Monday 28 January 2019

Flames by Robbie Arnott

It's a long weekend in Australia, and for the first time in over a year, we've enjoyed a lazy, nothing-to-do-but-flop-around-the-house kind of weekend. It has been blissful. Even with the ghastly high temps and even higher humidity, or maybe because of, it has been the perfect time for reading, snoozing and listening to music as we sporadically clean and tidy the house.

Typing up reviews has been the furthest thing from my mind.

Lots of changes (the good, positive, life-going-forward kind of changes, but changes nonetheless) are coming our way this year - starting next week when B18 goes away to Uni.

The teenage years are not easy for anyone to live through, which is maybe Nature's way of making it easy for both teens and their parents to let go. But as tough as the last few years have been (and there were times when I thought my sanity would not survive intact), I wouldn't now swap them for anything.

Which brings me to Flames by Robbie Arnott. Like a teenager in full flight, it's a hard novel to define or pin down. Like a teenager, it's a debut with flights of fancy, bravado and wild schemes. It's on the verge of greatness, oozing potential and grand ideas. But unlike living with teenagers, I loved every minute of it and can't wait to see what Arnott does next!

The Tasmanian environment is one of the prominent characters throughout this genre-defying story which Arnott uses to stress the interconnectedness between us all. Fire, water, trees and the gods play their parts too.

Flames has a fablesque quality and is mythological in tone with different writing styles to suit each characters story. Arnott plays around with magic realism, an epistolary chapter, report writing and the fabulous chapter with the female private eye that reads like a Tasmanian Philip Marlowe, just to name a few. It should have felt disjointed and all over the place, but just like a teen, it somehow made sense and seemed like just the right thing to do at that time.

Through his various characters, Arnott explores the wild, raw nature of grief, mourning and love. We watch them come to terms with letting go of what they thought they knew as they learn to embrace the unknowable future and whatever it might bring. No matter how far apart you may seem to be, you are still family, you are still connected, and it will ultimately keep you afloat, if you let it.

Arnott is a young Tasmanian copywriter. Flames has been shortlisted for the Victorian Premier's Literary Award for Fiction, the Indie Book Awards for Debut Fiction, and the Queensland Literary Awards: University of Queensland Fiction Book Award 2018.

  • Longlisted | 2020 International Dublin Literary Award.
  • Winner | Margaret Scott Prize | Tasmanian Premier's Literary Awards 2019
  • Shortlisted | Victorian Premier's Literary Award for Fiction 2019
  • Longlisted | Indie Book Awards for Debut Fiction 2019
  • Shortlisted | UTS Glenda Adams Award for New Writing | NSW Premier's Literary Awards 2019
  • Shortlisted | Queensland Literary Awards Fiction Book Award 2018
  • Shortlisted | Kathleen Mitchell Award 2019
  • Longlisted | ALS Gold Medal 2019
  • Longlisted | Miles Franklin Literary Award 2019
  • Longlisted | Voss Literary Prize 2019
  • Shortlisted | Guardian’s Not the Booker Prize UK 2019


  1. How exciting, Uni! It was encouraging to hear about the teen years. With a 14 and a 12 year old, we have had a few of those challenges, and I know there's more, many more to come.

    I am sorry about the challenging weather conditions. Hopefully they will improve soon.

    The book sounds very interesting.Good for new and good authors. I am currently reading a new author book myself and he too crosses genres, which I really appreciate. It's well done.

    1. I enjoy reading debut writers who take risks and experiment. Sometimes it works; sometimes it doesn't. Flames is one of the ones that works. I'm very curious to see Arnott does next.

    2. I enjoy young writers who take risks too. You've nearly convinced me, but unlike nearly every other blogger it depresses me having interesting books in the TBR that I never seem to get to.

  2. Debut writers, risks, experiments...this sounds like a book
    I'd rather read in the summer. I'm having a hard enough time (winter dip)
    reading classics. Appreciate your thoughts but I think I'll wait for Arnott's second book.
    Perphas less disjointed.


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