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Night Fishing: Stingrays, Goya, and the Singular Life by Vicki Hastrich

Night Fishing: Stingrays, Goya and the Singular Life is a collection of thirteen ‘essays’ by Australian writer Vicki Hastrich. These are thirteen diverse, introspective and artistically sharp sets of ponderings. Painting a picture of the author’s childhood, her first job, and growing up to adult life (which among selfies, fishing and other endeavours involves her struggle to write an Australian Baroque novel), they have no reliance on biographical convention. The essays are reflections on self, war, art, and boundaries. Night Fishing offers creative musings rather than a memoir which delivers dates and facts. Enjoyable as standalone pieces, the essays also build a narrative sequence, which while not strictly chronological, develops Hastrich’s thoughts about the world. Each essay is different and even reading one offers plenty to think about.

We begin with ‘The Hole’, in which Hastrich recalls her beloved ‘Woy Woy’, the family vacation spot from the time she was in utero up until she was eight years old. The sea and the putt-putt boat form a cornerstone of these childhood years, remembered now that Hastrich is old enough to fish the once-forbidden ‘Hole’ and bringing a younger generation to the same beloved sea air. ‘Things Seen’, the next essay, hauntingly acknowledges war and the scars it leaves in the words of Goya: ‘Yo lo vi’ (‘I saw it’). It turns ordinary ‘things seen’ into the transformative: ‘the boat and underwater feet’. Night Fishing might be described as a dive through memories and consciousness – and indeed, one essay has the author filming herself in her sleep. Hastrich is engaging, cerebral, and never inaccessible. She has a broad depth of cultural knowledge. Whilst looking through the lens of Western art, history and literature (Paradise Lost and Galileo make appearances), Hastrich expresses an uneasiness about the Australian land she occupies and the indigenous peoples it was taken from. She muses on the importance of their language to them as hers is to her, and shares with us the words significant to her, for sea (garawa), alive (mudang), and mumaga (be lightning).

There is a refreshing honesty throughout this book. I never wondered where the author was taking me, and was quite happily absorbed in the moments, the beautiful language, as well as quite often her wit, and her easy and familiar cleverness.

Reviewer: Susannah Whaley

Allen and Unwin Publishing, $32.99


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