The Whip Hand: A Stand-Out Collection of Short Stories

Nadine Browne is an agnostic writer who was raised as a born-again Christian and studied theology at Monash University. Mihaela Nicolescu was born in Romania, raised in Sweden, and spent 13 years in London before coming to reside in Perth. The two authors have had their short story collections published together in The Whip Hand – a compendium of tales about people on the edge. gr reviewer Emma Stubley reports.

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‘Who holds the whip hand?’ asks a question on the back cover of this book.

Never have I been so intrigued by a blurb.

Separated into two collections of short stories, Mihaela Nicolescu’s ‘The Returning’ and Nadine Browne’s ‘Playing Dead,’ this anthology is primarily concerned with women’s stories.

From Sweden to Romania to England, Nicolescu’s stories recognise that human nature truly does extend beyond international borders. With characters ranging from a refugee finding unlikely help from a teenage girl to a scorned lover seeking the help of a Russian witch, her characters are united by their struggle to overcome hardships. Nicolescu’s writing is heartbreaking in its authenticity, consisting of complex characters who sometimes hurt people to fulfil their desires. A talented writer, Nicolescu proves that you don’t have to be a native English speaker to write compelling stories in English.

Browne’s characters, however, are more daring than Nicolescu’s. Often living on the edge of the law, they contemplate, or are in the process of, committing crime to overcome the injustices they face. Whether they are stealing an abusive husband’s 134-plant weed farm or compulsively planting trees across a neighbourhood, these women are taking control of their lives no matter what the consequences. But despite the moral ambiguity of their actions, Browne has us cheering for their success and even challenging our own beliefs about right and wrong.

So who holds the whip hand? Nicolescu’s writing suggest it’s a society in which we lose control of our lives, whereas Browne’s stories imply it’s the women who dare to take back the reins. Consequently, the two sections create a thought-provoking juxtaposition. No story is weaker than any another. This excellent collection is a testament to the talent to be found among Australian writers.

5 stars – Fremantle Press $27.99

Reviewed by Emma Stubley

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