Tuesday, 11 February 2020

The Drover's Wives by Ryan O'Neill


The literary world can be rather po-faced sometimes, so it's always a pleasure to come across an inventive book which offers the dual delights of intelligent writing and funny jokes. Here, Ryan O'Neill riffs on the short story The Drover's Wife by Australian writer and bush poet Henry Lawson, retelling in 101 different formats the efforts of a mother trying to protect her children from a snake in the outback. From the contents pages to the note on type at the back via a Freudian interpretation, an Amazon-style book review, and a 1980s computer game (particularly clever this, especially if you ever played The Hobbit way back when), O'Neill is a dab hand at manipulating the text - the back cover even tells the story in paint swatches. Indeed, he has a track record of playing with the concept of literary greatness in his earlier Their Brilliant Careers and those who enjoyed that book will certainly enjoy this one too. So will readers who took to the similar approach of Raymond Queneau's Exercises in Style or who simply like the kind of literary wordplay of books like Ella Minnow Pea by Mark Dunn. I read it in one go in a pause between sessions of Ducks, Newburyport, and found it a much-needed pick-me-up. Highly recommended and available direct from its publishers Eye Books as well as all the usual places.

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