cover image Collected Stories

Collected Stories

Shirley Hazzard, edited by Brigitta Olubas. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, $28 (368p) ISBN 978-0-374-12648-3

The early work of late Australian writer Hazzard (1931–2016), winner of the National Book Award for The Great Fire, makes for an outmoded collection, propelled by themes of mid-century bourgeois disillusionment—affairs, arguments, disappointing relationships, time spent at country houses, and trips to Europe. Despite the heavy emotional atmosphere, Hazzard’s prose has the restraint and polish of glossy magazine writing, offering crisp, easy descriptions of her desperate characters. Unfortunately, the stories never quite achieve the depth they seemingly aim for, especially in those about the staff of an international peacekeeping organization from People in Glass Houses (1967). Mildly irreverent depictions of petty pensioned bureaucrats—like Achilles Pylos, who seeks to replace his plain-looking secretary for a more charming one in “The Story of Miss Sadie Graine”—may have caused a stir when originally published, but they aren’t sharp enough to resonate in an era where unsatisfactory working conditions are standard fare. Meanwhile, “Vittorio,” about a wizened Italian professor who discovers his female tenant might return his romantic interest, ends with a thudding banality: “He could scarcely breathe, from the stairs and from astonishment. He had never been so astonished in his life.” These stories feel like quaint antiques from a bygone time. Agent: Lynn Nesbit, Janklow & Nesbit Assoc. (Nov.)