Posted by: Lisa Hill | February 11, 2020

Dental Tourism, by Mark O’Flynn

Mark O’Flynn writes drama, fiction, memoir and poetry, and is the author of The Last Days of Ava Langdon (2016), a novel I really liked. A fictionalised portrait of the eccentric author Eve Langley, it was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award and the Prime Minister’s Literary Award, and it won the Voss Literary Prize in 2017.  I wasn’t expecting it to have similarities with O’Flynn’s new collection of short stories, but it does.  Because like the character of Ava Langdon negotiating a mundane world from an off-beat perspective, the characters in these short stories find themselves in situations which seem both bizarre and yet entirely normal…

The one I liked most is called ‘White to the End of the World’.  A teenage girl who would rather go shopping finds herself taking her grandfather’s place on an Antarctic flight with a bunch of geriatric scientists.  And even though shopping bores me witless, I identified with this girl because six hours is an awfully long time to sit on a plane, only to find when you get there you have to turn around and come back.  To spend all that time in a plane and not be anywhere when you land again seems to me to be utterly pointless, especially since you can see much more of Antarctica with David Attenborough in close-up if you are so minded, (which I am not).  But The Spouse (who likes wild-life docos) was ecstatic when I bought him a ticket for one of these flights for one of his Big Birthdays, and even though you can only see properly on one leg of the journey because you have to share the window seat with whoever is next to you, he had a wonderful time and still likes to talk about it and look at his photos.  For poor Denise, the trip only livens up when something unexpected happens, but you’ll have to read the story for yourself to find out what it is.

The titular story is a cautionary tale.  Donald Watkins decides to save money on some expensive dental treatment by having it done in Thailand.  His local dentist (as he would, wouldn’t he?) talks about the risks — but the disaster that happens has nothing to do with Donald’s troublesome teeth.  Some readers will remember all that political trouble in Thailand a while back… I remember it well because one of The Spouse’s business associates was caught up in it and had to hole up in his hotel room for much longer than he wanted to.  This was a surprise to him because he makes regular trips to Lebanon — where one might expect political trouble — but it had never occurred to him that he would be one of hundreds of thousands of stranded passengers in Bangkok and that there would be violence on the streets in the land of smiles. But that’s not all that happens to poor Donald.  Lone Australian men travel to Thailand for more dubious reasons than having their teeth fixed, and corrupt policemen take advantage of this.

‘Tooth for a Tooth’ is nothing to do with dental treatment.  It features a bookgroup, one that’s been meeting for twenty years to share trial recipes and the latest Booker winner.   There is a core group of about six people, which sometimes swells to twice that, and one of the stalwarts used to be Amanda.  But Amanda has been locked up as a forensic patient for sixteen years, and the ladies about to share the Asian infused swordfish with greens are mightily disconcerted to learn that Tanya, who’s been writing to Amanda, has invited her to join them tonight.  These light-hearted, progressive, liberal-minded ladies have to confront painful ideas about justice and forgiveness and when punishment has been enough.

‘Political Correctness’ features an acerbic wife wryly observing her husband’s outrage when he spies a politician at the same island resort.  Dean (who gets in her personal space too much, which tells you something about their relationship and how this second honeymoon is progressing) rants on about politicians’ privileges, taxpayer rorts and all the sort of predictable rot you would hear if you were silly enough to listen to shock jocks.  Yes, I would have booked up my time with pedicures and massages too, rather than put up with it.  It’s quite funny, especially since, put to the test, all this manufactured outrage fizzles out when confronted by the politician’s charm.  Except that having been left to his own devices, Dean has got up to some unexpected mischief!

It is the absolute ordinariness of the characters in these stories that makes them interesting because we see ourselves also negotiating a world that suddenly tips off balance.

Author: Mark O’Flynn
Title: Dental Tourism
Cover design by Miranda Douglas
Publisher: Puncher and Wattman, 2020
ISBN: 9781925780536, pbk, 245 pages
Review copy courtesy of Puncher and Wattman.

Available from Puncher and Wattman, from Fishpond: Dental Tourism and from all good bookstores.



  1. This book sounds like interesting times. So many unusual topics to read about. I enjoyed hearing about it.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It’s refreshing to read a collection like this. I could have read these stories with my dad, which is more than I could say about most of the collections that have come my way recently, because in his old age he did not want to read about drugs, sex, and abuse…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Trying to resist …. I am very tempted (yet again).I love learning about books I might otherwise not become aware of. Thank you, Lisa.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I know the feeling, I have to resist your reviews sometimes too, or else I’d never get round to reading anything from my TBR…

      Liked by 1 person

  3. After following your link I borrowed The Last Days of Ava Langdon from the library and at half way through it’s a sheer delight! I have never heard of Eve Langley now I will have to try and find a book by her.. and I’m going to have to get hold of a copy of Dental Tourism now too.

    I just love it when I get to discover new and wonderful books like this! Thanks Lisa!


    • Delighted to hear that the book hit the spot. The Pea Pickers is the one that I’ve read by Langley, and although the style takes a bit of getting used to, it’s a marvellous evocation of the era when itinerant workers travelled around the state to earn their meagre living, and the two women of the story pose as men to get work.


  4. This sounds like a wonderful short story collection Lisa. I’d love to find time to read it … How do these short story writers keep coming up with so many different stories?


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