I N S E A R C H O F T H E
B L U E T I G E R (2012)
‘Between Life of Pi, Under Milkwood and Gus Kuijer’s disturbing children’s novel, The Book of Everything … The writing is subtle, connotative and composed. Its craftsmanship embraces and extends this audacious depiction of an escape from childhood.’
Joy Lawn Bookseller+Publisher
‘Robert Power’s striking debut novel works less with the idea of childhood innocence, than with it burdening and fracturing by violence … While Oscar’s experiences circle
around violence, his focus is on hope, largely embodied by Mrs April. Psychologically astute, original and whimsical, the novel creates a memorable protagonist and sees him set sail, eventually, powered by dreams and resilience. Fantasy and a quest for alternative worlds are symptomatic of trauma, but also, ultimately, the means of Oscar’s self-made redemption.’Felicity Plunkett, Canberra Times
‘Rich with observation and fine writing.’
Lucy Sussex The Sunday Age
‘Power’s skill as a writer is to allow us insight into Oscar’s hopeful magic-realist view of the world, even while we are travelling through this dark terrain of trauma.’
Pip Newling The Big Issue
‘This dark and beautiful tale, told with a light touch, stayed in my mind long after I'd finished … The prose is lucid, poetic and is one of the story’s pleasures. The ending is both unpredictable and provocative.’
Claire Kennedy Herald Sun
This the sequel to Robert Power's novel In Search of the Blue Tiger, whose child hero, Oscar Flowers, has become a seagoing pilgrim after his part in the violent death of the fishmonger, whose murderous twin daughters Carp and Perch are now languishing in jail for their crime. But they are about to be sprung by Angelica, the spoilt daughter of the Tidetown mayor. Mayhem ensues as various other characters and complications come and go, culminating in the arrival of the plague. What with its coastal setting and its small community, there's a strong sense of place in this book, but it has no real-world correspondence either in setting or in time. We could be in any country, in any year. Various words and names suggest people and places from all over the world, and the story reads like a fairy tale. Realism this is not.
Kerryn Goldsworthy, Sydney Morning Herald, 9 January 2016
LULU IN NEW YORK AND OTHER TALES (2017)
Max Ferguson’s paintings hang in prominent public and private collections around the globe. Often featuring solitary figures, the brooding atmospheres and urban (mostly New York) landscapes have a narrative and cinematic quality that hint at hidden stories, secrets, and conversations waiting to happen. Robert Power’s critically acclaimed fiction of longing and resolution, alienation and loving, provides the perfect vehicle to breathe life into these luscious paintings. This unique collaboration was sparked when, in 2014, Power’s publishers chose Ferguson’s Mister Softee for the cover of his prize-winning short story collection Meatloaf in Manhattan.
The outcome is Lulu in New York and other Tales, an exquisite and beautifully crafted volume of sixty stories from Power, inspired by Ferguson’s paintings that span his entire career. Some of the pictures, like Chess Players and Interiors suggested whimsical or heart-rending conversations. Others, such as Woman in Bath, Subway and Billy’s Topless have violence and menace simmering at their core. And then there are paintings that tell tales of refection, reminiscing and of love both lost and found. An aged Mr. Gordon looking over the East River. The couple in Bobby Short recalling their first meeting. And another Couple in Hallway stumbling over their words, saddened by infidelity. What binds Ferguson’s painting and Power’s storytelling is a common understanding and appreciation of the nuances, agonies and ecstasies, complexities and delicacies, of the human condition. What results is the telling of tales that are just about to happen, or which have already occurred. Those that whisper and echo. Just out of sight, just around the corner.
T H E S WA N S O N G O F
D O C T O R M A L LO Y (2013)
‘Artfully paced and suspenseful … the writing is energised by realistic detail: the psychology of the characters, the geopolitics and social mores ground the novel and keep the pages turning.’
Cameron Woodhead, The Age
‘Eminently readable. The author writes with great empathy about the highs and utter depths to which drink-fuelled sprees take Malloy and the subsequent shame and humiliation.’
Jennifer Somerville, Good Reading
‘Beautiful and tender moments … lasting imagery … really resonates with me.’
Jon Faine, Conversation Hour, ABC 774
‘Power is an assured storyteller, and the novel is taut and compelling … Power’s insight into addiction is remarkable
and works brilliantly as the running thread of the narrative.’
Crusader Hillis, Australian Book Review
‘Another finely calibrated novel … Here is protagonist Anthony Malloy amid the little known world of pharmaceutical research, dealing with the uses and abuses that spring from the very real ability to change lives that comes from specialised medical knowledge. Malloy is driven yet conflicted - as issues of contemporary drug use and preventative medical strategies are played out he develops as a flesh and blood, vulnerable, anxious man, with a failing marriage, a complex child and troubled siblings. Power takes us, and Malloy, from London to south-east Asia, the USA and South America – a kind of Lonely Planet journey through drug and disease hotspots,
without the voyeurism.’
William Charles, The Melbourne Review September 2013
TELL IT TO THE DOG (2017)
Robert Power’s journey is one of
great heart, risk and compassion. He is
a craftsman using language as a fine
tool to carve a life story enmeshed in
the values of our common selves.
Tony Birch, author of Ghost River
‘With exquisite prose and riotous feeling, he has created a stained glass window of a book, through which we gaze, as if for the first time, into what it means to live a life.
Catherine de Saint Phalle, author of Poum and Alexandre
Robert Power was born in Dublin and has spent most of his life based in Britain. Since moving to Australia he has had four books of fiction published, the first of which, In Search of the Blue Tiger, was shortlisted for the Victorian Premier's Award for an unpublished manuscript. It seems to me that this unusual and often beautifully written new book is the one he has been aiming towards all along: whereas the talent and perceptiveness obvious from the fiction seems at time hampered by generic conventions, this experiment in life-writing comes across as a liberation, an unenclosed work.
Tell It to the Dog is organised into six sections, and it's clear why the generic label needs qualification. Few of the usual markers of memoir are present: questions of what, who, when, why and how are left unanswered or at least dealt with out of the usual sequence. Instead Power gives us short vignettes, lyrical or anecdotal, none longer than a couple of pages, some not more than a hundred words. Names are often withheld, reference carefully disordered — there are many "hes" and "shes", but not necessarily the same person: reading here demands that you pay close attention and not jump to conclusions. The earlier sections present a world of drunkenness and violence in Dublin and England, a childhood of midnight flits and neglected pets. One section begins: "When Father comes back from the hospital/sanatorium/mental institution/doctor after the detoxification/antidepressants/electric shock therapy/Antabuse …", and while the father seems an everyday patriarchal ogre, he also comes to seem pathetic, and later in the book some kind of rapprochement is established. There is also the weirdly, almost extravagantly atypical: the boy and his mother sharing an obsession with ancient Egypt, for instance.
Power has set out not to write a misery memoir: not least because alongside the dark material there is lyricism that could come from anyone's childhood, and at the end of the second section he says he used to tell the story of his life as the story of a victim: "It was easy, even natural, to fall back into this narrative: a comfortable shoe, well-travelled, snugly fit." But now he has resolved to tell a different story, of hope and redemption.
What the fragmentary style does is help Power avoid making that shift seem too facile, too easily uplifting, even as it also avoids unrelentingness. Power may unambiguously, even blatantly, announce what he is trying to do, but he still goes about doing it in a stealthy way. The fragmentary style also lets other experiences in, as if on an equal footing with the narrating I: that may be what all those hes and shes are about: a democracy of experience, in which one may be both individual and representative.
As the book progresses its attention shifts outwards, and becomes rather like a discontinuous travel narrative of a peculiarly deglamourised and deromanticised form. Power's pre-literary career in public health and AIDS prevention has taken him around the world. This progress, from a hard childhood to an adulthood of public service, is a moving one: the hope and redemption turn out to be real things, for a change.
Owen Richardson, The Age, Sydney Morning Herald, 23 September 2017
MEATLOAF IN MANHATTAN (2014)
'It seems that Dublin-born Robert Power is no stranger to the theme of loss. Power, now living in Australia, has created in ‘Meatloaf in Manhattan’ a profound study of loss in all its forms, spanning across generations, lands, cultures, and even alternate worlds.In Manhattan, a waitress in a late-night diner is given a brief respite from her loneliness, only to have it snatched away from her; a cyber-superstar loses her fandom but finds solace in actualising a dream into a reality; a son loses his mother in Vietnam; another son loses his mother to madness; and a father loses his son in the tragic tale of ‘Synge’s Chair’, a story that will remain with you long after you turn the last page. In each of these small explorations, Power carefully examines how his characters address the difficulties that life throws their way, be it from a place of acceptance, strength or despair.
Despite this recurrent theme, the 16 tales that make up ‘Meatloaf in Manhattan’ do not leave you reaching for the whisky bottle. Each story is imbued with a ray of hope; even Charlene, the waitress in the title story, finds solace in the dancing snowflakes that fall around her as she closes the diner for the evening, or at least I like to think she does.
Samuel Zifchak, Readings Monthly, April 2014
One of my favourite shorts in this collection is ‘The Postman Gets a Letter’. The Postman is a beautifully realised character who has a secret of his own and it is amusing to wonder about the impact of his secret on the lives of so many people. There could be another set of stories in that.
Karenlee Thompson, ANZLitLovers
Power has an assured voice, one full of intelligence and empathy.
Luke Horton, Books+ Publishing, Issue 1 2014
A couple of years ago Robert Power won The Age Short Story Competition for the titular tale of this collection of stories. It’s a good indication of his skills that the other 15 stories are also fine examples of the particular art of short fiction. He sets his protagonists in random places, from Melbourne to New York to Vietnam and their connections with other people are minutely observed. Whether it’s playing around in virtual reality or eking out a hard-scrabble existence on rural backwaters, his book is nuanced and touching.
Thuy On, The Sunday Age, 27 April 2014
It seems that Dublin-born Robert Power is no stranger to the theme of loss. Power, now living in Australia, has created in Meatloaf in Manhattan a profound study of loss in all its forms, spanning across generations, lands, cultures, and even alternate worlds.
In Manhattan, a waitress in a late-night diner is given a brief respite from her loneliness, only to have it snatched away from her; a cyber-superstar loses her fandom but finds solace in actualising a dream into a reality; a son loses his mother in Vietnam; another son loses his mother to madness; and a father loses his son in the tragic tale of ‘Synge’s Chair’, a story that will remain with you long after you turn the last page. In each of these small explorations, Powers carefully examines how his characters address the difficulties that life throws their way, be it from a place of acceptance, strength or despair.
Despite this recurrent theme, the 16 tales that make up Meatloaf in Manhattan do not leave you reaching for the whisky bottle. Each story is imbued with a ray of hope; even Charlene, the waitress in the title story, finds solace in the dancing snowflakes that fall around her as she closes the diner for the evening, or at least I like to think she does.
Samuel Zifchak, Readings Monthly, April 2014