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Description - Flames by Robbie Arnott

A young man named Levi McAllister decides to build a coffin for his twenty-three-year-old sister, Charlotte - who promptly runs for her life. A water rat swims upriver in quest of the cloud god. A fisherman named Karl hunts for tuna in partnership with a seal. And a father takes form from fire.

The answers to these riddles are to be found in this tale of grief and love and the bonds of family, tracing a journey across the southern island that takes us full circle.

Flames sings out with joy and sadness. Utterly original in conception, spellbinding in its descriptions of nature and its celebration of the power of language, it announces the arrival of a thrilling new voice in contemporary fiction.

Buy Flames by Robbie Arnott from Australia's Online Independent Bookstore, Boomerang Books.

Book Details

ISBN: 9781925603521
ISBN-10: 1925603520
Format: Paperback / softback
(232mm x 153mm x 22mm)
Pages: 256
Imprint: The Text Publishing Company
Publisher: Text Publishing
Publish Date: 30-Apr-2018
Country of Publication: Australia

Book Reviews - Flames by Robbie Arnott

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Book Review: Flames by Robbie Arnott - Reviewed by (12 May 2018)

5 stars “Black spurs of the mountain range poked high and sharp above them, daggering up into the pale sky. The sheer cliffs that fell away from these peaks revealed great faces of jagged Jurassic rock. Down where the land was less vertical snowgums gnarled their way out of frozen dirt, their trunks a patchwork of grey-brown-green, as if all the colours of the forest had poured themselves into a single species of tree.”

Flames is the first novel by Australian advertising copywriter and author, Robbie Arnott. About a third of the McAllister women die twice. Levi McAllister’s mother, Edith came back for four days after she was cremated, hung around adorned in ferns and moss, then burst into flames on his father, Jack’s front lawn. Levi’s gotten over that, but his sister Charlotte is still suffering a deep grief. Levi’s somewhat twisted logic leads him to a bizarre solution: he will build her a coffin.

When Charlotte stumbles upon his plans, she flees: “All she has left of her mother are photos and memories and a family tradition of flames, and she won’t let him take them from her. Charlotte will burn, tomorrow or in half a century, but she will burn. And she might return. Though that isn’t the point.” Charlotte heads south.

From there, the story progresses through different narrators and from different perspectives with each successive chapter. Each is titled with a significant word and, while the connections between them are sometimes tenuous, sometimes clear and strong, all falls into place by the final chapter. Most of the chapters are in narrative form, but other formats also feature: a series of letters; entries from a diary; and a chapter from a yet-to-be-published book.

Arnott uses an assortment of characters to tell the tale: a paranoid woodwork enthusiast; a nosy small-town matron with literary aspirations; a private investigator with a thirst for gin; a deity in the form of a water rat; a wombat-farmer slowly descending into madness; a National Park Ranger; a tuna fisherman in close partnership with a seal; a fire entity in human form. For such a short read, the characters have a surprising depth, even those whose names we never learn.

Arnott’s plot is original, and he keeps the reader intrigued with twists and turns and a dramatic climax. He takes the reader through emotional highs and lows as his characters feel joy and sorrow, grief, love and lust, fear, wonder, and loneliness. There’s plenty of humour, some of it subtle, some truly laugh-out-loud (Mavis and Thurston are major contributors to this, with imaginative names and salutations), and a genuinely satisfying conclusion.

It will be immediately apparent to anyone even vaguely familiar with Tasmania that Arnott is on intimate terms with his island, and his exquisite descriptive prose definitely does this gem of a place justice. Richard Flanagan says of this novel: “A strange and joyous marvel” and it’s easy to see why: there’s certainly a bit of Flanagan-like magic, but without his usual darkness, in this outstanding debut novel. More please, Mr Arnott!!

Author Biography - Robbie Arnott

Robbie Arnott was born in Launceston in 1989. His writing has appeared in Island, the Lifted Brow, Kill Your Darlings and the 2017 anthology Seven Stories. He won the 2015 Tasmanian Young Writers' Fellowship and the 2014 Scribe Nonfiction Prize for Young Writers. Robbie lives in Hobart and is an advertising copywriter.

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