Zoë Norton Lodge
Zoë Norton Lodge’s debut collection of stories, Almost Sincerely, might be far from polished, but it is hilarious. Here is an Australian writer with a gift for rendering suburban psychos and grotesques. To this end, Almost Sincerely recalls John Birmingham’s He Died with a Falafel in His Hand and even, in the same tradition, the film Muriel’s Wedding: “Dale was wet and red about all the important parts of his face and his person was accompanied by a chakra of bin juice.” There are many laugh-out-loud moments in these stories about the author’s life growing up in the inner-west of Sydney during the ’80s and ’90s.
The funniest parts can be only loosely classed as nonfiction, with Norton Lodge imagining the bizarre inner monologues of her neighbours, getting into the heads of backyard magpies (“Feed me you bitch. Feed me somethin’ special”) and reporting the magnificently sassy speech of her two-and-a-half-year-old self. “Nineteen-Eighty-Seven”, one of the strongest stories in the collection, has Norton Lodge as a tough-talking toddler, facing her first day of preschool with some industrial-strength bluster: “So Mamma and me we rock on down to Hilda Booler Pre-School. We’re standing at the gates and I’m ready. I’m gonna mince in there and shake that building down.”
This is not, however, a book without its problems: it feels both overcooked and undercooked. It’s overcooked in the sense that, at times, it overplays its hand. There are 20 stories and there’s a limit to the appeal of absurdist family and/or neighbourhood adventures.
It’s undercooked in the sense that, though some of these stories have been published before, as a collection it feels rushed. It really needs –and deserves – another tender, loving copyedit. There are slips in tense, clumsily structured sentences (“I didn’t look at it as I threw the little sparrow in the outside bin”) and jarring shifts in points of view that have Norton Lodge suddenly narrating scenes in which she was not apparently present. This might not matter so much in live storytelling (she is co-creator of Story Club, a regular storytelling event in Sydney and TV program on ABC2) but on the page it’s distracting. In some cases it also means that important dramatic or comical moments fail to land with the force they deserve. Almost Sincerely is a flawed, unwieldy book, but Norton Lodge is so funny that she almost gets away with it. SR
Giramondo, 208pp, $24.99
This article was first published in the print edition of The Saturday Paper on Jun 13, 2015 as "Zoë Norton Lodge, Almost Sincerely". Subscribe here.