Guest review: Lyndon Riggall on Kelly Link’s The Wrong Grave

The Wrong Grave
Kelly Link
9781921520730 (Aus)

Reviewed by Lyndon Riggall

It took me a little while to work out exactly what The Wrong Grave was. A book of short stories, yes. But why these stories, and why in this order? You see, some of the tales featured here appear in her book Pretty Monsters and others still in Magic For Beginners, the title story of which even appears in this collection. So is The Wrong Grave just a mashing of the two?

Well actually, the book is a sort of ‘young adult greatest hits’ for Link’s work, and provides a much needed Australian sampler of her writing. Some of them are thoroughly creepy, such as The Specialist’s Hat, and others are just exciting, like the collection’s standout highlight Magic For Beginners. Chances are if you were ever going to love Kelly Link, you’d find that love in this collection.

And she is loved! The blurb boasts glowing reviews from the likes of Alice Sebold, Michael Chabon and Audrey Niffenegger, who describes her as ‘the literary descendant of Jorge Luis Borges and Franz Kafka.’ There is something in this statement, for even her ‘youngest’ stories have a surreal and ethereal feel to them. She creates entire worlds, and believes in them from start to finish. The gorgeous illustrations by Australian Shaun Tan also make this collection such an eye-catcher, and certainly contribute to immersing the reader.

The immersion does, however, make my strongest criticism of the book difficult to contend with, and it’s clearly something that has been challenged to Link before, because she has listed it in the FAQ section of her website. The stories do not end. They don’t exactly stop mid-sentence, but they do taper off into the distance, with a character in a dire situation or urgently heading off to do something, and you find yourself turning the page and muttering in frustration. In response to this on her website, Link says that a successful story will have you imagining long after the story ends. ‘Endings are a bit too much like tails on people. Attractive, maybe, but usually not all that convincing.’ It’s a nice sentiment, but not entirely satisfying. The longest story in the book is nearly seventy pages long, and to not get any sense of closure after such an investment is so frustrating that it almost makes you want to give up.

But you don’t, because quite frankly she writes beautifully. My favourite section is her description of the fictional television serial The Library that sits alongside the story in Magic For Beginners, a show which we are told is so groundbreaking that in one episode all the actors were invisible. ‘You’ve never seen The Library on TV’, she says, ‘but I bet you wish you had’. And I do. Mostly though, I just wish it wasn’t up to me to fill in the blanks left by her wonderful stories, because while an author’s greatest gift is to leave their audience wanting more, to lead them to the edge of the precipice and then show them that there is nothing down there… well that’s just cruel.

Lyndon Riggall is an avid sci-fi, fantasy and horror reader, and an aspiring writer. He collects his thoughts on life and books on his blog here and on Twitter here. He has not appeared as an extra in any episode of The Library.

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