Pining for a lover

By Rhonda Dredge

Last year someone at Dymocks bookstore in Collins St left a stray novel amongst those on the 2017 Stella Prize shortlist for women’s writing and the CBD News picked it up mistakenly out of the pile of hopefuls.

An Uncertain Grace by Krissy Kneen had just been released and must have missed the deadline for the prize, hence its exclusion.

We gave it a review anyway and now the novel is on the 2018 list.  We’re congratulating ourselves for picking a winner.

The driving intelligence in the book is a woman who makes up stories to deal with those who are sexually exploited. Most of the exploiters are men but not all of them.

Since the novel came out last year, gender politics has shifted and it has become increasingly obvious that not everyone is suited to the creative approach to gender depicted in the book. Certain heroic types might prefer to remain cool and aloof than submit to the ideas in this work, hence the contentious nature of the novel and its fitting place on the 2018 shortlist.

Kneen is a thoughtful writer. You can imagine her sitting at her laptop delving deeply and imaginatively into issues of equity. If she wins the award, however, she will be thrust into the limelight, maybe even onto a billboard.

It used to be uncool for creatives to be overtly ambitious but ever since the advent of the Stella Prize in 2013 women have been strutting their storytelling prowess.

Laboratories have now been set up around town dedicated to the gruelling art of writing. Novelists are hard at work, tapping away on their laptops in a race for the big prize. Plot lines are being invented, characters tested on the public.

In one of Kneen’s stories, a 130-year-old narrator inhabits the body of a young prostitute to find love. In another, a robot boy is used to cure paedophiles. Originality is the key to her characters, in contrast to well-meaning books like last year’s winner which comforted rather than challenged.

Kneen writes sexually explicit stories that view gender as a continuum, more influenced by identity than biology, that can be manipulated by a range of medical procedures and technologies. Transition from one gender to another, in her hands, is an increasingly popular and compelling way of finding a community of like-minded people.

Text Publishing is known for its provocative titles. The William St publishing house has released several French novels that deal with predatory males who make light of their appetites by the use of clever arguments. They have pushed An Uncertain Grace and the novel has been well-received.

Some readers might wish that female writers weren’t quite so serious about their desires, hoping instead for enlargement of the funny bone than more drastic measures aimed at knocking “dick” lit off its self-appointed pedestal.

Kneen, to her credit, manages to find humour in the highly-politicised arena of sexual difference by reversing the typical seduction scenario. The 130-year-old woman who is the intelligence behind this speculative novel is still chasing sexual pleasure even after she has died and is prepared to pay for it.

In the past this character might have been struck off as a silly old bag but creative writing as a university discipline is on the rise and there is plenty of funding in the sector. Most creative writers these days are well-educated, many with PhDs. There are 36 writing programs at universities in Australia and research is prominent.

There is no denying that the winner of the 2018 Stella prize, to be announced in April, will be greeted by a group of admirers. She will become an ambassador for women’s writing. She will perform at the Spiegeltent and be interviewed at the Wheeler Centre. She will do a lot of PR.

Her brain might be kept alive after her death because of its storytelling skills and will still be earning her money, enabling her to transfer funds to the prostitute from her bank account using a chip if she is still pining for a lover in years to come.

Rhonda Dredge has a PhD in Creative Writing

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