Here's a conversation I've had a couple of times. Person: Something something Miles Franklin Prize something Peter Carey.
Person: So who do you think is Australia's finest writer, then?
Lili: It's a tie between Margo Lanagan and Ursula Dubosarsky.
Person: No, I meant literary writer.
Lili: It's a tie between Margo Lanagan and Ursula Dubosarsky. It's true. I think these two women are Australia's finest writers. Not finest YA writers. Finest of them all.
The Golden Day is about eleven schoolgirls who, in 1967, are taken on an unauthorised excursion by their teacher, Miss Renshaw. They meet up with a charismatic gardener/poet, who takes them to see some Aboriginal paintings in the hidden caves of Sydney Harbour. Or does he? The girls return to school without Miss Renshaw, prompting panic - scandal - talk of murder. This book is Picnic at Hanging Rock, The Getting of Wisdom and The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie. It is Charles Blackman's 'Floating Schoolgirl'. Like The Red Shoe and Abyssinia, The Golden Day wraps you up in a kind of warm, yellow-tinted floaty dreaminess. Like a dream, you don't feel like you (or anyone) is entirely in control of what they say and do. Like a dream, you watch the world slip by with a kind of golden fuzzy calm. Like a dream, you could tumble into a nightmare at any moment.
If you've read White Time, Black Juice or Red Spikes, you don't need to read on. Yellowcake is more Margo Lanagan awesomeness. There is nobody who can write a short story the way Margo can - nobody who can wrap you up in a whole new world and make you feel like you've known these characters, their rhythms of speech, their secret dreams, their homes and families and daily routines - all in twenty pages. Whether it's the unique fairytale reimaginings of "The Golden Shroud," "Night of the Firstlings," or "Ferryman"; the fierce humanity of "Into the Clouds on High" or "The Point of Roses"; the postapocalyptic ganglands of "Heads"; or the almost postmodern "Eyelids of Dawn" - every one of the ten stories immerses you in unique worlds that are often grim, but always filled with a kind of savage, redemptive joy.