Yellowcake by Margo Lanagan
Yellowcake is very good and I’d highly recommend it to a variety of people of all ages. It’s a fantasy collection of ten short stories. They’re all a bit weird, thought-provoking and rumbling. I’ve heard some readers say they enjoy fantasy because it provides a form of escapism. Yellowcake is quite the opposite and forces you to look at biological human life and social associations in a very non-sentimental, yet richly magical, consideration of mortality. As a whole, the collection seems to explore relationships through all of the seven senses and gets stuck right into the stickiness of our living, decaying and judged physicalities. Anyone interested in inclusion and diversities should take a look at this anthology.
If, like me, you’re neither a short story nor a fantasy fan but enjoy a good story and are curious, Yellowcake will probably appeal to you. The stories are short enough for quick dips. And now, I may return to reading Lanagan’s novels because her writing is gorgeous and her ideas are both playful and daring: I started reading her novel, The Brides of Rollrock Island, a while back, and while the writing was atmospheric and compelling it was a bit too discomforting for me. The short stories in Yellowcake are similar – atmospheric and compelling – and they push you: but because they’re short they let you go from the detail quicker than a novel and I really liked that. But of course, short stories leave so much unsaid leaving you to fill in lots and lots of gaps – if you dare.
My favourite stories included 'Ferryman' (living people who ferry the dead), 'Night of the Firstlings' (based on a biblical story) and 'The Point of Roses' (altogether unusual and if you can’t smell roses while readers it...!). My least favourite story was 'An Honest Day’s Work' (all about dissecting a creature).
Yellowcake has nothing to do with yellow, cake or nuclear production. Once you’ve finished reading, make of the title what you will – Lanagan has confirmed it has nothing to do with any of the stories but that each of her short story collections has a colour in the title.
Reviewed by M
Publication details: David Fickling Books, June 2013, Oxford, paperback (originally published in Australia, 2011)This copy: received for review from the publisher