KILLINGS, daily columns and blog —

Books

Review: Robin Black’s If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This

by Estelle Tang , June 16, 20101 Comment

If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This
Robin Black
Publisher: Scribe Publications (Australia and New Zealand)
ISBN: 9781921640421
RRP: $32.95

The title of Robin Black’s debut short story collection, If I Loved You, I Would Tell You This, is an intriguing premise. What would she tell us, and why doesn’t she love us? We’re a little bruised from being excluded, but still curious. We come to know that the title perfectly reflects the earnest and considered tone of Black’s work. This bright-eyed honesty underpinned by a glassy covertness makes for a title that’s a fitting introduction to the stories within.

Black’s protagonists, impressively diverse, are poised on the edge of change and transition. In ‘Immortalizing John Parker’, seventy-year-old Clara Feinberg paints portraits for a living. She is mourning the loss of her lover, and is struggling to continue her work when she is commissioned to paint the portrait of John Parker by his wife, Katherine. She initially attributes John’s ‘dullness’ to personality; however, the reality is far more haunting. The pace is more akin to that of a novel than a short story; perfectly measured and illuminated by Black’s restrained style.

It’s this restrained style of Black’s that works most effectively in her younger protagonists. In ‘Harriet Elliot’, the characters are so keenly honest it actually pangs. ‘We all nodded. We all believed the same things,’ says the protagonist. This is just one of many of Black’s stories that stick for days. ‘Harriet Elliot’ is the story of a schoolgirl confronted by her own temporality with the arrival of the ‘new girl’, the eponymous Harriet Elliot. At home, the protagonist’s sister blames her for their parents’ disintegrating relationship. ‘At night, as I lay in the shoulder of the hallway light, she would walk over and pull my door shut tight, leaving me to lie there in the dark.’ This kind of subtle cruelty and the taut, authorial voice compares to that in Margaret Atwood’s Cat’s Eye.

The sequence of the stories could have been given more consideration. The seriously good ending to ‘Harriet Elliot’ is somewhat let down as it is annoyingly reminiscent of the conclusion of the preceding story, ‘Immortalizing John Parker’. Both endings finish with the word ‘gone’ and have a similar premise. Because they’re sequential, ‘Immortalizing John Parker’ unnecessarily comes off the slighter of the two, and the brilliance that could have belonged to the conclusion of ‘Harriet Elliot’ is slightly dulled.

Each of Black’s stories is brimming with different narratives, and it is often the peripheral characters that are most engaging. Cathleen, the ex-wife of the protagonist Jeremy in ‘A Country Where You Once Lived’ offers glinting one-liners that give an emotionally demanding narrative a necessary relief.

Black’s work is perhaps not best read after a bad day; she doesn’t shy away from her characters’ flaws and only illuminates how mean we can all be – at times, at least. In the closing story, ‘The History of the World’, the brother of Kate Rodgers, who has been left by her husband for another woman, thinks to himself that his sister sounds like ‘the kind of wife that gets herself left’, as she berates him for driving too fast. It’s a heartless thought, but it’s this honesty that makes Black’s work so faithful to human impatience.

It’s the closing image of each story that lingers after finishing them. A broken, yellow beach chair marooned on an empty soccer field in ‘Pine’ offers a haunting representation of the lonely protagonist. And in the ‘The History of the World’, Kate finds herself alone in a small Italian village, having travelled to Italy to get over said ruined marriage. There’s a flower festival on, the small town’s buildings and streets covered in flower petals depicting significant scenes from world history. In a passing breeze, ‘the colours before her seem to exhale, in a sigh’, and Kate is aware that within hours, it will all be swept away. Black might be suggesting hope for her characters, but it’s a tentative optimism. They too just want to be loved.

Belle Place is an editorial assistant at Affirm Press and writes for various monthly digital publications from Melbourne and Sydney.




  • http://www.removepopcornceiling.net/ how to remove popcorn ceiling

    Tremendous issues here. I’m very satisfied to peer your article. Thanks a lot and I am having a look ahead to contact you. Will you kindly drop me a mail?

Frances Abbott

David Donaldson

Why #whitehousegate matters

A few days after the release of the budget, in which the Coalition government announced it was spreading the burden by increasing university fees, cutting school funding, and cutting welfare for young people comes a story that confirms what many already suspect to be the nature of opportunity: it’s much easier to come by if you’re born into privilege. Read more »

money

David Donaldson

When does lobbying become corruption?

Whether it’s Clive Palmer buying his way into parliament, the recent, varied ICAC revelations of dodgy fundraising in the NSW Liberal party, or the refusal or inability of successive governments to effectively tackle powerful corporate interests in industries like gambling, mining, media, and junk food, there is a feeling among many Australians that democracy is up for sale. Read more »

cluster munition

David Donaldson

How to make treaties and influence people

In an era when Russia can annex Ukrainian territory, when the Refugee Convention is regularly flouted, and when nobody seems to be able to do anything to stop the carnage in Syria, it can be tempting to ask: what can international law actually achieve? Read more »

1560682_10153899026420591_499501666_n

Eli Glasman

Just a number: The literary world’s obsession with age

I used to be obsessed about what age I would be when I had my first novel published. I’d go on the Wikipedia pages of every famous writer I could think of to check how old they were when their first book came out. Read more »

winterson

Carody Culver

Jeanette Winterson’s sacred and secular space

It seems that people either love her or hate Jeanette Winterson, and sometimes that has less to do with her writing and more to do with the occasional controversies she’s regularly sparked since 1985. Read more »

Untitled

Veronica Sullivan

Adventures in reality with Oliver Mol

One of Mol’s recent pieces contains the line: ‘I want to put my bare ass on the cover of my book because not only will it make good promo but it speaks honestly about who I am.’ Read more »

The Tunnel TV review

Julia Tulloh

The Tunnel vs The Bridge: The ethics of TV remakes

A body is found in the Eurotunnel, neatly laid across the border between France and England. When police attempt to move the body, it splits in two with the top half in France and lower half in England. Read more »

1398878478_lea-michele-brunette-ambition-zoom

Julia Tulloh

How to be beautiful, according to Lea Michele

Lea Michele’s new book, Brunette Ambition, is what you might expect from a fairly young television and musical theatre star. Read more »

Mariah Carey

Julia Tulloh

Is she Mariah, the ‘elusive’ chanteuse?

Two weeks ago, Mariah Carey launched her fourteenth studio album, Me. I am Mariah…The Elusive Chanteuse. Yes, that’s the real name, and it’s hilarious not only because the title is so long and happily shameless but because Mariah has long styled herself as one of the least elusive pop stars in the pop music galaxy. Read more »

lead_large

Rochelle Siemienowicz

On Boyhood, parenting and the passing of time

Since its premiere in January at the Sundance Film Festival, film critics have been falling over themselves to lavish love upon Richard Linklater’s Boyhood. Read more »

wetlands_poster

Rochelle Siemienowicz

Lucky Dip Diving: an approach to film festivals

I wanted to let go of the grasping desire to watch everything and be part of every conversation. But with the Melbourne International Film Festival in full swing, anxieties arise again. Read more »

Happy Christmas

Rochelle Siemienowicz

Joe Swanberg’s Real Women

In Happy Christmas, the female characters are a pleasure to watch, largely because they’re so familiar in life and so rarely depicted on screen. Read more »

owl1

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Speaking with pixels

On the Facebook Newsfeed, it’s now possible to click a tiny smiley face inside almost any textbox to bring up a series of thumbnail images: an alligator bawling into a tissue, say, or a whistling fox dropping a turd, or a green owl vomiting rainbows. Read more »

hbo-silicon-valley

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Silicon Valley will eat itself

At a certain point in the lifespan of any subculture, fiction and reality start to blur. Members of the subculture begin to model their character and appearance on the idealised representations of themselves they read about or see on screen. Read more »

inbox

Connor Tomas O'Brien

Death to the Inbox

The primary source of our ‘email problem’ seems to lie in our belief that email is a vastly richer and more capable medium than it is. Read more »

Untitled

Danielle Binks

How to buy books for young adults

‘Excuse me, where are the boys’ books? I’m looking to buy for a 16-year-old.’ When I overheard this question while browsing in a bookshop recently, I felt insta-rage. Read more »

detail

Danielle Binks

Fan-Girling Over Super Heroines

The testosterone-fuelled BIFF! BANG! KAPOW! of classic comics can seem uninviting, filled with spandex-clad men and swooning damsels who hold limited appeal outside the stereotypical 18-35 year-old male demographic. But things are changing in the world of comics. Read more »

9780143305323

Danielle Binks

Australia Needs Diverse Books

The ‘We Need Diverse Books’ team is made up of authors, editors and publishers from North America, but the #WeNeedDiverseBooks hashtag and campaign has reverberated in youth literature communities worldwide. Read more »

Jabberwocky1

Chad Parkhill

The carnival is over

Jabberwocky, scheduled to take place last weekend, was the kind of festival that wasn’t supposed to fail. Read more »

Robin Thicke

Chad Parkhill

Why has Robin Thicke’s Paula flopped?

What, exactly, has caused Paula to sell so poorly that it has already positioned itself as this year’s most memorable flop? Read more »

splash

Chad Parkhill

Queering the Power: The Soft Pink Truth’s Why Do the Heathen Rage?

The Soft Pink Truth’s new album ‘Why Do the Heathen Rage’ demonstrates that despite their superficial differences, dance music and black metal have a lot in common. Read more »

2014-07-03-theleftovers

Stephanie Van Schilt

TV pilots: The good, the bad and The Leftovers

With the wealth of shows on offer, committing to a new TV series can feel like a big deal. It’s often during a pilot episode that audiences determine whether the program is appealing enough to stick with for the long haul. Read more »

Alg-90210-jpg

Stephanie Van Schilt

Sick-Person TV

The only upside to getting sick was the many afternoons I spent curled up on the couch at home, watching daytime TV. I inhaled the drama of pre-recorded episodes of Beverley Hills 90210 while playing with my Brandon and Dylan sticker collection (interspersed with sporadic vomiting). Read more »

The_Million_Dollar_Drop_logo

Nicholas J Johnson

Highbrow vs Lowbrow: Nicholas J Johnson defends Lowbrow TV

I can’t stop looking at Eddie McGuire’s smug, stupid face. It’s not my fault. It’s just I’ve never been this close to the man before, and it’s not until now that I’ve realised how oddly smooth and tanned his skin is. As if someone has stretched the orange bladder from a football over a slab of marble. Read more »