Books & Literature

Book Review: Dreams They Forgot, by Emma Ashmere

SHORT STORIES: Explore illusion, deception and acts of quiet rebellion. Diverse characters travel high and low roads through time and place.

A beautifully written and curated collection of short-stories.
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Adelaide-born Emma Ashmere has had short stories published widely in such journals as Griffith Review, Overland, and The Age, garnering her many awards.

Dreams They Forgot pulls together over twenty of her best stories, many of which have previously been published. But this is no mere grab-bag. Ashmere has curated this collection in a way which makes it read almost like a novel. Themes, settings, and symbolic objects thread throughout: the sea; Australians abroad; fathers; car trips. Many characters seem to be echoes of each other (or maybe the same person?). The whole work has a homogeneity that is redolent of Drewe’s The Bodysurfers, although albeit less consciously so.

Each of these stories is a satisfying experience in itself, let alone when read as part of the whole. In Warhead a son goes off to war; The Long Life of Milk explores Australia’s relationship with Indonesia through the experience of an exchange student; In The Sketchers, two young friends travel to see the Sydney Harbour Bridge as it is being built. Female friendship and love figure strongly. Uncomfortable topics such as violence and prejudice are aired with narrative flair, eschewing any preachiness.

Ashmere is an accomplished short story writer, understanding the genre in both its strengths and limitations, and working within both magnificently. Her prose sits lightly on the page, remaining poetic without forgoing narrative drive. Like a caricaturist, she can evoke a full person with just a few strokes of the pen.

Dreams They Forgot has been put together in a beautiful publication, using an evocative photo by Sue Ford on the front cover. It is only marred by some sloppy proof-reading (the odd missed word; the misspelling of a famous film title). Annoying, but not fatal.

If you are yet to discover the short story, then this collection might just persuade you. And if you are already a convert, then Ashmere will no doubt delight and engage.

Reviewed by Tracey Korsten
Twitter: @TraceyKorsten

Distributed by: Wakefield Press
Released: September 2020
RRP: $24.95

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