Hunting the Wild Pineapple by Thea Astley

‘Let me draw you a little map.’

I am drawn to this collection of Thea Astley short stories because of the title, and because Lisa, at ANZ LitLovers LitBlog, is hosting a Thea Astley week later this month (August 17 to 25, 2020).   More information can be found at:

I should admit that while Thea Astley has long been on my reading horizon, I have not previously read any of her work.  So, I consulted my local library’s online catalogue and borrowed ‘Hunting the Wild Pineapple’, a collection of short stories published in 1979.

‘Take a patch of coastline and its hinterland, put it just north of twenty and one hundred and forty-six east, make it hot and wet and sprinkle it with people who feel they’ve been forgotten by the rest of the country – and don’t really care.’

There are eight marvellous short stories in this collection, narrated by Leverson:

‘Take a failure, male of middling years, who had already punctured several shiny bubbles.’

And who is missing a leg.

‘Add a name.  Leverson.’

What can I tell you about these stories?  Can I describe aspects well enough to tempt you to read them? The places you might see, the people you might meet.  Would you like to travel to Mango with Leverson and Mrs Crystal Bellamy?  Will you wonder about the characters in ‘The Curate Breaker’?  Or, like me, will you become caught up in the stories (for there are more than one) in ‘A Northern Belle’?

It is Ms Astley’s descriptions that take me into the stories, lead me to observe people and wonder what might happen next after the writing stops.  Are any of these relationships between equals?  I keep thinking of ‘A Northern Belle’, but I could equally name ‘Ladies Need Only Apply’.  There are images that grab my attention, scenes which have me squirm, people I feel sorry for.  And some I detest.

There’s a skill in constructing self-contained narratives as short stories: images are important, and language is critical.  Each of the eight stories held my attention: none of them is predictable, each of them has a twist (or two) to make you catch your breath.

So this collection of short stories is my introduction to Thea Astley. I will look, next, for one of her novels.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith