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A Constant Hum

A Constant Hum

Alice Bishop

  • awardWinner, Sydney Morning Herald’s Best Young Australian Novelist Award, 2020
  • awardShortlisted, Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction, 2019
  • awardShortlisted, University of Southern Queensland Steele Rudd Award for a Short Story Collection, Queensland Literary Awards, 2020
  • awardLonglisted, Booktopia Favourite Australian Book, 2020
  • awardLonglisted, Debut Fiction, Indie Book Awards, Leading Edge, 2020
  • It’ll all be okay, my mother said, and I remember the way her familiar face scrunched, afterwards – reflected back at me, in the fogged bathroom mirror, when she thought I couldn’t see.

    Before the fire – before the front of flames roars over the hills—the ridge is thick with gums. After the fire, all the birds have gone. There is only ash and melted metal, the blackened husks of cars. And the lost people: on the TV news in borrowed clothes, in temporary accommodation on the outskirts of the city, or remembered in small offerings outside the town hall.

    A Constant Hum grapples with the aftermath of bushfire with an eye for the telling detail. Some of these stories cut to the bone; others are empathetic tales of survival, even hope. All are gripping and stunningly written, heralding the arrival of a vital new voice in Australian fiction.


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    Sydney Review of Books: Bushfire Blues by Alice Bishop 
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    Alice Bishop
    About the Author

    Alice Bishop grew up in Christmas Hills, Victoria. Her writing has been published by Meanjin, Overland, Australian Book Review, Lip Magazine and the Wheeler Centre. Her debut book, a short story collection, is called A Constant Hum.

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    Text publication date:
    2 July 2019
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    Praise for Alice Bishop
    andA Constant Hum

    ‘Unflinching…The prose is clear-eyed and forensic. There’s none of the sensationalism of tabloid journalism, which is not to say that Bishop is dispassionate…The further the reader moves through the pages, the more intense the stories…Confronting and poetic.’

    ‘[A Constant Hum is] empathetic, eloquent and nuanced…Bishop lays bare the emotional and psychological consequences of one of the worst fires in Australia’s modern history…This is a deeply humane collection, capturing trauma and grief as well as love and healing. Most importantly, it is a beautiful read. Some pieces are only one or two sentences long. Yet those sentences deserve—and in fact demand—to be savoured. As you read, put the book down and reckon with the words. Bishop and her family lost their home in Christmas Hills that day, and that personal experience informs the writing, but the stories do not offer a single narrative or perspective…This collection writes the Black Saturday Fires into Australian literature…For all of us, it is a robust reminder that we live in one of the driest—and most prone to bushfire—countries on the planet…In the decade since Black Saturday, Bishop has honed her writing craft…One hopes she has more work—perhaps a novel—on the way.’

    ‘Alice Bishop’s debut collection of stories packs an emotional punch…We step into the lives of those who survived, physically at least, the tragic and calamitous fires…It is refreshing and pleasing that Bishop spends more of her time exploring the impact of the bushfires through the emotionality of her characters and getting at their inner drives and motives.’

    ‘Extremely well measured…A heartbreakingly beautiful book that is both uncomfortable and essential reading.’

    ‘Shows us Australia in all its brutal intensity…The stories portray people in both their complexity and their ordinariness—because they could easily be any of us.’

    ‘These kaleidoscopic visions of fire, trauma and loss twist into a closely observed chronicle of people and place—of humanity and hope. Dazzling writing, acutely attentive to simple truths.’

    A Constant Hum is a beautiful book—often understated, but all the more devastating for this. The stories are delicate and keenly observed, exploring the difficult territories of grief and loss, homesickness and fear, and an enduring human resilience that always comes at a cost. Bishop is an elegant and lyrical writer, and these are finely wrought and tender stories, always pulsing with empathy and a lingering hope, even in the face of extremity and great pain.’

    A Constant Hum is a remarkable work of fiction, producing a suite of stories dealing with the fundamental human concerns of love, grief and recovery. Alice Bishop has the capacity to convey such emotions with tenderness, a lightness of touch and true craft. She is a writer of the highest quality.’

    ‘In this resonant collection, Bishop gives both scope and startling immediacy to one of Victoria’s darkest days. These are indelible lives, and A Constant Hum is an essential, intimate charting of the farthest reaches of devastation and hope.’

    A Constant Hum brings the reality of bushfire to life and should be compulsory reading for all Australians, especially city-dwellers.’

    ‘We witness the full impact of the fires…and while the characters change, we’re always mindful of their context. A Constant Hum’s other strength is at the sentence level, and Bishop’s descriptions have both an otherworldly and strong, realistic typicalness to them…It’s easy to take a cynical view of the connected short-story collection [but] Bishop’s collection takes a much more successful route, a collection linked together in tone.’

    ‘A gripping short story collection detailing the fallout of a natural disaster that’s very specific to our nation: bushfire.’

    ‘[Alice Bishop’s] gripping stories pay homage to the people lost and those left behind with sentences crafted as deftly as if they were oil paintings…all manage to bring beauty, poise, depth and light to the darkest of days.’

    ‘Amazing, beautiful, important.’

    ‘Beautiful…It’s incredible.’

    ‘Tenderly written portraits of heartache.’

    ‘Hope prevails over horror and human tragedy in each beautifully written tale.’

    ‘Possibly the most quintessentially Australian book I’ve ever read. It hums with vernacular, cultural references—models of cars, brands of ice-cream, the names of TV shows—flora and fauna that are only found on this island continent…All [the stories] are written with a forensic eye for detail, often focused on finding beauty in grief…The picture that builds is emotionally intense…This is not a book to plow through, but one to savour, to cogitate on, to mull over…[Bishop writes with] care, kindness and great authenticity.’

    ‘Completely, hauntingly, divine…stunning…This collection feels both assured and vulnerable, a hard and hurting reading but necessary and so very, very fulfilling. I loved it.’

    ‘Every word counts… While some of the stories in this collection describe astonishing and exhilarating acts of survival, most concern resilience and less dramatic moments that are not usually discussed. How do people survive after a life changing event? How do they find a new normality?’

    ‘Hugely impressive…A major contribution to the growing body of work about the Black Saturday bushfires, and, not coincidentally, to the literature of environmental precarity. Highly recommended…I really loved it…It’s so cleverly positioned in the way it looks back by bearing witness, but simultaneously reimagines the present and prefigures the future. And it’s so beautifully observed.’

    ‘An immersive reading experience…Stopped me in my tracks.’

    ‘Alice Bishop may be the début writer of the year.’

    ‘A remarkable approach to the physical, emotional and spiritual impact of the Black Saturday fires…blessed with a tender, compassionate aesthetic.‘

    ‘Completely, hauntingly divine.’

    ‘Perhaps Bishop’s A Constant Hum should be the next book recommended for our federal parliamentarians’ nightstands.’

    ‘So accomplished and so easy in its prose.’

    ‘[A] shimmering treasure…Beauty, darkness, grief, humanness and hope…Exquisite.’

    ‘Some pieces are only a sentence or two, but even those snippets pack an emotional punch, and I found the varying story lengths built a sense of collective grief—and hope. A Constant Hum brims with Aussie cultural references, making it hard to imagine the events in any other setting. But it also pokes at bigger questions—how do people change after a life-changing event? how does one rediscover normality?—that many of us are asking these days.’

    Other editions ofA Constant Hum