Cory Taylor’s Dying: A Memoir is shortlisted for the 2017 Stella Prize. It was written in the space of a few weeks before Cory’s death from cancer in July 2016. To honour her shortlisting and celebrate the book, Cory’s friend Kristina Olsson shares this reflection.
Cory’s last book: the very phrase still seems impossible. That Dying: A Memoir – this beautiful tribute to life and death, of the writer’s craft – will not be followed by more.
Cory’s final testament arrived like a thoughtful gift to anyone who opened it. Unsparing in its insights and observations, breathtaking in its courage and generosity, the book is a lantern held high on the dark road we’re all on but mostly ignore. Cory doesn’t flinch in her role as the lantern bearer and guide for death. She raises it up to illuminate her own path but also to clear ours. In this way she is, like her writing, like her outlook, generous beyond measure.
I have my own personal memories of Cory that I clutch to myself like treasures. Some of them return to her last weeks, the talks over cups of Japanese tea, energetic conversations that looped around art and life and children and, of course, writing. The new book (rushed into print but its quality in no way compromised, right down to its beautiful production by her publisher) had brought radio and newspaper interviewers into her days, and dozens of messages of congratulations. She welcomed us all.
A year after both our books were published, I received an email from friends travelling in Japan. They arrived in Nagasaki at Chinese New Year; the closest accommodation they could find was a house in Arita, two hours away. Dismayed, they caught the train there; but what greeted them, Stephanie wrote, was ‘more lovely than we could have imagined’. A Japanese woman, Miyuri, a friend of the owners who spoke fluent English, met them at the train and took them through the streets to a ‘charming Japanese-style house, lovingly restored with rice paper screens, polished timber floors, cosy beds, and an enormous kitchen table covered in small pots and cups and jugs from various artists who had visited over the years’. There was a poster for a book they didn’t recognise: My Beautiful Enemy. And on a bookshelf, a copy of my own book: Boy, Lost.
It was Cory’s house. Where she and her husband Shin, an artist who works in Japanese porcelain, lived for half of every year. In a flurry of emails we figured that out, but what struck me, apart from the lovely serendipity of two friends brought together in this way, was, once more, Cory’s generosity: she had my book on a shelf she knew many visitors would browse, and where they might notice it and remember it. As Stephanie had.
Of course, My Beautiful Enemy was there too, and in the year of Stephanie’s visit it was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin. Like Cory’s first novel, Me and Mr Booker, and like Dying, it is a thing of lightness and beauty, of intelligence and stylistic virtue. But you can go to the reviews for all that. Personally, I loved all the books for their tenderness, for their gentle exploration of longing and the secret lives we all have.
I still miss Cory’s fierce intellect and her humour. That abiding generosity and candour. And, selfishly, I feel shortchanged: all the books Cory didn’t get to write. The books we won’t get to read. What they might have given us, revealed about us. What they might have taught me. The awards they might have won, the people they would have moved.
An absence on my own bookshelf, and in all our lives.
Kristina Olsson is the author of two novels, In One Skin and the award-winning The China Garden; the biography Kilroy Was Here; and the memoir Boy, Lost, which won several national literary awards and was shortlisted for the 2014 Stella Prize. She is currently completing her third novel. Kristina lives in Brisbane.