Thursday, September 08, 2011

White Time by Margo Lanagan

Lose yourself in White Time

White Time is mind time, body time, soul time, heart time.

White Time is other worlds, other dimensions, other states of being.

White Time is out of time.

In this transcendent collection of short stories, Margo Lanagan, author of the award-winning story collection Black Juice, deftly navigates a new set of worlds in which the boundaries between reality and possibility are paper-thin . . . and sometimes disappear altogether.

My odyssey through the short story collections of Margo Lanagan continues. This time, I travel through White Time. Once again, the worlds that Margo Lanagan creates vary from similar to our worlds to completely different but the emotions that we are exposed to are always familiar and always moving!

White Time explores a situation that most of us would have been familiar with during our teenage years - work experience (although in the story it is called occupation tasting). Sheneel is disappointed when she is allocated to the Commonweal White Time Laboratories for her occupation tasting. She wanted the far more glamorous release party tasting that will give her access to celebrities and parties! One of her jobs whilst she is at the lab is to help Lon redirect entities in white time - time travellers who end up stuck in the little corner of white time that he is responsible for. Where these time travellers are redirected to is never quite clear. It could be that they are sent onwards on their journey, or it could be much more final redirection. Will Sheneel be drawn into the world of White Time?

In Dedication, the Royal Dresser is called to the palace urgently even though it is the dedication day of his own children. The urgent task that is to be performed? He is to make the body of the princess look presentable for presentation to her father the King. At first, this reads as a simple request but in the space of less than 20 pages Lanagan manages to show that this simple task is anything but when you take into account the girl's identity, the family dynamics and grief.

Tell and Kiss was a very interesting concept for me for reasons that will be obvious. The basic premise of the story is what if you are not overweight because of the food that you consume, but rather because of the emotional baggage that you carry around with you and don't let go of. Evan is nearly at the end of his year long program that has helped him shed his kilos, but what happens if he can't tell his stories anymore. I think that all of us feel the weight of our stories at one time or another - I certainly do!

What happens when an ordinary ant catches The Queen's Notice. The reader is taken inside the world of the ant. The Queen Bee is almost ready to choose who will be her next mate and Dybbol catches her attention when he helps repel attacks on the nest. Before he can step up into his new role, there are preparations to be made.

In Big Rage, Billie is a woman in turmoil. Her husband is manipulative and is always belittling her, and in the past she has always waited for him to make the first move. She is staying at the beach following yet another argument when she comes across a warrior dressed in armour who is obviously wounded. At first she thinks he is a role-player, but it doesn't take long before she realises that he is something more than that! This was one of my favourite stories in the collection. At the end of the story I wanted to stand up and cheer - not always the smartest move on public transport.

Just as in Yellowcake there was a story exploring the idea of the way that children are affected during times of war, this is a theme in The Night Lily also. I am not sure if it is the theme, but just like the corresponding story that explored similar themes in Yellowcake, I wasn't all that drawn into this story, or at least not as much as I have been into the other Lanagan short stories I have read.

Tess Maxwell is the main character in The Boy Who Didn't Yearn. She sees much more than the average person. She can give readings about those who have gone before, and see just by looking what is going on in a person's life. In her own words (page159-160):

My work makes it hard for me to like people. They seem so despicable sometimes, going around inside out, all their weaknesses showing in their walk, in their clothes, in their I'm-in-control-of-it-all faces let alone the visible holes in them, the baggage-people they drag around with them. Mum says these things are only obvious to me, though. I must remember, not everyone can see what's so shatteringly clear to me. I envy other people that,  and I despise them. I can't see how they can live, so cluttered up with other people's lives and influences; I'd hate to live in someone else's shadow. Worse, I'd hate to go around with my insides all blurted out like that, moaning my wants to the whole world, mourning what I'd lost.

It is therefore no surprise then that when she meets someone who has no baggage that she can see, she finds him completely fascinating and is drawn to him. What is the secret of The Boy Who Didn't Yearn? This was another of my favourites from the collection.

Midsummer Mission had me very confused for a little while. Who or what were the main characters who travel to a designated place and time to carry out a specified mission. They must influence Nawbair while he sleeps in a particular emotional direction. It is not however a mission without danger for our intrepid team - Hat, Snap, Motto and Trinket - for they need to report back...alive...with the result of their mission. In the end, this was a really fun little story, with humour, salty language, touches of whimsy - a delight to read.

Welcome Blue features a young girl named Eleanor who has recently been employed by Quaid to assist him in harvesting his Welcome Blue flowers. It is clear that Eleanor has experiences in her past that make her wary of mean in particular and so at first she doesn't trust Quaid. As the day draws on though, it becomes apparent that Quaid is just what he says he is. A man whose only agenda is to harvest his flowers. He is not tempted to sell the flowers to the many towns people who are travelling to the local showgrounds in anticipation of the scheduled arrival of the gods, no matter how much money he is offered.

Without providing any background at all, Eleanor's emotional frailties are revealed with great subtlety and a deft touch.

One thing I find very interesting about the reading experience is how two totally different works can connect together. For example, I am currently reading The Space Between Us by Thrity Umrigar which examines the idea of caste, of servitude to a superior race and of relationship in a book that I would classify more as literature. Here, with a made up setting and nationalities, many of the same themes are explored in the final short story of the collection - Wealth.

When Rill's brother is arrested (again) and put in jail it is up to her to raise the money using the only way she knows how - her talent for growing wealth, which in her world is the hair on a Leet man's head. This is despite the fact that she knows her brother will be ungrateful and her grandmother will still not acknowledge either her or the work that she does to support the family. When she is offered a substantial amount of money to grow wealth, it could very well be her chance to become something more despite her status as an Ord. Or, there could be another outcome - with much greater consequences.

The only thing left to say really is bring on Black Juice or Red Spikes! Or maybe it is time to move away from the short story form and read Tender Morsels. Decisions, decisions.

Rating 4/5

**This book of short stories is my first read for the Short Story component of RIP VI.


  1. I hear lots of good things about the author, but I'm not sure I knew she wrote short stories. Love short stories.

    Glad you enjoyed the collection. Could you imagine how enormous we all would be if our weight was determined by our emotional baggage? Wow! We'd be in big trouble.

  2. I don't usually like short stories, but these sound great. I really like Lanagan; she has quite an imagination. Thanks for summarizing these!

  3. I don't know what it is. I read Tender Morsels and really enjoyed it, but I read Red Spikes and I wasn't a huge fan of it...

  4. Kailana, I have really liked both short story collections I have read from her, but haven't read Red Spikes yet.

    Rhapsodyinbooks, she really does have quite an imagination! Looking forward to reading more from her!

    Carl, I think she has four short story collections out already, and there is at least one more on the way soon (part of the Twelve Planets series that I have posted on about here before).

  5. Hi Marg, I had not heard of Lanagan. These stories sound fascinating and thoroughly original.

    As to your comment about our reading experiences sometimes linking together, I have recently considered this myself. And I don't know what to make of it. Quite randomly I selected two books of fiction on the impact of pestilence/disease on a community - Nemesis (polio) and Year of Wonders (plague) - and then I noticed that in a short space of time I have read two novels by former journalists. I think spotting these conincidences is fun, at the very least :)

  6. This collection sounds very, very different, and also very interesting! I like that you give us a view of all the stories and let us know a little about how you felt about them all. I don't usually do so well with short stories, but really like the sound of this collection. It seems like a really great one! Fabulous review, Marg!

  7. Mel, it is surprising how often it happens isn't it! And yes, it is always fun when it happens.

    Zibilee, both of Lanagan's collections that I have read have been very interesting

  8. Hmm and here I was thinking that I had all of Lanagan's work. Thanks for the heads up Marg.

  9. Sean, I think that there are 4 short story collections so far - White Time, Red Spikes, Black Juice and Yellowcake.