We are delighted to announce the two winners of Viva la Novella V.
The Fish Girl by Mirandi Riwoe
A Second Life by Stephen Wright.
Congratulations to all the shortlisted authors and thank you again to everyone who entered and made this such a difficult decision.
The books will be published in September 2017.
Read on to learn about each book and how the editors were won over.
The Fish Girl
Mina wonders if envy, as redolent as soured durian, makes Ibu Tana hiss at her through her remaining teeth. For the girl has become a favourite of the master’s. She has freedoms the older woman never dares. When she isn’t in the kitchen being bossed around by the head-cook, she moves swiftly between the cool, relaxed world of the main house and the steamy, harried kitchen. Maybe, too, Ibu Tana resents how the master calls for Mina with the word mooi which means ‘beautiful’ in his language.
Sparked by the description of a ‘Malay trollope’ in W. Somerset Maugham’s story, ‘The Four Dutchmen’, Mirandi Riwoe’s novella, The Fish Girl tells of an Indonesian girl whose life is changed irrevocably when she moves from a small fishing village to work in the house of a Dutch merchant. There she finds both hardship and tenderness as her traditional past and colonial present collide.
Told with an exquisitely restrained voice and coloured with lush description, this moving book will stay with you long after the last page.
One of the novella’s most impressive feats as a form is transporting the reader completely within a small number of pages. With The Fish Girl, Mirandi Riwoe was utterly successful at taking me into Mina’s world. This is a very physical book in the sense that the objects, the settings – both man-made and natural – and the bodily interactions between the characters are visceral and immediate. Each of the five senses gets their due, with a particular focus on touch.
There’s so much at stake for young Mina, the story’s protagonist, and in the hands of another writer the temptation towards histrionics may have proved too strong. What I loved about this book was the quiet power of understatement along with the twin pleasures of considered and pitch-perfect storytelling and the rich and immediate descriptions.
Using tools like dramatic irony and suggestion, there’s a sense of menace that runs just under the surface of The Fish Girl that colours each of the scenes with pathos. And the ending, though I wouldn’t want to give anything away, is unexpected but ultimately feels inevitable. I’m delighted to be introducing you this excellent novella as one of the winners of Viva la Novella V.
Alice Grundy, Seizure EiC
A Second Life
This is how we will talk, Acker. You will offer me your unthinking words and I will carefully select an object from my heap of random wreckage. Eventually, I will have a vocabulary of distraught images that I will invest with magical properties. Here is a picture of an eyeball. Not to tell you that there is something to be seen but to say that the sky never really sleeps, that ordinary looking is a kind of blindness, that light is not the same everywhere.
In a tiny book-lined office backing onto a supermarket in a small town in northern New South Wales, a woman named Acker sits smoking a cigarette and listening to the music of Philip Glass. Others come to her with their stories of violence and pain and through her writing she attempts to salvage what they have lost. A Second Life immerses the reader in a world that is both familiar and forbidding. It unfolds with horror and beauty to reveal a complicated and unforgettable portrait of a woman who moves through this world carrying secret histories, different ways of seeing, and many stories.
With a narrative voice that is at once eerily beautiful and slightly wild, and a premise that is surreal and ambitious, A Second Life stood out to me immediately. It’s an exploration of the self and life and death, all of which comprise the psychological fabric of the main character, who occupies many selves and sometimes none at all.
I was fascinated by how the story engages with abstract questions of what it is to be but never leads the reader to a concrete answer. There’s a very powerful mood here; surreal imagery, personification of objects, landscapes and concepts all underpinned by a strong and unusual voice. Acker’s world is at once recognisable, and completely unfamiliar. Scenes are constructed using a carefully abstracted logic, dipping in and out of worlds, levels of knowing and existing, delving under the surface of daily life in a small town. The chronology is chopped up, rearranged and coloured by obscure and tempers, expressed through the author’s irresistible accumulation of words and sentences and symbols. I read this and immediately saw that here is a writer who can look at a random assemblage of junk lying at a market and turn each object into a magical, lush talisman.
I was also interested by the many contradictions within the story and the way the reader is constantly challenged by this. It’s as much about constructed identities and past lives as it is about violence and missing children; as visceral as it is otherworldly. It’s about dreams and it feels like a dream, and was a powerful story to encounter as a reader. I’m so thrilled to be working on it as guest editor for Viva la Novella V.
Genevieve Buzo, Guest Editor