Wednesday, 13 November 2019

Book review: Listurbia, Carly Cappielli (2019)

Cappielli’s story is told in the form of a series of lists. The list is a nice short form that chimes with the times. On social media brevity is king and on Twitter threads are common. A thread is where someone wants to post something longer than can fit in a 280-character tweet. It is created by replying to each of your own tweets in series. You add more information as it becomes available. Another Australian writer, Amanda O’Callaghan, has taken this road. In her short story collection ‘This Taste for Silence’ she uses a very short form for some stories. The emergence of threads on Twitter might have had something to do with O’Callaghan’s choice of form for some of her short stories, but in Cappielli’s case I suspect that idea for her work came from the way that we are, these days, surrounded by messages all the time in a way that was unknown a generation before.

The protagonist in Cappielli's novella is not named and the world around her is filled in, as though the hole that exists where her sense of herself should be somehow demanded such a strategy, by details gleaned from her environment. Some of the lists used in the book are taken from real life, so are nonfictional. The paradox of this novella is that just by filling in the space around the protagonist – even to the extent of sometimes providing only one side of a conversation she is involved in – the author manages to vividly evoke her creation’s interior life. It's like a classical Chinese painting where a few brushstrokes let you see an entire world, and where white space, even though it is blank, can serve to communicate deep emotions to the viewer.

I haven't completely fixed my opinions about this work and they may change with time, but the effect the writing produced in me was profound. And the western suburbs of Sydney have a good chronicler in Cappielli. The distances, the way the evening shuts in quickly as the sun sets beyond the Blue Mountains, the trains that thread their way through seemingly endless suburbs to the centre of the metropolis. The West comes alive in this novella in a way that is appropriate for the themes that are dealt with in it.

Western Sydney is full of wonderful things, from the Moon Festival that is held every year in Cabramatta to the Ramadan Food Festival held every year in Lakemba. You can even go to a festival in honour of Krishna if you time your visit right. The West has worlds within it, including the story of Cappielli’s narrator, whose world is filled with auguries and premonitions that she must deal with in order to thrive.

Sometimes we are lucky to be alive, wherever we live. Sometimes absence can speak louder than words. Sometimes what is hidden is more powerful than what is visible. Sometimes you can feel your heart beating in your chest (if you are fortunate, only sometimes). Sometimes the outward evidence of something is hidden from sight. 

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