Yellowcake is Margo Lanagan’s fourth short stories anthology and brings together ten short stories, transcending through genres and worlds, taking readers on journeys to biblical times and war-torn post-apocalyptic towns, and plenty more in between. Some of the stories are either retellings of well-known tales or at least hint at tales readers might know; “The Golden Shroud” for example offers a very satisfying alternative ending to Rapunzel. “The Night of the Firstlings” describes the Jewish’s liberation from slavery in Egypt and their fleeing under the leadership of Moses. “An Honest Day’s Work” introduces to a Lilliput-type world.
Every story in this anthology is original and unique, but even though each has a very different setting, the characters all face danger of some type and seek solace in the comfort and familiarity of home and family, whatever form this might take. This theme of the importance of the family unit, portrayed in many ways, gives each story a certain delicacy, as in each and every one of them, however gory they might be, there is a sense of safety and protection.
At the end of the book readers will find a section on where each story came from, which is particularly interesting and helps understand both context and meaning of some of the tales. Because it is probably fair to say that Margo Lanagan’s books are not particularly easy reads. They are dark, threatening and complex, and demand commitment from their readers. For this reason her books are probably best suited for more astute young adults. Despite being a fan, I struggled with the meaning of some of the tales in this anthology. But what readers can always expect from her is to be challenged, to be pushed to open up their minds. Few authors manage to be this uncompromising and thought-provoking; apart from Lanagan, Patrick Ness, Meg Rosoff and Bernard Beckett come to mind. But this is absolutely not a criticism. Lanagan writes with incredible eloquence and her stories are so compelling, so haunting, so beautifully rendered that readers find themselves completely immersed in her stories. Her prose conveys real passion, and those who know her books cannot help but become fascinated by her work. Her stories are never predictable, and are always uncompromising.
Margo Lanagan is a writer that never ceases to bewilder, startle and enchant her readers. Once you have entered the incredible worlds she conjures within the pages of her books, there won’t be any turning back.
Source: review copy from publisher