Catherine McNamara launches her new collection at the Australian Short Story Festival in Adelaide, South Australia, in November, where she’ll join Australian and international short story luminaries to share work and discuss the short story. A wonderful opportunity to share short story passion with other writers and send The Carnal Fugues out into the world! More about the festival and participants can be found here.
The new collection is a mix of flash fictions and short stories, from the Guest Editor of the 2023 Best Small Fictions anthology. It’s Catherine’s third book of short stories and follows her first two, which were award-winning. Of Catherine’s writing, Hilary Mantel said:
McNamara’s work has a fierce, vital beat, her stories robust yet finely worked, her voice striking in its confidence and originality. She writes with sensuous precision and a craft that is equally precise. This is fiction that can stand up in any company.
– Hilary Mantel
Here, we bring readers a sneak peek from this anticipated collection…
About the book
A wayward, wanton selection of stories grounded in displacement, desire, and the wish coursing through us to accede to the state of love. There is torment and illness, crude reality and distant fragrant places, peopled by characters that reside close to our bones, our psyches, our flesh. A Japanese soprano has lost her voice and seeks repose on a sailing boat in Corsica. A South African advertising executive learns the ropes at his Accra office. Destructive lovers interview a renowned musician in dusty Bamako. Lovers meet, fade, delude. We are weak and defiant beings, ever-learning, ever-lustful.
A Woman Told Me This
A woman told me this: when her lover died she went to the church and sat in the second-to-last pew, where she knew she would attract little attention for they had been colleagues for a stretch. At the front of the church stood the man’s wife with her frayed curls, and the two sons whose foibles and brushes with the law and opulent tattoos she knew as intimately as those of the children she’d never had. Did she feel robbed of a life? He had told her that she would. That one day it would seize up inside of her, the wish to uproot all he had ever planted in her, every gasp and cell and flourish of his liquid and the burning of her skin and parts. He had told her she would want to eviscerate her own bowels to be emptied of him, and remove her heart from its safe cage like a wild native, splashing it to the ground with its torn tubes. Her lover had been a dramatic, vital man who liked to toy with their deepest entwined currents, especially as he stroked her hair in bed, or his knuckles drew across her belly.
The woman told me these things, adding that the embrace of this man was the only thing she would take from this earth.
Adieu, Mon Doux Rivage
an excerpt from a short story
There are four of us on the boat. Jean-Luc and myself, and Belgian music manager Raoul Vidal and his Japanese soprano wife Mieko Inoue. Raoul, big as a cupboard, stands on the deck with arms folded, squinting back at the coast. After a few days he’s discarded his shirt. When Mieko comes on deck he bends over her like a poised wave and whatever they say is soundless. Jean-Luc has read that she sang at Covent Garden twice, but he is pretty sure her career has flatlined. Jean-Luc has a nose for these things. He was the drummer from my old band in Marseilles.
They’ve booked for a week–long cruise around Corsica, emailed me strict diet instructions (no gluten, no sugar or cheese, preferably grilled fish). Looking at Raoul, I’d say he was brought up on moules frites and tankards of beer. I once toured in Belgium with an all-female group and this is the truth: they fry pig’s blood sausages in butter. This is something that requires an explanation.
Raoul has sought me out a couple of times when I am having a quick puff at the stern. He has a range of slight criticisms and needs. Do you have sanitary napkins? Could you chop the cabbage in the salad a little finer for Mieko’s digestion? All over his body, his skin has surrendered to the sharp summer sun and it explodes in blisters wishing to be pricked. His nose is peeling and he doesn’t care, which in turn means that Mieko doesn’t either.
He asks, ‘Do you have any copies of The New Yorker?’
I shake my head. I imagine he is used to long lunches.
Their suite at the bow of the boat must be agreeable to Mieko. She stays there a lot. On my way to the laundry cupboard I think I hear a sound – a voice ascending – but this ceases on its path. The boat moves ahead with a steady rolling. When I back into her with clean linen in the galley, I hear a word that is released almost inaudibly, at great cost: ‘Sorry.’ She looks at me at with my pile of clean towels and fresh sheets. It seems as though she wants to take this word back. I should ask if she wants anything, or remind her that I have seasickness tablets if she feels unwell. She is carrying a big hat and a Japanese novel, wearing loose ivory trousers and a cotton shirt. Most probably because my ragged blue-painted nails are on show, and Jean-Luc says I have feet like a platypus, I have made it my mission to see the opera singer’s toes. Mieko wears a pair of closed black espadrilles and her feet are pressed into their jute spirals.
Jean-Luc has given Raoul a Michel Houellebecq novel in French, the one where they massacre the tourists. Raoul sits on a bench and reads it through like a man on a train, his back in burning shreds. Mieko drapes herself on a deckchair, fully clothed. For a long while she does not read. They sit far from each other, uninvolved.
What people are saying
Fine stories, rank with exotic air, bursting like old fruit.
– Bruce Pascoe
A sumptuous collection. Each story reveals, with unflinching clarity, McNamara’s piercing observations of life and its possibilities.
– Joanna Atherfold Finn
Strange, often unsettling, McNamara’s stories depict multiple countries, characters and cultures in wry and challenging ways. If they share anything, it’s the knowledge that each of us can be undone in a heartbeat.
– Susan Johnson
In these new stories, people live precariously between worlds, slip into crevasses; they are often dangling, waiting. There is danger and loss, often across cultural and linguist gaps. And there is love, unfurling. McNamara shows how, among our thick, noisy, sticky lives there is, sometimes, ‘cohesion among the rubble’.
– Michelle Elvy
Catherine McNamara grew up in Sydney, ran away to Paris to write, and ended up in West Africa co-running a bar. Love Stories for Hectic People (flash fiction) won Best Short Story Collection in the Saboteur Awards 2021 (UK). The Cartography of Others (short stories) was a finalist in the People’s Book Prize (UK), and won the Eyelands Fiction Award (Greece). Pelt and Other Stories was a semifinalist in the Hudson Prize (USA) and longlisted for the Frank O’Connor Award (Ireland). Catherine hikes, grows cherries, and hosts writer retreats at her farmhouse in Italy.
The Carnal Fugues (selected stories) is out in November 2023 in Australia.