REVIEW: Australia Day by Melanie Cheng

In brief: A debut collection of short stories about Australians from a number of different viewpoints and characters.

The good: Celebrates the multicultural life in Australia.

The not-so-good: Not all of Australia is as open as we would like to think it is.

Why I chose it: Part of the shortlist for the Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction / won a copy from Text Publishing.

Year: 2017

Pages: 252

Publisher: Text Publishing

Setting: Australia

Rating: 9 out of 10

Reading short story collections is something I’ve been meaning to get into for some time. But it’s always stayed on the ‘someday I’ll get around to it’ part of my list until now. I picked up Melanie Cheng’s debut of short stories shortly after it was announced as part of the shortlist for the Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction and…wow. I was completely blown away by Melanie’s power to capture setting, characters and tell a story in just several pages. Some of the stories, particularly ‘Fracture’ and ‘Macca’, left me wondering about the characters and outcomes for several days. I’ve now learned the power of a short story (or three) as a way to sneak in some reading on busy days and nights just to escape to another world.

Many of the stories have a medical slant to them, whether it be as a medical student (‘Australia Day’), overworked GP (‘Macca’), nurse (‘Hotel Cambodia’) or doctor under investigation (‘Fracture’). You definitely don’t need to be involved in healthcare to enjoy them. I found myself nodding with Dr Garrett as she hopes for easy appointment at the end of a day and sharing her momentary despair as she realises that Macca won’t be. The effect of a complaint on a doctor and a patient and their family is very well portrayed in ‘Fracture’. The ending is staggering and even more powerful for the short format. Melanie Chang writes prose that gets straight to the heart of the matter and tells it how it is. The good, bad and ugly of life in Australia from the eyes of different characters that not all of us will be familiar with. Think of Mrs Chan in ‘A Good and Pleasant Thing’ – living in Australia for many years without speaking English who gets to hear that her daughters want to put her in a nursing home and decides to bail. Stanley, a medical student from Hong Kong, spending Australia Day on a farm with Jess, her family and her ex – foreign, loud and a little bit odd. Leila, part-Syrian but mistaken for a British person when she’s asked for her opinion on the end of apartheid in South Africa. The stories capture all of Australia that make it the country it is – multicultural, mainly accepting but with occasional brash, unpopular opinions that lack tolerance. Racism and loneliness are explored side by side with love and family.

The more I sit here and reflect on each story in this collection, the stronger and more powerful they become. Each story holds its own, exploring the good and bad of Australian society and life in general. There are small things to be celebrated (like the nursing home residents having doughnuts bought for them one morning) and larger issues explored. The different cultures, the intriguing characters all left me wanting more. I’d love to see some longer fiction from Melanie Cheng in the future but I’ll happily accept anything and everything she writes. A fantastic talent who has nailed the art of the short story.

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4 thoughts on “REVIEW: Australia Day by Melanie Cheng

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  1. I’ve been wanting to read this but haven’t got to it yet. I might bump it up a little in the TBR pile now. For some reason I tend to shy away from fiction in the short form, but when I do read it I’m often pleasantly surprised at how satisfying it is. From a writer’s perspective, short fiction is incredibly difficult to write well.

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