer Robbie Arnott.
Storyhouse’s librarian Caroline Dunseath explains why she chose this story:
Our mother returned to us two days after we spread her ashes over Notley Fern Gorge. She was definitely our mother – but, at the same time, she was not our mother at all.
Flames is strange, tender, magical, and unlike anything I have read before. I was totally mesmerised by it.
The book opens with the McAllister family of Tasmania, whose women are famous for returning from the dead. After the loss (and return) of his mother, Levi McAllister decides to spare his sister Charlotte from the same fate by building her a coffin. Charlotte, being in excellent health, wisely decides to run as far away as possible. Their story is at the heart of a wild and mythical journey that interweaves a cast of characters including a grumpy coffin-maker, a fisherman who hunts with a seal, a river god, an alcoholic private detective and an increasingly unhinged wombat farmer.
Each of these characters has a very different voice and style, and Arnott is unafraid to experiment with different narrative forms, but each section is beautifully evocative of the wild Tasmanian landscape, where nature is as destructive as it is wondrous. I still regularly think about the chapter with the fisherman and the seal.
The way these seemingly disparate characters interact with each other (part of the playfulness of the book comes from figuring out when one makes an entrance in another’s story) is deftly done and the ending had me in tears. This book has been nominated for Australian literary prizes but definitely deserves a wider readership in other countries.
You can loan Flames from the Storyhouse library, or from any Cheshire West or Cheshire East library (click here).