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Flames is a novel that contains an extraordinary cast of unique characters — a family of women who continually return from the dead after being cremated, a fisherman who works in tandem with a seal pup to catch Oneblood tuna fish, a gin-swigging tough-dame detective, a water-rat who is God of the Esk River and many more. It seems impossible that such a disparate and unique set of characters, each with their own unique voices, could be woven together in a way that is both extraordinary, believable, magical and thought-provoking. A book that does so many things so well and all at once, the temptation is to read it again immediately to understand how Arnott makes it work so well.
Arnott mashes a number of styles and genres to create something that exists in a genre completely of its own — Flames is part magical realism, part fantasy, part mythology, part fairytale but grounded enough in social realism to sound plausible. Wholly and completely engaging, the compelling narrative works by keeping the reader guessing. Tasmania looms large, as a complex and three-dimensional character in this book as well. It is impossible to read Flames and not be able to smell the sea-salty air, feel the damp moss and see the tree ferns cascading down the mountains. The vivid elements of landscape are never backdrop but a way of making us understand the stories that reside within it.