Cautionary Tales for Excitable Girls

Anne Casey-Hardy

Cautionary Tales for Excitable Girls
Simon & Schuster Australia
7 September 2022

Cautionary Tales for Excitable Girls

Anne Casey-Hardy

Teenagers sneak out to the creek for a wild New Year’s Eve party. A sleep-deprived woman who imagines she is pregnant to a Viking faces her scathing sixteen-year-old self. A woman in love wakes up in a van Gogh painting.

These gem-like stories are about the desire to rush out and meet life; about getting in over your head; about danger, and damage, and what it means to survive - and not always survive - the risk of being young. They chart the borderlands between girls and women, daughters and mothers, freedom and fear.

Emerging fully-formed and singing songs of both innocence and experience, Anne Casey-Hardy is the rarest of new voices: at the same time reckless and entirely in control; funny and frightening; wise and full-blooded.


There is something so very satisfying about a good short story, and this collection is a delightful reading experience full of moments of otherworldly recognition, real experience and unknowable mystery. Sisterhood, motherhood and friendships – lost, revived or lamented – are all explored with dreamlike clarity, grounded in the beauty of the natural world and the familiarity of home and work.

In this book, the yearning of women, young and not so young, for ‘things beyond my ken’ as Liesl sings in The Sound of Music, is tinged with the Gothic. We meet characters such as Kirra, whose elusive romantic lover sounds more than undeserving; some young girls who play spooky games as they head into their high school years, oblivious to the consequences; and a group of women searching for the spiritually unattainable. There are sisters who inhabit the natural beauty of their surroundings like a second skin, yet grasp more than they should of adult human behaviour. There are older girls who revisit their (perhaps disturbing) adolescent friendships, young women who dream of babies (real and not yet real), and younger girls who steal a baby, wanting to know what motherhood is like.

These soulful, poetic vignettes are filled with flavours that continue to resonate with you. There is alchemy at work: deft transmutations of longing, loss, grief and history into something more bearable. Like all the best writers, Anne Casey-Hardy balances a sense of timeless humanity with a specific eye for our era. In her evocations of teenage girls, young women and Melbourne, place and time are important. After all, can you have memory and experience without examining place? It’s a question that feels apt for our times.

My reading copy of Cautionary Tales for Excitable Girls came with multiple accolades from highly regarded authors and no wonder; these stories are full of wisdom, love, humour and understanding, all brilliantly rendered.

Margaret Snowdon is a bookseller at Readings Carlton.

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