This brilliant collection mixes the storytelling originality of George Saunders and Lydia Davis with a sensibility all its own, taking the reader on an extraordinary tour of old and new Australia – and into a very frightening future.
A woman on a passenger ship in 1958 gets involved with a young, wild Barry Humphries. A man looks back to the 1970s, and his time as a member of Australia’s least competent scout troop. In 1988, a teenage boy recalls his sexual initiation, out on the tanbark. In 2015, two sisters text in Kmart about how to manage their irascible mother.
Then, in the near future, a racist demagogue – a kind of Australian Trump – talks to the press the day after his electoral triumph. As the cities heat up and lose their water, a lady from one of the ‘better suburbs’ makes every effort to get her family, and her dog, into a gated community.
This is Australia, in all its glories and its foibles – and its insularity and fear. These stories are a reflection of where we are now, and where we may be headed. Bitingly satirical, outstandingly original and written in a remarkable range of voices, A Couple of Things Before the End is a stand-out fiction debut of 2020.