The Book of Thistles (Noëlle Janaczewska, UWA Publishing)
This debut from Windham-Campbell prize-winning playwright Noëlle Janaczewska is a genre-bending mash-up that incorporates memoir, popular science, history and food writing. Janaczewska uses her lifelong personal interest in the thistle as a device for exploring an array of personal and historical subjects. Arranged broadly into five sections (Names, Law, War, Food and Outliers), a substantial portion of the book—relayed in short, self-contained paragraphs alongside historical fragments—is devoted to the memories that thistles trigger for Janaczewska: her childhood in the English countryside, visiting North and South Korea, the parallels between her relocation from England to Australia, and the thistle as an invasive colonial species. The Book of Thistles encompasses such a miscellany of subjects that at times it is easy to get lost among the meandering references, anecdotes and tangents. It almost reads as stream of consciousness, with Janaczewska taking no great pains to hide the associative nature of her research. This is reflected in the disjointed style of writing, which is representative of a current trend in nonfiction. What is unusual, however, is Janaczewska’s inclination towards imagined dialogue, poetry and short, stilted sentences. Difficult to classify, The Book of Thistles is for fans of poetry and experimental writing—although there is no doubt that the reader will learn a lot about thistles along the way.
Kelsey Oldham is a bookseller at Readings and deputy editor of Swampland, a magazine of longform music journalism from Australia