A Constant Hum by Alice Bishop is a collection of short stories that capture the devastation of lives and landscapes, the losses suffered and the voids created, the fear of the immediate future and the hope for healing, following a series of Australian bushfires. The searing heat, the smell of smoke and the taste of ash all rise from the evocative and haunting writing in these pages. Recurring themes include the melting of car steel, and the inability of the characters to wash the smells of the fires from their clothes and hair for weeks after, binding the stories through the collective experience and trauma endured. The short stories, in many ways vignettes themselves, are interspersed with even shorter pieces of flash fiction, some only a few sentences long, adding to this fragmented and emotive capturing of the many lives affected by the fires. The lyrical writing imbues each story with a sense of uncertainty, darkness, or loss, and often captures the haunting or dreamlike quality of lingering presences, while also looking forward to the promise of healing and renewal. For a book about the devastation of the landscape, these stories are also filled with beautiful references to local Australian wildlife, flora and fauna, flitting back and forth between pre and post-devastation; offering a vision of what could be once again. Displacement in general at times of natural disaster, and the consequences of climate change, are two broader, universal themes considered through these stories.
Despite the difficult theme, this is beautiful writing with moments of hope and human tenderness amidst the dark times. We hear from a whole chorus of perspectives; from young to old; those unexpectedly caught up in the fires, and both the professionals and civilians who came by choice to help them. While the stories explore the individual experience, there is also a focus on community dynamics in the wake of natural disasters like these: the unquestioning support, the donating of clothes and personal items, and the temporary accommodation offered, but also the moments where people don’t know what to say to comfort, the awkwardness, when there are no words and actions don’t come easy. The author herself lost a home in the Black Saturday fires of 2009 in Victoria but her acknowledgments at the end of the book state that this collection keeps in mind those who lost so much more. A deeply compelling and powerful little collection.
A Constant Hum was published by Text Publishing in 2019.
Alice Bishop grew up on Wurundjeri Country, in Christmas Hills, Victoria, Australia.
She was recently named 2020 Sydney Morning Herald’s Best Young Australian Novelist for A Constant Hum, now out via Text Publishing.
A Constant Hum was also shortlisted for the 2019 Prize for New Australian Fiction and the 2020 University of Southern Queensland Steele Rudd Prize for Short Fiction. A Constant Hum is now studied in a number of high schools across Australia and has been recognised internationally.
A Constant Hum is based on Bishop’s own loss of a home to Black Saturday, and the resulting hardships people, especially women, face during the aftermath of climate-caused bushfire.
In 2018 A Constant Hum was shortlisted in the Penguin Random House Literary Prize. Bishop’s work has also appeared in The Saturday Paper, Meanjin, Southerly, Australian Book Review, Griffith REVIEW, Overland, The Suburban Review, Visible Ink, Seizure, Voiceworks, and the human rights publication Right Now.
Bishop works in communications/marketing and has completed a Master of Creative Writing, Publishing and Editing at the University of Melbourne. She is also the recipient of a Wheeler Centre Hot Desk Fellowship.
Her essay, ‘Coppering’, was shortlisted in the 2017 Horne Prize—held by both The Saturday Paper and Aesop.
Bishop is now working on her first novel.
2 responses to “Book Review – A Constant Hum by Alice Bishop”
I hae started reading short stories again and will add this to my wish list!
Oh great, I hope you enjoy! I’m on a total short story buzz at the moment too, currently reading Florida by Lauren Groff which is delightful and have a few others lined up after