Why you should read Portable Curiosities by Julie Koh

We’re delighted that Julie Koh’s short story collection is one of the six books shortlisted for this year’s Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction. Here’s why we think you should read this book.


1. Portable Curiosities is a bold, wildly imaginative story collection.

Koh is not afraid to experiment with style – the stories in the book combine elements of sci-fi and spec fic, as well as magical realism and mock journalism. Koh imagines worlds where skyscrapers never end, third eyes let you see ghosts, and Idiocracy-style dystopian futures where professional satirists too powerful for their own good.

2. This book is very, very funny.

Stories span the minutes of a small town meeting to eradicate a guerilla orchestra that has set up shop in the woods. The owner of a Sydney cat cafe declares he is seceding his shop from Australia. Whether on a conceptual level or a sentence level, there are multiple laugh-out-loud moments in every story in the collection.

3. As well as being entertaining, these stories are biting critiques of racism, class, and other important issues in Australia.

Portable Curiosities sits at the intersection of absurdist comedy and blistering social commentary – and for this reason it’s very effective. ‘The Three-Dimensional Yellow Man’, which uses a fantastical conceit (film characters stepping out of the screen) to make a really powerful point about racism in Australia, is a great example.

4. Julie Koh’s original sense of humour is reminiscent of the irony and satire of Wayne Macauley and Gerald Murnane.

The book’s final piece, the experimental nonfiction ‘The Fat Girl In History’ is a weird and thought-provoking exploration of literary culture and the cult of body image that has definite Murnane characteristics. There’s also parallels with Arms Race by Nic Low, another young Australian literary satirist – but Koh has also described how she doesn’t necessarily see herself as part of a new wave of Australian satire – just someone who uses humour as a tool in making their point.

5. Our Prize judges say: “Read the book for ‘Fantastic Breasts’ alone.”

The title will definitely grab your attention, and rightly so – it’s an expertly crafted monologue of a man at a conference who sees a pair of breasts beyond anything he’s ever seen.The story is equal parts laugh-out-loud funny and brimming with rage, as it unfurls into a devastating satire of modern misogyny.


Find the full Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction shortlist here, and don’t forget you can buy all six of our wonderful shortlistees in a specially-priced pack.

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Portable Curiosities

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