Category Archives: Short Stories

Paradise or Something Similar

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Author: Helen Dinmore

Published In: Overland

Date: Autumn 2011

Have you ever felt alone? Have you ever felt like you were the only person who could see outside the box, through the glass to what the world was really like? Have you ever felt unplugged?

These are the questions presented in Helen Dinmore’s Unplugged, a short story featured in the March edition of Overland.

It tells the story of a jaded traveller who seeks more in her travels but has reached the grim realization that more, or even a genuinely foreign experience is impossible. The unnamed traveller begins the story with her boyfriend Adam as the pair spend their time in Thailand watching Hollywood movies, in particular The Matrix. As the piece moves on the unnamed traveller has left her boyfriend but is still in Thailand: bored with her experience, but too apathetic to leave, too resigned to the fact she has seen it all and gotten nothing real in return.

It is impossible not to draw comparisons between Unplugged and Alex Garland’s The Beach. Both are set in Thailand and both involved a weary traveller seeking genuine, out of the ordinary experience. The difference is that Dinmore’s piece is more sardonic and more apathetic. Her narrator craves the authentic Thailand but is too weary to find it. If Richard had ever met Dinmore’s unnamed traveller chances are he would never have gone to the beach; he would have packed his things and travelled right on home to England.

Dinmore’s presentation of this apathy is what makes the short story so captivating. For a running inner commentary the piece is seamless, as time and thoughts run from one bland experience to the next.  It’s paints a startlingly realistic picture of the drawbacks of experience and the limitations of expecting to buy it, in such a spoilt, western fashion. Even more clever are the segue of The Matrix films which bonds different times of experience together and links it cleverly to reality or being ‘unplugged’ in the movie.  It is this ironic idea, of a movie presenting the metaphor for reality, that makes Dinmore’s unnamed traveller so realistic, so like us and her disappointment in her travels so familiar.

Unplugged is not really a haunting story. And at the end of it there is no resounding message to take from it, much like the travels that the narrator has been taking. All that is left is the vague  realisation that in this kind of spoilt malaise, you, weary traveller, are not alone.


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A Labour Not of Love

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Author: Meg Mundell

Published in: Meanjin vol 64

Date: 2005

When a woman gives birth no one walks into the room, takes one glance at the baby and says “oh boy, that must have been one hell of a labor.”

The same should be the same for fiction. But sadly for Meg Mundell’s creation Vermilion its not the product that she delivers that steals the show, but rather the painfully obvious craftsmanship which led to it.

The short story is a glance of life in suburban flat told from the dual perspectives of Will and Nina: Will is quiet, neat and private whilst Nina is (of course) his exact opposite- a brash, alcoholic painter trying to reach a deadline. Their paths cross due to the frazzled intrusion of Nina into Will’s life and from here the story becomes an intertwined look and their distant, but oddly intimate relationship.

However, for a story about the organic growing of intimacy between two strangers, there is the artificial presence of Mundell: the puppet master showing her hands. Her authorial voice is a constant intrusion and makes it seem as though Mundell is struggling to push these characters together. It’s not just the unrealistic descriptions that Will gives of the neighbour he has never met which, like a bread trail, leads the audience straight out of the drama. It is the lack of voice belonging to each of the characters which make them unremarkable and indistinct from one another. Mundell creates interesting characters but they are so unrealistic that they never really move off the page.

At least on the page Mundell gets a chance to show of her masterful grasp on the English language which becomes the story’s greatest value and biggest flaw. The long, luscious sentences are used to great effect in concealing the story’s twist but Mundell’s beautiful words become overshadowed by the overuse of dual perspectives. Its almost as if the technique has been used as a way to drive a story she’s only writing to showcase her talent. The perspectives are repetitive and the two paths of the characters become more like concentric circles, which follow each other around and around again.

Vermilion like many short stories from young writers shows all the promise and talent of someone who has a lot to offer. However talent shouldn’t be the basis of a story- a story itself should be.

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