Posted by: Lisa Hill | March 26, 2017

‘Datsunland’ in Griffith Review 54 (2016) Earthly Delights, The Novella Project, edited by Julianne Schultz

The 2016 annual edition of The Griffith Review’s Novella Project has six contributors but it was to meet one of my favourite authors, Stephen Orr that I made a rare excursion to the CBD for the launch of Issue #54.  It was a great night, hosted by The Hill of Content Bookshop: there was a tribute to Cory Taylor (who has a fiction piece in the edition) and there were readings from the collection as well. This is the blurb from the Griffith Review website:

Suzanne McCourt boldly ruminates on sexual taboos; Stephen Orr explores the nuances of the student–teacher bond; Graham Lang finds unlikely tenderness in a bleak ending; Melanie Cheng walks the line between inspiration and desire in life and art; and Daniel Jenkins plunges into the day-to-day negotiations of Westerners in the Middle East. Earthly Delights also features the final words of fiction in Cory Taylor’s wonderful and enduring written legacy.

Stephen’s novella ‘Datsunland’ is the standout story in the collection, and at just over 100 pages, it’s the longest one too.  (The others, IMO, are more like short stories than novellas since they range in length around only 30 pages.)

‘Datsunland’ is a story about distrust.  A disengaged music teacher and an equally disengaged guitar student think they have nothing in common until a chance conversation about the boy becomes a catalyst for the teacher to make a bit of an effort.  While the teacher still thinks that technique and scales are an important foundation he acknowledges that they are boring, and by relaxing a bit and opening up with the student he discovers that they share an interest in the same kind of music.  A relationship develops, one that makes the reader speculate, along with other students, the boy’s father, other teachers and eventually the school administration.

The novella length of this story allows Orr to explore these multiple perspectives, drawing the reader along in the trail of suspicion.  We have become so used to the narrative about exploitative relationships, that we are almost expecting this story to play out in a predictable way.  Eventually even the boy distrusts himself and the teacher.

It’s a thought-provoking story because as a society we have learned that we should be on hyper-alert about molestation, and yet there is something to be lost when adult mentors to teenage boys risk everything if their actions are misinterpreted.  Any mistake, any casual expression of affection, any careless remark can be a disaster.  I think the story also shows that teenage boys are chafing for independence and yet schools are still fussing about haircuts and other trivial things that have nothing to do with education.

I’ve read five of Stephen Orr’s novels and this piece shows yet again what a versatile author he is.  The characterisation is spot on, the depiction of family life is rich with authentic dialogue, and the school is compellingly real.

BTW The Editor Julianne Schultz has written an insightful introduction, discussing changes in the way we read and why deep reading is more important than ever before.

Author: Stephen Orr
Title: ‘Datsunland’ in Griffith Review #54, Earthly Delights, The Novella Project
Publisher: Griffith Review in association with Text Publishing, 2016
ISBN: 9781925355543
Source: Personal copy, purchased at The Hill of Content Bookshop.

Available from Fishpond: Earthly Delights – The Novella Project IV (Griffith REVIEW)
Or you can subscribe and get 4 issues of the Griffith Review each year. (You can also get a digital subscription, which is significantly cheaper).



  1. I haven’t heard of Stephen Orr, but just read your interview with him. I will keep an eye out for his books from now on. Which one would you recommend I start with?


    • The Hands, no hesitation. It’s his best work. (But you will still love the others as well.)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’m currently reading Orr’s collection of short stories Datsunland. I’ll come back to your review later.


  3. […] You can find other reviews on Lisa’s blog, one for the whole collection and one for the main story, Datsunland. […]


  4. […] (ANZLitLovers) reviewed the novella and the collection, and so did Carmel Bird in The Newtown Review of Books whose insightful […]


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