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Brothers and Sisters is an anthology of Australian short stories on the theme of siblings. It was my first purchase at the Sydney Writers' Festival, and perfect for reading in short bursts while waiting for a session to begin or to calm down at the end of each day.

I have two sisters, and anyone who has siblings will tell you that whether you're the eldest, youngest or middle matters. These stories made me think a lot about my relationships with my own sisters: the way we used to compete for attention and/or approval, but also the way our bonds could never be broken. The way we support (and sometimes fail to support) one another in adulthood, and the ways in which, perhaps, competition still lurks under the surface. The power to hurt: rarely used, even in childhood, but when it was employed, oh, how effective it was. As Charlotte Wood says in her introduction, "Your brother or sister, it might be said, is your other self - your grander, sadder, braver, shrewder, uglier, slenderer self."

The twelve stories in this anthology explore many facets of the sibling relationship. In Robert Drewe's "Paleface and the Panther", a man reflects rather patronisingly on his wayward young step-brother - who, it turns out, knows plenty that he doesn't. In Cate Kennedy's "Beads and Shells and Teeth", two little girls compete for their absent father's approval. Charlotte Wood's "The Cricket Palace" takes a different approach when two elderly sisters discover that the dynamics of their relationship have changed yet again.

I enjoyed Ashley Hay's exploration of being an only child (probably because I'm not) in "The Singular Animal: on Being and Having". Nam Le's "The Yarra" depicts two brothers, one a jailbird, one who has "made good" - but the author deftly overtuns any assumptions that the reader might like to make about their relationship. And in Christos Tsolkias's "The Disco at the End of Communism", a man finally makes a kind of peace with his dead brother.

I highly recommend this anthology, both for anyone interested in the subject of siblings (which probably includes anyone with brothers or sisters, right?), and for those looking for an introduction to contemporary Australian writing.


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June 2014

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