The Drover's Wives

2019 - Shortlisted

Shortlisted

Judges' Comments 

Following his fictional biographies of imagined Australian writers, Their Brilliant Careers, Ryan O’Neill applies his talent for parody to the classic Australian short story, Henry Lawson’s The Drover’s Wife. In an audacious display of Neo-Postmodernism (!?), O’Neill provides 99 reinterpretations of the original story, ranging from Elizabethan verse to a Year 8 English essay; from emojis to a spam email. Along the way the story is interpreted in song, TV sitcom, tweets, graphics, crosswords, sporting commentary … The confident experimentation with form(s) is supported by great verbal dexterity, providing plenty of laugh-out-loud moments.

However, while the surface humour and ingenuity propel the stories forward, another sub-textual dimension begins to emerge contrapuntally. It has to do with the elemental nature of storytelling and the way in which the reader receives and interprets the story. In this era of ‘fake news’, the constantly shifting style and point of view force the reader to question how we receive, process and distribute information.

O’Neill’s virtuosity and stylistic iconoclasm could be used as a primer on deconstructionism, and illustrate both the joyful irreverence and the implicit respect to which great works of art should be subjected. Through his mischievous reinterpretations, the author reinforces the primacy of Lawson’s original tale.

About the Author

Ryan O’Neill

Ryan O’Neill was born in Scotland, and lived and worked in several countries before settling in Australia. His fiction has appeared in SeizureThe Best Australian StoriesThe Sleepers AlmanacMeanjin, and Westerly among others.  He is the author of The Weight of a Human HeartTheir Brilliant Careers, which won the 2017 Prime Minister’s Literary Award, and The Drover’s Wives.