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A Constant Hum (Alice Bishop, Text)

Alice Bishop’s debut is a collection of short stories linked by the central theme of bushfire, specifically Victoria’s 2009 Black Saturday fires, which killed and injured hundreds of people, decimating animals and the landscape. Broken up into three main parts, A Constant Hum seems like a chaotic melee of stories and characters at first but, as one reads on, a pattern emerges. These stories are based on actual events and on the experiences of the survivors, mainly women. Bishop grew up in Christmas Hills, one of the towns ravaged by the fires, a fact that lends great authenticity to the book. The author never descends into sensationalism but relays the facts in such a compelling way that the whole fragmented story holds together as one powerful narrative. Horrors, human error and tragedy are revealed, but a sense of hope pervades the book. Small domestic details like food and clothing also link the stories together. Most surviors only have the clothes they were wearing, so new clothes and ill-fitting donated clothes tumble through the stories in a most affecting way, as well as the recurring motif of shoes and burnt feet. Most of us in Australia are familiar with bushfires, but relatively few have really experienced them. A Constant Hum brings the reality of bushfire to life and should be compulsory reading for all Australians, especially city-dwellers.

Louise Pfanner is an author, illustrator and bookseller


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