Posted by: Lisa Hill | November 14, 2021

Griffith Review 66 (2019): The Light Ascending, edited by Ashley Hay

I bought Griffith Review #66, The Light Ascending, because it’s their annual Novella Project edition, and it’s good value, with four novellas, short fiction, a memoir and poetry.  It’s ideal for reading during #NovNov (Novellas in November).

This is the blurb from the publisher’s website (where you can still buy it and other issues in the archive):

Griffith Review presents its annual showcase of the country’s leading writers of fiction, non-fiction and poetry. The Light Ascending features new work from Holly Ringland, Julienne van Loon, Mirandi Riwoe, Allanah Hunt, Krissy Kneen and Pat Hoffie, as well as inspiring new work from Australia’s leading poets.

The residents of a seaside town find their dreams perturbed after a young woman serves them candies at the local market; an Aboriginal family is forced to deal with the consequences of the death of a loved one in custody; the model for a celebrated canvas by Paul Gauguin reveals the harsh undertone of exploitation behind the artist’s work; a woman experiencing a post-accident coma ebbs back and forth through the currents of her life.

Edited by Ashley Hay, Griffith Review 66: The Light Ascending – The Novella Project VII presents new work that challenges, celebrates, questions and critiques.

I read the first novella with a dawning sense of horror.  Written by Julianne Van Loon, set in Perth, and titled ‘Instructions for a steep decline’, it’s the one mentioned in the blurb as being about ‘a woman experiencing a post-accident coma [who] ebbs back and forth through the currents of her life’.  She’s riding a bike to work when something throws her off balance and she ends up in the river.  For a good deal of this novella, the reader doesn’t know whether she has survived, or been permanently damaged by the collision and her long immersion in the water.  As she drifts in and out of reality, she muses on her marriage and children, her discomfort with the values implicit in her job, and the awful experience of her friend Ying and how she somehow transcended it.  I’ve read Julianne Van Loon’s fiction before, and it’s powerful, confronting stuff.

‘The Market Seller’ by Holly Ringland is confronting too, but in a different way.  The young woman who sells candies at the market seems familiar to Emily:

There was something about her: the way she took her time, as if movement caused her physical pain; how she shook as she smoothed a piece of tattered velvet over her trestle table.  She paused, then took a tentative step into a thin piece of sunlight, her trembling hands outstretched for warmth.  When she tilted her chin upwards and her hair fell away, revealing her face, Emily froze.  It was the kind of movement that made the world slow down to such a pace that tiny details — her hollow eyes, the way her shoulders curled inwards — were sharp enough to prick your skin. (p. 85)

The narrative perspective alternates between Emily and Eve, revealing sibling rivalry and a young woman’s curious revenge.

I haven’t read Holly Ringland’s fiction before, but I know that she was nominated for the 2020 Dublin Literary Award for The Lost Flowers of Alice Hart, reviewed by both Jennifer and Theresa.

‘Cleave’ by Keren Heenan is heartbreaking.  Heenan is a prolific writer of short stories and has been published widely but I think you’d have to be a subscriber to literary journals of one sort or another to have come across her work.  ‘Cleave’ is an impressive representation of three misfits who’ve been sleeping rough but think that better days are ahead when Parker inherits his father’s house.  They have naïve ambitions to entertain the locals with their performances, but this small country town not only brings back memories of all-too-believable cruelty but also rejects them much as the city did.  And it looks as if a ‘friendly’ neighbour is all set to take advantage of Parker’s desperate need for friendship.

Allanah Hunt is a Barkindji woman from the Darling River basin in Far West New South Wales, and her story ‘Spectrums’ is about the impact of a death in custody on the family.  It is a story that is familiar to us from the media, but it’s also emblematic of the resilience of Indigenous families.  As Sandy splashes a tin of paint over the house…

…her whole body rocks to the motion of her painting and she spreads it across her enormous canvas until she turns a ball of colour into a streaming sun.

She calls to Elsie, the youthful enthusiasm back in her voice after three long years, ‘Help me put some colour back into our world.’

While Hunt’s story is, in part, a recognition of the power of art for healing, Mirandi Riwoe’s ‘Annah the Javanese’ depicts the way some European Impressionists exoticised and exploited people of other cultures.  It’s a version of ‘Girl with a Pearl Earring’ that features Paul Gauguin and a Javanese girl who has been shunted around Paris to suit the needs of the men who took advantage of her.  Although her predicament is not entirely resolved, the ending sees her regaining agency in her life and escaping her ambiguous role as artist’s model, with money she has secreted into the hem of her dress.

Riwoe is the author of The Fish Girl, which won the Seizure Prize, and, since the publication of this novella in the Griffith Review, her second novel Stone Sky Gold Mountain has been nominated for multiple awards and won the ARA Historical Novel Prize.

The Griffith Review 70: Generosities of Spirit – The Novella Project VIII is available now from all good bookstores and from their website. (Click the link).  This is the blurb:

Stories of inner lives, resilience and potential realised, Generosities of Spirit presents Griffith Review‘s annual showcase of the best of Australian new writing.

Showcasing the winners of 2020’s novella competition – Rhianna Boyle, Claire G Coleman, Mikele Prestia and Kate Veitch – it also features compelling new work from Adam Thompson, Thomas Mayor, Linda Neil, Allanah Hunt and Kristina Olsson, as well as a selection of vital Australian poets – including Tony Birch, Eileen Chong & Lisa Gorton, and Mark O’Flynn.

Climate scientist Joelle Gergis also introduces a new series that Griffith Review will be showcasing online from November, The Elemental Summer, focusing on the responses and reactions to the climate emergency.

Every month is AusReadingMonth at ANZLitLovers, but this post is a contribution to #ausreadingmonth2021 at Brona’s This Reading Life.

Editor: Ashley Hay
Cover image: ‘Cold frizzle’, by Monica Rohan, 2016 (detail)
Title: Griffith Review #66, The Light Ascending, the Novella Project VII
Publisher: Griffith University, 2019
ISBN: 9781925773804
Source: personal library


  1. Thanks for the link, Lisa!

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re welcome! (But I must read it myself!!)


  2. This edition sounds interesting. My local indie stocks the Griffith Review (and loads of other lit journals) but I can never seem to bring myself to buy them: they’re so expensive (my book budget is super tight at the moment) and it’s like taking a leap into the unknown.

    I see Ashley Hay has a new non-fiction book out about eucalyptus trees. It’s on my wishlist.

    Also, Holly Ringland has been presenting Back to Nature on the ABC with Aaron Pederson. She has a very soothing voice (and a distinctive way of dressing), making her perfect for the show.


    • I struggle with subscriptions. I know that they desperately need subscribers to survive, but I can never keep up with them, and even if I don’t subscribe to very many of them, it’s still a few hundred dollars each year. So with this one, I’m choosy. I usually buy the novellas one, and then I pick and choose from the NF ones because they are so good on big picture current affairs.
      Have you checked out your library? Mine subscribes to Quarterly Essay, for example, but being librarians, they shelve by subject matter, so you need to know the name of it when you search.
      That’s interesting about Holly Ringland… I watch the ABC so rarely now, I don’t have a clue what’s on. Which does mean that I miss the occasional program that’s worthwhile…


      • It’s about the only channel I watch… usually via their streaming app (iView) so I can watch shows at a time that suits me.

        My library is shut for a few weeks while it moves into new premises, but when it reopens I’ll see what lit journals they have available. It’s a very well resourced library and the collection is going to be MUCH bigger in the new place (they’ve been operating out of temp buildings at the football ground for the whole time I have been here) so really excited to check it all out!


  3. […] Ashley Hay (editor) | Griffith Review 66: The Light Ascending (reviewed by Lisa @ANZ LitLovers) […]


  4. I think Hay’s new book, Gum, is an updated edition of the book originally published in the early 2000’s (I have a copy of the old one on my TBR pile!!)
    I enjoy the Griffith Reviews, but they take me so long to read. I enjoy dipping in and out of them, but I’m hoping to finish one for AusReadingMonth.


    • I’ve only read her fiction, but I’ve really liked it.
      BTW I’ve just been updating my posts to add the #ausreadingmonth2021, I’ll check later to see if you’ve got them all, but I’ve got a review to write for tomorrow for Novellas in November, my word, it’s a busy month!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. […] Griffith Review #66, The Light Ascending, annual Novella Project edition (reviewed by Lisa at ANZ LitLovers) […]


  6. Thank you for the link.


  7. […] Griffith Review #66, The Light Ascending, annual Novella Project edition (Lisa at ANZ LitLovers) […]


  8. […] Ashley Hay (editor) | Griffith Review 66: The Light Ascending (reviewed by Lisa @ANZ LitLovers) […]


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