In the 1950s, a young woman meets Barry Humphries on a ship. Two women text about their difficult, isolated mother. A newly elected hard right politician unleashes upon the press. And as the world burns, a wife from the “better suburbs” begs for a place in an exclusive gated community.
These are just a few of the tales that make up A Couple of Things Before the End, the outstanding short story collection from debut author Sean O’Beirne. The voices he has crafted are vibrant, distinct, and often uniquely Australian, with narratives switching between the uncannily familiar and the delightfully ridiculous. Variety is certainly the name of the game here, with O’Beirne bouncing from speech transcripts and desperate letters, to diary entries and interviews.
“Footy Mysteries” was a favourite, featuring a series of book blurbs starring brothers and footy investigators Scotty and Wayne “Forensics” Moran. There’s something almost Python-esque about the concept, a blend of the mundane and the ridiculous. Timely tales “Nauru”, “The Anzac Spirit” and “Leader” leave a lingering impression. They’re hard to read, these all too familiar stories of media spin, dangerous politicians, and de-humanisation. But, therein lies their power.
But for me, personally, “Jack” was the standout. O’Berine captures a specific voice perfectly in the slightly rambling memoirs of an elderly man that might be any one of our grandfathers. You can almost hear the eponymous Jack telling his story. Or see the pages he’s scrawled in a spidery hand. It’s really quite beautiful.
A Couple of Things Before the End is an astonishing collection. The sheer volume of character and spirit packed into its modest page count is a testament to the compelling and technically varied writing of author O’Beirne. Miss this fiercely original debut at your peril.
FIVE STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Sean O’Beirne’s A Couple of Things Before The End is available now through Black Inc.