Metro Winds, Isobelle Carmody, Allen and Unwin Publishers, 2012.
RRP: $24.99 Australian.
Metro Winds is beloved Australian fantasy author, Isobelle Carmody’s second major short story outing. A collection of 6 short stories, unified by common themes of travel, metamorphosis, identity, love, loss and transformation, this collection is an adult read for those who like their realism with a dash of fantasy, and their speculative fiction, literary. From the blurb:
In these stories anything is possible. A young man travels across the world to fufill a dying wish. A girl discovers her destiny in the dark tunnels of the metro. Another seeks her lost sister in a park where winter lasts forever. A writer pursues an ending for his story. A mother works magic to summon a true princess for her son. A lost man searches for his shadow.
Copyright Isobelle Carmody and Allen and Unwin Publishers
I am not usually a fan of short stories- especially speculative fiction ones. I usually feel like the story ends just when I start to get interested, or that the ideas are too weak to carry the shorter pieces. The last decent short story collection I’ve read is Smoke and Mirrors by Neil Gaiman. I enjoyed it, but the lack of unifying theme bugged me, and the story quality varied. When the collection was good it was very good, but when it was bad, it was forgettable.
Short story issues and all, such is my love for all things Carmody, I asked my brother to get Metro Winds for my birthday. It was a risk that definitely paid off. Not only is Metro Winds the perfect entry point for readers new to Carmody’s imaginative pull, it is also refreshingly different, adult, complex, and I don’t know if I am reading far too much into this, deeply personal.
There has always been an element of the personal in Isobelle’s work, as there is of course, in any other authors works; the difference being that our world views and perhaps even experiences are similar, and this means I have always identified with her characters and felt a connection with her chosen themes. Carmody has always been interested in reality’s intersection with imagination and parable; the challenge of modern society, and thus, the moral and ethical questions our modern lives pose, the philosophy of compassion. She has always had a strong sense of place bound up in Australian identity, a strong tie to the environmental movement, to humanist traditions. These are all things I am deeply interested in, and heartily endorse.
The difference in Metro Winds is the sense of confession, of an imparting of life’s hard knock lessons. This, if you like, is Isobelle’s wisdom, Isobelle’s “truth” gifted to us, her readers. I often have thought that if Isobelle ever wrote a biography, it would turn out something like Burton’s Big Fish; a life story where reality and imagination are impossible to untangle, conveying a greater truth through the power of interrelated stories of fantastical joy and sorrow. In the same way, Metro Winds felt truthful, it felt honest, and it felt wise. Admittedly, I have not yet read Green Monkey Dreams or The Gathering, but I have never had the same reading experience with any other Carmody book.
But enough biographical conjecture. So what exactly can be found in Metro Winds? There are 6 stories; three with female, and three with male protagonists. The three female stories all relate to life stages; Child, Young Woman, and Mature Adult; or if you wanted to get whimsical, the transformation from princess to queen. Metro Winds tells of an unusual young girl discovering her identity in the aftermath of divorce. The Girl Who Could See The Wind tells of a teenage girls growth to womanhood as she discovers the truth about both family tragedy and secrets, as well as love. It also serves as an account of Australia’s complex history. The conflict between the velvet people with their attitude to wondering the red, dusty land, heeding the earth’s music, and the white land owners who want the country at “the ends of the earth” to remain static, a vision of the presumably British imperial land they had left behind, clearly reflects race relations between Indigenous Australians and white land owners in our own too recent colonial history. The Wolf Prince, perhaps my favourite story in this entire collection, works as both a complex fairy tale novella, and a story of relationships and the nature of love. It is a mature story that deals seriously with marriage, what happens after the initial honeymoon glow wears off, and when passion between husband and wife fades. It is about a mother’s love for her child, friendship between two older women, and emancipation from the constraints of duty and bonds of memory. I felt that this story was perhaps the most personal of all six, and I couldn’t help but wonder how much Isobelle’s relationship with her own daughter had helped to colour the way this story was written.
The male protagonist stories are all shorter, shaped by travel and airports, cataloguing the wonder and fear of new places and a widening universal perspective, in stories of personal growth and discovery. I can’t actually decide which was my favourite male protagonist story out of The Dove Game and The Man Who Lost His Shadow. Both stories resonated with me. I travelled around Europe when I was twenty, and Isobelle captured the feeling of leaping into the unknown perfectly for me in these two tales. The only weak story in the whole collection was The Stranger. I loved the way it was written, and I loved the descriptions of Santorini, but I felt the story ended too abruptly for me to get into its groove. I am also well and truly over vampires. But that’s nit picking.
From the length of this review, it should be obvious that I absolutely loved this book. It was well written, it spoke to me on multiple personal levels (my parents are divorced, my Mum was in a bad car crash in November last year and has still not recovered, and maybe never will, I have gone off backpacking in Europe, I study history like the historian in The Wolf Prince etc etc), and the way that Isobelle handled complex family and relationship issues spoke of both personal experience and the kind of wisdom that can only be gained by going out and living a full and passionate life. I found this honesty about personal trials, tribulations and joys absolutely refreshing.
Fans who were perhaps disappointed in The Sending, run to the store and buy Metro Winds as soon as you finish this review. Shoot me down if reading Metro Winds does not reassure you of Isobelle’s considerable storytelling power. For those who have never read Isobelle before, Metro Winds is the perfect place to start, covering as it does, so many of the themes Isobelle explores individually in other stories, whilst introducing you to both her considerable writing ability, and vast imagination.
So without further ado, it is my pleasure to award, and for the first time ever on this blog,
Metro Winds: 5/5 inky stars!