1. Lolita – Vladimir Nabokov
2. Holiday in Cambodia – Laura Jean McKay
3. Only Human – Gareth Roberts
4. Beautiful Chaos – Gary Russell
5. The Silent Stars – Dan Abnett
6. American Gods – Neil Gaiman
7. Every Breath – Ellie Marney
8. Neverwhere – Neil Gaiman
9. Delirium – Lauren Oliver
10. Pandemonium – Lauren Oliver
11. Requiem – Lauren Oliver
12. Venom – Fiona Paul
13. Belladonna – Fiona Paul
14. A Tale for the Time Being – Ruth Ozeki
I have never been a wide reader. I’ll admit that straight off the bat. I am a fantasy/magical realism/YA/historical fiction reader. I don’t do crime or horror or sci-fi (Doctor Who excepted) or romance, even though I adore my ships (Will & Tessa & Jem, for example). I don’t do poetry or scripts. And I don’t do short stories. My attention span is all off for short stories. Well, not when they stand alone. But in anthologies? I get hopelessly confused. I always try to find links between each story and try and piece together a larger novel from the snapshots given to me by the author. It doesn’t matter how different the stories are, it’s just what I’ve always done.
As I started my Holiday in Cambodia I tried to remember if I had read any short stories besides the ones given to me by my uni tutors. The only one that came to mind for ages was the Foretold anthology which featured the talents of Richelle Mead, Kami Garcia, Margaret Stohl, and Meg Cabot, among others. Truth be told, I only bought the book so that I could get another Rose & Dimitri fix. Not sure what I mean? You need to click here and here. Trust me. Anyway, I was feeling like a failure of a creative writing student until one day in class we were discussing Aussie authors and it hit me:
Paul Jennings. The mastermind who brought us that awesome show Round the Twist. The man who partnered with Morris Glietzman to give us the Wicked series. And the man responsible for some of the very first books I ever read on my own. And he wrote, for the most part, short stories. There’s this one story that comes to mind when I think of Paul Jennings. It was called “Tongue-Tied”. Think about this: how do you transport a fish from point A to point B when all you have is a drink bottle full of water and your mouth? Paul Jennings figures it out in a hilarious and heart-warming way.
Paul Jennings was my first favourite author. I actually met him when I was in about Year Four. I didn’t actually own any of his books, because I got them all from the school library, but it was a huge thrill just to meet the man with the wacky imagination. And now, looking back, it’s probably because of Paul Jennings that I love reading and writing as much as I do. If you are reading this and you have young kids, or teach young kids, I highly recommend Paul Jennings. Here’s his website, so you can get a taste for yourself: Paul Jennings
Backtracking a little, I will now talk about Laura Jean McKay. I don’t usually buy books that are so far out of my usual genre. I’ll borrow them or find reviews online, weigh up my options, and then contemplate the possibility of buying the book. But Holiday in Cambodia was a special case. I stumbled across the book and the author during my first ever book reading at a little place in Brisbane called Avid Reader, an independent book shop that is constantly hosting literary events. You can read all about my experience here so I don’t repeat myself if you’ve already read the story. Anyway, the night was incredible. It’s not often you get to hear an author read their work the way that they intended it to be read. So when Laura McKay started reading excerpts of her anthology about the different facets of life in Cambodia, as a local or as a visitor, I was hypnotised. I had to buy the book. And not only that, I had to get it signed. You watch, it’ll be worth hundreds one day, my personally signed copy of Laura McKay’s first novel. Because this woman is going places.
The stories in Holiday in Cambodia do link together in the sense that McKay is gently trying to force the reader to see Cambodia as a country with both a troubled past and present, not simply a place to go on holiday and feel as though you have someone touched the danger and instability of the culture. She highlights the unintentional selfishness and callousness of tourists in such a way that you laugh even though you should feel disgusted. McKay manages to pass judgement on these people so carefully that you don’t realise a judgement has been made until you put the story away and think about what you have just read. Which actually happens in this anthology. When you put down the book, you don’t just forget the stories. Sure the details become a little muddled, and characters start merging with other characters, but the emotional response is still the same: you feel ashamed and compassionate all at once. Ashamed because you know that you or someone you know have gone to a place like Cambodia just to say that you/they have been to Cambodia and come this close to poverty and suffering. Compassionate because you feel hopelessly sorry for the locals and what they have had to go through at the hands of their oppressors, whether that oppressor is a dictator or starvation.
Holiday in Cambodia is the kind of book that gives me hope for humanity: it is a book with a clear message. McKay wants to use her substantial talent to talk about a problem close to her heart, but in a way that still entertains her readers and I believe that she pulls this off beautifully. I cannot wait for her next book, which she talked briefly about during that Avid Reader night.
So to Holiday in Cambodia, I award:
I had to take off half a star because the wrong “tale” snuck in there. I am nothing if not a grammar nazi. But other than that, this book is incredible. Kudos, Laura Jean McKay, kudos.
- The “Solitary” Writer? (infernalimagination.wordpress.com)
- Holiday in Cambodia – Laura Jean McKay (blogs.abc.net.au)
- Laura Jean McKay (laurajeanmckay.com)
- ‘Of pity, superiority, disgust’: Laura Jean McKay’s Holiday in Cambodia (blogs.crikey.com.au)