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June 28, 2018


Classic: Thea Astley

by N@ncy



  1. I love a good short story.
  2. Usually I review just one story to post on this blog.
  3. W. Trevor  and John Updike are favorites of mine,
  4. ..but a collection is the hardest thing to review.
  5. I want to give Thea Astley the attention she deserves and
  6. …have spent 4 days reading eight short stories!


Weak point:

  1. I felt only a few of the selections were real short stories.
  2. Instead Astely uses each ‘story’ as a continuation of
  3. Keith’s thoughts and adventures in Queensland.
  4. A short story must come to the point!
  5. A short story must reveal in 1st or 2nd
  6. paragraph the mood, theme and conflict.
  7. Astley fails on this point.
  8. In The Curate Breaker  there was a clear  conflict
  9. between the Catholic priest and Anglican minister.
  10. The resolution was believable and touching.
  11. This story made this reader pause and think.
  12. #Bravo



  1. I read these eight stories and have reviewed four.
  2. The first story was a disappointment and
  3. …I had to push myself to read the rest of the book.
  4. I was expecting a short story and got  what sounded
  5. …like the exposition of a novel!
  6. So you’ve been warned: the first story is a dud.
  7. But I kept  reading…giving Astely a chance to improve!


4 REVIEWS     I’ll let you discover the rest yourself!


North: Some Compass Readings: Eden

  1. Setting: Carins
  2. Title: refers to the first two sentences:
  3. “Let me draw you a map…put it just north of 20 and 146 east…
  4. sea bitten rind of coast…limbo for those who’ve lost direction.”
  5. Parents: Iris and Bernard are exact opposites:
  6. Iris: gorges on horoscopes, sports a lucky color and
  7. it always seems to be the Ides of March.
  8. Bernard: jocular, jaunty and tips his son an unsmiling
  9. wink as he he rattles his newspaper busily.
  10. Narrator:  Keith Leverson
  11. Note: Iris, Bernard and Keith are
  12. characters are from Astley’s book The Slow Natives.
  13. A suburban couple, Iris and Bernard, 
  14. …have drifted into the shallows of middle-aged boredom.
  15. Their fourteen-year-old son, Keith  is a stranger.


  1. Fourteen-year-old son, Keith is now
  2. middle-aged, thinning blond hair and
  3. ..has lost one leg in a car accident
  4. …that was central in the book The Slow Natives.
  5. Keith sets out on a journey  from Carins
  6. to Falls Gorge on the Kuranda railway.
  7. Keith/Astley  rants about the influx of lean, arrogantly young
  8. Balmain and South Yarra drop-outs, 
  9. the new urban trendies and
  10. the  middle-aged straights trying to adopt the patois and local dress.
  11. Theme: landscape is beautiful in Queensland
  12. ….but you get more magic from strangers (the misfits).


Weak point: allusions

  1. The use of allusions in Astley’s novels is
  2. one of the elements of her style  that I enjoy reading.
  3. But in her short stories I think she has
  4. overreached herself and lost much of her focus


Weak point:  Tone

  1. The tone achieved by the use of allusions
  2. shifted from imaginative in her novels...
  3. to pedantic in the short stories.



  1. This was NOT an easy read.
  2. Astley starts her story in the present but
  3. flashbacks to a month ago, then yesterday,
  4. …then the present again.
  5. It was hard to follow. 
  6. The author makes it even more complex….
  7. by filling the story with too many allusions.
  8. Brilliant writing….but not a well-balanced story.
  9. Thea Astely’s novels?   TOP! 
  10. Thea Astely’s short stories?   Not her strong point!
  • Allusion: poem Trade Winds by J. Masefield
  • Allusion:  Shakespeare’s Hamlet
  • Allusion: to Virgil  “Sera comans, Iris” (the late blooming…)
  • Allusion: D.H. Lawrence poem Green:
  • “…the gorge is evaporating in green light,
  • green into greeness as Lawrence might have said…”
  • ... Astely assumes we all know who Lawrence is.



The Curate Breaker


  1. This was a normal short story….a pleasure to read
  2. …with a beginning, middle and end.
  3. The story centers around an insanely bitter conflict
  4. between the Roman Catholic priest and the Anglican canon.
  5. Father Rassini and Canon Morrow  are at odds
  6. …but their lives are heartbreakingly parallel.
  7. The tragedy is….neither the priest nor the canon
  8. see their uncharitable behavior.
  9. Canon Morrow flatters and shields his ego from blame
  10. when we make mistakes (berating his wife…severely, angrily)
  11. because he is doing God’s work.
  12. Father Rassini observes this behavior and is appalled.
  13. But this suave man of God realizes he is no better than Canon Morrow.
  14. Father Rassini has callously ill-treated his father
  15. snapping and shouting at him when the elderly parent falters.
  16. Father Rassini suddenly leaves the house after seeing
  17. his frail, grey parent shelling peas for the evening meal.
  18. Father Rassini must spend some quiet time with God,
  19. asking Him to show him where he needs to change.


Hunting the Wild Pineapple


  1. I was hoping to have a great time enjoying
  2. Astley’s humor and  finding out what
  3. in heaven’s name the wild pineapple meant.
  4. My enthusiasm waned.
  5. Why do bad souffles happen to good cooks?
  6. Why do dull stories….happen to good writers?
  7. This story started out with Astley’s keen observation of bored
  8. people  at a tropical Bed and Breakfast
  9. …where the pink gin, vodkas on ice
  10. …and stingers kept the guests
  11. in a permanent ‘happy-hour’.
  12. There was some sexual tension arising  among
  13. B&B owner, guests and two plantation workers (gay and bi).
  14. But nothing that made the story shine.
  15. Hunting the Wild Pineapple was a hoax to
  16. …take bored and slightly tipse guests
  17. …on a wild goose chase.
  18. This story had so much potential
  19. ..and I hoped it would entertain me as much as
  20. Boat Load of Home Folk,
  21. but this short story sadly #Collapsed.


A Northern Belle


  1. Astley uses no alcohol, no allusions  only Clarice’s tears and embedded fears:
  2. Fear black men instilled by her mother
  3. Fear of sins of the flesh instilled by the nuns, Mother Suplice.
  4. Irony: her mother was determined her daughter Clarice would marry well
  5. ….but her only true love was Bixer, her dog.
  6. Weak point: 
  7. There is no real epiphany, no redemptive moment.
  8. Just a sad life that ends with a traumatized unmarried
  9. …50 yr old woman….screaming.
  10. #Disappointing, lacking imagination.




5 Comments Post a comment
  1. Jun 28 2018

    Such a shame for you that her short stories don’t reach the heights of her novels.
    I’ve just started Trevor’s Last Stories, savouring the master of the short story form one story at a time.
    Will check to see if he sets the mood, content & conflict by paragraph 2!


    • Jun 28 2018

      It is just a fact ….Astley is a better novelist ….her short stories don’t give her the space to say all she wants to express. Trevor is a better short story writer…sets the mood with at times just a character’s gesture! His novel disappointed me. We just have to do what we do best!

      Liked by 1 person


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