Dark as Last Night

Tony Birch

Dark as Last Night
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Dark as Last Night

Tony Birch

Dark as Last Night confirms, once again, that Tony Birch is a master of the short story. These exceptional stories capture the importance of human connection at pivotal moments in our lives, whether those occur because of the loss of a loved one or the uncertainties of childhood.

In this collection we witness a young girl struggling to protect her mother from her father’s violence, two teenagers clumsily getting to know one another by way of a shared love of music, and a man mourning the death of his younger brother, while beset by memories and regrets from their shared past. Throughout this powerful collection, Birch’s concern for the humanity of those who are often marginalised or overlooked shines bright.

Review

In Dark as Last Night, Tony Birch celebrates stubborn women and gentle men. Like the poem by Anne-Marie Te Whiu that lends the collection its title, these stories speak to violence and vulnerability, to the ways we are drawn, sometimes, to things that hurt, and to the people and places that give us the strength to survive. Birch has always been a master of the short story form, but his latest collection breathes life in every line – it is so clearly a tribute to the real people Birch honours with this work.

As always, Birch’s writing digs deep, bringing out the truth of people in a way that allows them to surprise and delight, no matter how they appear on the surface. He pays particular attention to the young and the old, to those on the fringes of society whose importance and intelligence is too often disregarded. In the titular story, which carries echoes of the fairytale The Little Match Girl, Rose confronts her own fear to resist the violent control of her father. In ‘Flight’, Nish holds his dreams for the future close to his heart. Birch balances the darkness in these pieces with the hope and loyal defiance that lies at the core of young people. All of the characters brought to life here defy stereotype – they are mouthy, smart, furious and loyal. There is a directness in the way Birch writes these kids and adolescents that shows a deep and clear- eyed respect for their place in the world.

Dark as Last Night is a reminder of the lives that can be shared through the short story, and what a punch they pack when written well. In this stunning, timely collection Birch brings a softness to real and fictional spaces that is sorely needed right now.


Bec Kavanagh is a bookseller for Readings Kids.

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