Review: Cracklescape by Margo Lanagan

It’s no secret I’m a huge fan of Margo Lanagan. From the moment I read “Baby Jane” in Red Spikes, I was captivated. Her prose is beautiful, her stories bizarre and/or haunting. I’ve joked that I want to be Margo Lanagan when I grow up.

So when I saw her book Cracklescape was out through Twelfth Planet Press I added it to my birthday list and hoped.

And my gorgeous friend came through with the goods (you know who you are!)

It took me a while to finish, for a variety of reasons. I read the first story and got midway through the second and stalled. In the carpark at circus the other day I devoured the rest of it, and I hope that has broken my reading drought!

To the stories. The first story, “The Duchess Dresser”, is about a haunted dresser. The main character finds his dreams taken over by the presence in the dresser, rather uncomfortably. I loved the way Tan (our main character) is pulled into the drama of the dresser, or rather, the presence from the dresser. It’s a little, intimate tale, and the characters are fully-rounded and believable.

The second story, “The Isles of the Sun”, can be read here. Shining sun people lure a town’s children away in a quasi pied-piper tale. The tale builds momentum and the prose is whimsical and delightful, and we’re kept guessing right until the end as to how the narrative will play out. Tragedy or joy? Anyone who is familiar with Margo Lanagan knows it could go either way.

The third, “Bajazzle”, gives us a creepy glimpse into a world populated by Sheela-na-gigs, and the discomfort of a man in this world. I really enjoyed this story, in a woman-scorned, vengeful kind of way. We read in the perspective of Don, an ordinary middle-aged man who no longer desires his wife after she “takes herself in hand” and becomes super fit. He is perturbed by the new subculture of “Sheelas”, but that doesn’t stop him appreciating a well-rounded, good-looking woman. This tale has a nasty twist, but I was very satisfied by it. I’m not sure how universal its appeal will be though!

The fourth, “Significant Dust”, tells of a girl who seeks exile in the middle of nowhere after a tragedy that befalls her family. Of all the stories I wanted this one developed further. Vanessa’s backstory is a satisfying slow reveal, a realistic depiction of the kind of family tragedy that is hard to move on from. The way relationships are explored in this story is fantastic, indeed to me it is the strength of the story. My gripe with the story is that the “odd goings-on” aren’t developed. There is more to this story and I wanted to sink my teeth into the bizarre. Maybe I missed something but I felt the oddness never resolved, was never explored enough for me to really grasp it. It felt kind of like a dream, something that just slips from your mind as you awaken. But maybe that’s the point?

I think my favourite story was “Bajazzle”, there is a lot of feminist comment in this story, but I’m sure many readers would be discomfited by it (and that’s what I love!) Highly recommend a read, and then another read to pick up what you missed the first time.


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