By Adam Norris
By Kathleen Jennings
Fantasy fiction is, perhaps appropriately, an unruly beast. Building a mythical world and imbuing it with any kind of
substance too-often leads to pages mired in convoluted clans and fractious family-trees in place of a solid, believable storyteller’s voice. There are many exceptions, but on the whole I glide more towards magical realism for literary legerdemain – give me the world outside our window, but with the odd miracle or monster roaming in the hills. Flyaway treads the line between these genres with a deft hand, and while the story- line is engaging it is Jennings’ command of setting that sets this debut novel apart.
Like many of us, Jennings grew up reading the classic European fairy tales of crumbling castles and lichen-dappled forests, and here we find their Australian counterpart. Her descriptions of the landscape – the vast palette of tree and bush, of copper-kissed grasses and fading townships – are simply stunning, and expertly conjures the beauty and magic (and indeed, the danger) of our gothic surrounds. “Whole buildings could sink into the trees and disappear,” Jennings writes, “How much easier for people to vanish.”
Flyaway is laced with stories – tales of shapeshifters and apparitions, of wishes and curses and how the two are often the same – but it is also full of mystery. There is mystery surrounding the family of Bettina Scott, whose father and brothers have vanished. Mystery in the childhood friends she now hides from. But principle of all is the mystery of Bettina herself, whose true nature is revealed to us only as it is revealed to herself. I was reminded of Iain Banks at times, Angela Carter at others.
Flyaway is a short novel, and while a greater length may have benefited the depth of her supporting characters, Jennings has unveiled an enticing Märchen path through the woods to grandma’s house. Or at least … that looks like grandma …
Local writer and goat wrangler, Adam Norris spends his days haunting second hand book shops and trawling online hat stores for that perfect fedora