REVIEW

Into Bones Like Oil is an impressive, dark novella by one of Australia's most imaginative writers

Kaaron Warren has won the ACT Writers and Publishers Award four times and twice been awarded the Canberra Critics Circle Award for Fiction. Her short stories, comprising over 200 published since 1993, have won Australian Shadows, Ditmar and Aurealis Awards. This is in addition to five award-winning novels Slights, Walking the Tree, Mistification, The Grief Hole and Tide of Stone.

In 2018, A Primer to Kaaron Warren was published by Dark Moon Books in Los Angeles. Yet, because a significant proportion of Warren's dark fiction has been published overseas, or is only available in small press publications with limited distribution, her reputation as one of Australia's best imaginative writers is not as widespread as it should be.

Her new novella, Into Bones Like Oil, is set in Anglesea, a rooming house, possibly near the sea in Victoria. The residents, known as "wrecks", are fleeing personal traumas. Warren says the rooming house provides a focus for "how transient many people are in life, how we are who we say we are in new places where others don't know us". The main character, Dora, is fleeing a terrible family tragedy, "She is driven by grief and guilt; these things direct everything she does".

The rooming house adjoins a beach, the site of a long-ago shipwreck, and is haunted by the people who drowned at sea. Each of Warren's sharply delineated characters have their own ghosts to confront as well as the ghosts of the long dead crew and passengers. The residents can pay off their debts to the landlord by being put into an induced sleep to facilitate communication with the ship's ghosts. Critics have observed in Warren's writing, elements of hauntology, where, even if archetypal ghosts are not present, characters are haunted by their shadow selves.

The landlord comments to Dora, "You know it's more than a rooming house. You wouldn't have come, otherwise. You need help to sleep. Everyone does who comes to me. You will sleep well here at The Angelsea. No doubt about that at all. It's my little contribution." Dora initially resists the induced sleep, terrified that this gateway will enable her to be in contact with her dead daughters, who will surely tell her "it's all you're fault we're dead".

Warren has said in Into Bones Like Oil, "I wanted to explore guilt and how it affects our lives going forward". Dora finds a sort of resolution at the end of an impressive dark novella, which explores love, grief, death and guilt and the ability to survive when all hope seems lost.

  • Kaaron Warren will be in conversation at Harry Hartog bookshop ANU at 6 30pm on December 12. Bookings and details at harryhartog.com.au.
  • Into Bones Like Oil, by Kaaron Warren. Meerkat Press. $22.95.
This story An exploration of love, grief, death and guilt first appeared on The Canberra Times.