Posted by: Lisa Hill | October 14, 2012

The Factory (2005), by Paddy O’Reilly

Great minds think alike they say, but really, it’s just coincidence that Sue at Whispering Gums has recently reviewed a short story by notable author, Paddy O’Reilly.  Three weeks before Sue’s review went online, I picked up a copy of The Factory on the recommendation of Carrie Tiffany at an author event at my local library, and now that I’ve read it I can understand why she was keen for me to read it.   It’s very good.  Very good indeed.

An award-winning short story writer, O’Reilly has been widely published in all the significant Australian literary magazines including Meanjin, Southerly, Westerly and Island, and in anthologies such as Best Australian Short Stories 2004 and Best Australian Stories 2006. Her collection The End of the World  was published by UQP in 2004 and is still in print. However The Factory, her first novel, tagged as one of the best books of 2005 in Australian Book Review and Highly Commended in the FAW Christina Stead Award for Fiction,  seems to be out-of-print, so I’ll offer my apologies now if you have the frustrating experience of being unable to source a copy yourself.  I can’t find anywhere online where it’s available, so you may have to hunt around libraries and second-hand sites like Brotherhood Books or AbeBooks (links are in my blogroll).  Trust me, it will be worth it, and if Thompson Walker (Australian Scholarly Publishing) doesn’t want to reissue it, then some enterprising publisher should snaffle the rights ASAP.  I can’t understand why it hasn’t been made into a film either…

It’s probably fair to say that most people are fascinated by the break-up of successful groups such the Beatles who went their separate ways at the height of their fame.   Paddy O’Reilly has used this fascination as the premise for her character Hilda Moore to undertake research in Japan, finding out the truth of the break-up of Koba, a  theatre group which resurrected the cultural heritage of Japan with song, dance and Noh theatre. In the 1970s, when Japan was a hotbed of dissent, the group was formed as a cooperative that valued traditional culture but within two years it fell apart after the death of one of its members. When twenty-odd years later the founder Yasuda founds a revival, Hilda sets off to investigate the individuals who were behind such events.

For her PhD, Hilda’s project is to interview the surviving members, and to offer her own interpretation of their narratives. Hilda is a quiet, submissive character who speaks Japanese fluently and is familiar with Japanese mores but she travels there with Eloise, a character so exuberant that we know she is destined to fail the conformity test from the outset.  Paddy O’Reilly has apparently knows Japan well and she has used her familiarity with the country to depict Eloise’s blunders in a droll way without overdoing it.

However, it’s not Eloise who gets into major trouble.  As we learn from the very first lines of the story, Hilda has landed up in a Japanese gaol, submitting to very severe discipline in a land where discipline and conformity is extreme by Australian standards anyway. No reason for her imprisonment is given, and this is not the only mystery unresolved until the last chapters of the book.

These opening lines lured me in straight away.

They took away all my research papers when I was arrested on the mountain in Japan. As the four policemen crowded  into my cubicle, neatly piling up my reams of handwritten notes and packing my computer into my travelling case, I sat on the bed and started to tremble. (p 1)

There could be few things more scary than being arrested in a foreign country, especially one that doesn’t have the protections of the British judicial system.

Like Australian POWs during WW2, at risk of severe punishment, Hilda writes her story in secret, scribbling in the margins of the few books she is allowed to read.  Gradually the pieces of the puzzle are revealed as she records her interviews with various members of the group, all of whom have different agendas and different versions of the truth to lead both Hilda and the reader up the garden path.  To access these people Hilda has had to agree to Yasuda’s demand that she document the rebirth of the group, New Koba, and to do so she has to participate in its activities.   It becomes increasingly difficult for her to distance herself from secrets, lies and betrayals past and present in a plot which is psychologically convincing and completely irresistible.

The Factory is a beautifully constructed story which enables the reader to piece suspicions together without compromising a climax which comes as a complete surprise.

Paddy O’Reilly’s second novel, The Fine Colour of Rust, is written under the name P.A. Reilly to signal a venture into more popular fiction, (see a review at Literary Minded)  but her website tells us that the book she is working on now is a return to literary fiction.  Clearly she is a versatile author!

The Factory has been reviewed at eOpinions and there is also a brief review at the SMH.

You can find out more about Paddy O’Reilly at her website, and read an interview at Book’d Out.

©Lisa Hill

Author: Paddy O’Reilly
Title: The Factory
Publisher: Thompson Walker, Australian Scholarly Publishing, 2005
ISBN: 9781740970938
Source: Kingston Library


Fishpond : The Factory Out of print, but you might be lucky and find a second-hand copy available.


  1. The Factory sounds wonderful – except for the part about it being out of print. How frustrating! I really want to read it. Things go out of print much, much too quickly.


    • I’m at a complete loss…I’ve tried Brotherhood Books, AbeBooks and BibliOz but no luck. I wonder what the initial print run was? Anyway, I am going to scour my local OpShops to see if I can find a copy. However, I’ve tried WorldCat and found that there are 3 pages of results for libraries in Australia. Is that any use, or are you still overseas?


      • Still in France. But I’m coming back for Christmas, so I’ve put in a request for the local library to get it on interlibrary loan. Not ideal, though – I hope it gets a reissue.


        • Maybe some enterprising publisher will take note of our interest!


  2. Oh, you knew you’d get me in with the reference to Japan didn’t you Lisa … what with Paddy O’Reilly, Japan, and the issue of research and intellectual freedom, this sounds like something I really should try to track down. Seems to me that O’Reilly should she be better known.


    • Sue, you would love this book. Is there a NSW/ACT library site like ZPortal where you can search to see if there’s a local library that has it?


      • Update: you’re in luck, Sue, according to Belconnen Library has it. See


      • I have no idea … Isn’t that terrible. I don’t use libraries much these days … I tend in fact to go to second hand shops … Trove does some libraries doesn’t it? But probably not a lot of public libraries. You’ve given me some homework!


        • Try Worldcat. com…


          • Oh yes, thanks Lisa, I do use that one … but you’ve probably seen my response re Trove. Some Public Libs clearly are there. Trove tends to be my go to for a lot of book research (though I haven’t used the located aspect really other than noticing that it exists!).


            • I think we’re really lucky to have these resources at our fingertips these days!


              • We so are … and as librarians we know it as well as any!


      • Trove does do some PLs … Says Libraries ACT has it, also Orange, Armidale … And more. But I suspect not all PLs have their collections available this way.


  3. This does sound good :) Where did you get your copy – at the library?


    • Yes, Kingston Library. If all else fails you could try getting it on interlibrary loan from them.


  4. I had never heard of this writer, but the book sounds really interesting. I’ll see if I can get it from my local library. Thanks for the great review, as always.


    • Annabel, I met Paddy O’Reilly tonight at an author event and I let her know how much we’d love to see this book back in print. So *fingers crossed*, eh?


  5. Hi,

    I’m probably going to use this novel in my phd thesis on Australian Literary Representations of Japan. I have the novel scanned if anyone wants it. Do you know Paddy O’Reilly personally Lisa?


    • Hello Tim, that sounds like a most interesting PhD. your comment has made me wonder about other representations of Japan in Australian literature, I can’t think of any other than Shirley Hazzard’s The Great Fire.
      I do know Paddy, I’ve met her a couple of times at literary events, and she is a lovely person as well as a very stylish writer.
      But *little frown* while I think it’s ok to scan a book for the purposes of study, I’m not sure about the copyright side of things with *sharing* scanned copies of the novel, even if it’s out-of-print. Non-authors may not know this, but every book that’s in a public library earns a little bit of money for an author, long after is out of print. So if you love an author and you care about them having an income, it’s much better for them to pester your library to get hold of a copy or organise an inter-library loan for you.


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