The Night Guest introduced an Australian writer ‘with the promise of literary greatness’ (Los Angeles Times). The High Places delivers on that promise.
The dazzling stories in this collection find those moments when people confront the strangeness and mystery of their lives. The revelations of intimidating old friends on holiday. An accident on a dark country road. A marine biologist in conversation with the ghost of Charles Darwin. The sudden arrival of American parachutists in a Queensland country town. A lottery win. A farmer troubled by miracles in the middle of a drought . . . The people in The High Places are jolted into seeing themselves from a fresh and often disconcerting perspective.
Ranging around the world from a remote Pacific island to outback Australia to the tourist haunts of Greece, these stories are written with extraordinary invention, great emotional insight and wry humour. Each one of them is as rich and rewarding as literature can be.
Fiona McFarlane was born in Sydney, and has degrees in English from Sydney University and Cambridge University, and an MFA from the University of Texas at Austin, where she was a Michener Fellow. Her work has been published in Zoetrope: All-Story, Southerly, the Best Australian Stories and the New Yorker, and she has received fellowships from the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, Phillips Exeter Academy and the Australia Council for the Arts. The Night Guest, her debut novel, was shortlisted for the 2014 Stella Prize, and has sold into fifteen territories around the world. Her collection of short stories, The High Places, was published in 2016. She lives in Sydney.
Fiona McFarlane’s collection of stories, The High Places, is consistently brilliant, inventive and memorable. Representing a decade of work, the stories confidently span different eras and geographies – Sydney; Athens; an unnamed island in the Pacific – and seem to effortlessly represent the inner terrain of people’s secrets and regrets with rich emotional acuity and insight, while also managing to find the black comedy in odd encounters, strange situations and awful reunions. Animals appear throughout: dogs at races; animals in zoos; birds attached to humans. McFarlane uses this motif to show humans acting against their better instincts, often trapping themselves or others in circumstances that should have been avoidable. These are richly observed stories about complex people and situations, told by a gifted writer.
‘It is one thing to abandon a story because it’s poorly written, quite another to stop because it’s too good. And yet that is what I did with ‘Unnecessary Gifts’ from Fiona McFarlane’s debut collection of short fiction . . . The variousness of geographical setting in McFarlane’s stories suggests the roving modernist cosmopolitanism of Christina Stead or Michelle de Kretser . . . She seems equally at home in past and present, city and country; writing in the mode of dun-coloured realism or the ecstatic epiphanic . . . McFarlane reminds us the world revivified by the artist’s imagination, made strange and new, may be the only one in which we truly see.’ Geordie Williamson, Weekend Australian
‘The High Places is superb . . . It’s not just that McFarlane’s descriptions are beautiful prose, though they are. The High Places is more deliberate than that, and more intelligent. McFarlane strikes an emotional note on every page, whether it be humour or nostalgia or discomfort or joy . . . Each story feels fresh and original . . . Nothing is forced and the reason I can’t pick my favourite is that every one of the 13 stories is a winner.’ The Saturday Paper
‘The stories in The High Places are highly polished and remarkably consistent in quality. (The design deserves comment too: like The Night Guest, The High Places has an elegant and whimsical cover, as attractive as the contents of the book.) Fiona McFarlane is clearly going to be a substantial presence in Australian literature and beyond.’ Brenda Walker, The Monthly