Tuesday, 1 October 2013

Magic Happens: Serendipity and Synchronicity in a Modern, Mixed-up World

Last night, I had the pleasure of attending an Avid Reader salon in West End. The idea of a 'salon' has long fascinated me - I see lively, thoughtful and sometimes controversial conversations in a chintzy parlour of over-stuffed armchairs, potted plants and strong alcohol served in stemless, crystal glassware. No ice.
There was certainly plenty of wine last night, with ebullient host, Krissy Kneen, issuing several invitations to grab a top-up. Great value at $7.50 a ticket and evidence that Avid is sincere in helping emerging writers.
First up, were QUT student Grace Finlayson, Richard Newsome author of The Billionaire's Curse series, and Jordan Lawrence sharing a haunting, rhythmic story in memory of his brother - which won him last year's Griffith University creative writing prize.
Then, former St Peters Lutheran College student, diplomat, award-winning short story writer and now Canberra-based Felicity Volk took her turn, reading from her debut novel Lightning.
Lightning is a road-trip through the rural fringes to the heart of Australia. Persia, all alone and nursing debilitating grief, begins her journey in Canberra after lightning sparks a bush-fire altering the course of her life. Along the way, she teams up with asylum-seeker Ahmed who spins imaginative tales along the way out of the towns they pass through - putting the reader instantly in mind of One Thousand and One Nights - except it is Ahmed telling the stories - perhaps to prolong his stay in a country that doesn't want him - while Persia pretends to be mute so she doesn't have to talk to him.
Volk raises a number of questions in this book. First, what do we do with the people who pass through our lives? Do we hold onto them, or do we let them go? Regardless, they all leave their mark. Then, the big one. Who are we? Persia knows she is a combination of German missionary, Italian migrant, and Afghan cameleer. This inevitably raises some rather topical questions: Who comes? Who stays? Why, and for how long? Would that be until they are not useful anymore? How ironic that Ahmed is about to be deported, but let us not forget the Afghan cameleers who were brought here to open up the centre of Australia. We needed their help; their expertise in working in such harsh, arid conditions. Ahmed asks: 'Who's Australian?' I believe we answer that question with the choices we make every day. We can choose to be kind, like Persia's truck-driver, or we can choose to be cold-hearted and turn our backs on those who need our help.
Lightning is a work of literary fiction. To me, it evoked the magic realism style of Gabriel Garcia Marquez and the sheer silliness of Alice in Wonderland - with Persia's grief her own personal Jabberwocky. Volk says she was concerned the magic realism tag might put readers off. She says Lightning is 'a book of paradox invoking the magic and mystery of our living days' and 'the serendipity and synchronicity of our lives'.
Book clubs will also want to discuss the book's religious themes, the characters', and our own, sense of connection across time and place, as well as the classical elements - especially fire which brings destruction as well as healing and redemption, and water which soothes.
Lightning is full of beautiful, resonant passages. One of my favourites is when Ahmed feeds, and thereby sustains, Persia.
He put the last part of Persia's sandwich in her mouth. 'Servitude - freely offered servitude - is a study in elegance and grace,' he said. 'There is nothing more beautiful than devotion.'
Volk says Lightning was six years in the making and that she wants to write the types of words she likes to read. Let's hope she continues down that path because I suspect there's more terrific work to come from this talented, generous and delightful writer.


  1. A wonderful review, Kerri, which deserves a wider audience. Ditto your review recently of "And the Mountains Echoed". Have you thought about submitting it (them) to the Australian Writers' Centre? See http://www.writingbar.com/2011/07/book-reviews/would-you-like-to-write-a-book-review-for-writing-bar/

  2. Thanks, Kathy. And thanks also for sending the book review link for the Australian Writers' Centre. I did an editing course with them recently and it was terrific!

  3. Hi Kathy, lovely to see you at Avid Reader and thanks for this generous and thoughtful review. Would you mind if I link to it from my facebook page? Warm wishes Felicity

    1. Hi Felicity, Yes, I'd be very happy for you to link my blog to your facebook page. I was very impressed with your book and can't wait to read more from you - no pressure of course! Best wishes, Kerri Harris.

  4. Jane Greenwood25/10/13 2:14 pm

    Thank you for this review, Kerri. A sensitive and genuinely readerly response!

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  6. Hi Kerri

    I've been meaning for sometime to apologise for addressing my message last October to "Kathy", the author of a prior comment in this chain, rather than to you. It was an error I only noticed well after posting, and was chagrined! (Note to self - pay more attention when online during the brain fog hours of the evening.) Anyway Kerri, Kerri, Kerri, this apology comes with best wishes for the year ahead and thanks also for including Lightning in your December blog about your year's reading. I hope 2014 presents many opportunities for you to flourish as a writer and to thrive in your reading. Warm regards, Felicity

    1. Hi Felicity -that's totally fine. I was very impressed with the amount of time you spent talking to so many people after the Salon at Avid Reader so a bit of a mix-up with names is quite ok and completely understandable. Kathy is the name of a lovely writer friend of mine who is boosting my current writing group from two to four this year. So, I'm hoping our group will get us all firing this year, and I possibly need more of a kick than most. Take care, Felicity and I hope 2014 brings you bundles of creativity and the time you need to keep up with your wonderful writing. Kerri x