Sunday, 17 April 2016

Lives of Girls and Women

Tegan Bennett Daylight's collection of short stories explore the messiness of growing up, the awkward age between teen and adult, and the angst of figuring yourself out. Six Bedrooms (2015) is a delightful read and a worthy contender for the Stella Prize.

The ten stories that make up the collection have a central coming-of-age theme. Characters recur across the stories, tying the stories together. When we first meet Tasha in "Like a Virgin" she is fifteen years old, drinking with her friend Judy. She appears again in "Firebugs", "the Bridge" and finally as an adult with a child herself in "Together Alone". While we witness Tasha growing up and maturing, the characters in the other stories tie in well.

Many of the stories are set in Sydney in the 1980s and 1990s. The protagonists are misfits, stumbling along, trying to fit in despite their lack of confidence. There are recurring themes -  loss from absent friends and family, self-doubt and inexperience, sexual desire and betrayal.

My favourite stories in the collection were "Six Bedrooms" about living in a Sydney share house, a situation that was instantly relatable, "J'aime Rose" about unrequited love, and "Trouble" about sisters living in London. The glimpses into the lives of flawed characters resonated long after the story ended.

What I really liked about Daylight's writing is how crisp she is with her prose. She treats the reader intelligently and does not over-explain. Leaving space for the reader to reflect and draw our own conclusions, she presents these vignettes like memories from old postcards or photographs - incomplete yet vivid. The best short story writers, like Alice Munro, do this exceedingly well.

I have not read Daylight's previous novels Bombora (1996), What Falls Away (2001) or Safety (2006) but I have heard her speak at the Sydney Writers' Festival and elsewhere. She is incredibly gifted and I look forward to exploring her other work.