Thursday, October 05, 2006

White Time/Black Juice - Margo Lanagan

True to my word, after reading Singing My Sister Down I tracked down and purchased both of Lanagan's short story collections, White Time and Black Juice. Both books are a very quick read - the stories are sort, and there are less than a dozen in each volume - but they're certainly not a ripoff; there's an astonishing amount of atmosphere and strangeness crammed into a very small space.

Lanagan doesn't waste any words on infodumps or exposition; each story is told from the inside, usually from the viewpoint of a child or a character with a similar air of innocence. The story then becomes as much about revealing the details of the world as it does about the more obvious plot events that are happening. For this reason, it's hard to summarise any of the stories without spoiling the experience, but they cover a huge variety of strange and wonderful themes - escaped elephants searching for their trainer, a sniper hunting clowns, ordinary people trying to survive in cities torn by horrific wars or subjected to bizarre elitist occupation.

Some of the ideas work better than others, and the more successful ones are normally those where the background stands up to closer scrutiny; where the world would still work if the story were much longer. Quite a few of the stories are not built on solid ground, and seem somehow ephemeral - the setting is only believable for the duration of the story, and you know you could destroy it by looking too hard, or trying to work out exactly what is going on. The stories are so short that they don't actually need to have a strong background, and the lack doesn't make them any less atmospheric, but the impact is much greater from the ones with the stronger internal logic. This is why Singing My Sister Down works so well, and there are more stories in here that almost match that quality.



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