Reading the Stella Prize Shortlist – Six Bedrooms by Tegan Bennett Daylight


Well. Tegan Bennett Daylight’s Six Bedrooms is very, very good. If all short story collections were this satisfying, I might very well be a convert to the world of short stories.

The collection focuses on growing up. These stories are not aiming to deliver sock-em-in-the-guts plot twists. Rather, they’re ruminations on the angst, joys and horrors of growing up and the success of each is tied to the fact that Daylight writes about things that are so exquisitely familiar that you feel she may have had access to your teenage diary – planning a future with a boy because you noticed his legs in assembly; the awkward ‘family-friend-as-school-formal-date’; the transient personalities in a share-house; the weird dynamic when you meet up with an ex, years later.

“I arrive and what I suspected is instantly clear – that John is one of the least popular boys at his school. He leads me to a table of boys with glasses, skinny necks, untended acne.”

When you’re a teenager, you feel as if you are the first person in the world to feel so heartbroken, so in-love, so scared, so EVERYTHING. Daylight captures that, reminds the reader that those experiences are in fact commonplace and unifying, but doesn’t belittle them. Because falling in love with a boy in assembly because of his legs is very, very intense when it happens.

“And then we would walk along the back streets, leaves whispering, me talking too fast, him not talking at all, our shoulders occasionally, unhappily bumping. I was too embarrassed about my own lack of experience to take on his as well.”

Although Daylight writes about ordinary events, there’s nothing ordinary in her sentences – her words are beautiful, succinct but poignant.

“I could see the way her hair looked when it was wet – dark underneath the blonde. And the blonde slightly green, like the hair of all the kids who had pools.”

“There were books everywhere, and three little dogs who had exploded like party favours when the front door was opened.”

It’s impossible to review a short story collection without mentioning favourites – the first and last stories, Like a Virgin and J’áime Rose respectively. Her depictions of adolescence in both stories was pitch-perfect.

Also notable was the only story told from a male perspective, They Fuck You Up – this is Daylight with a menacing edge and her restraint in telling a story about domestic violence is remarkable. The story focuses on Darcy, a teen who is both abused and an emerging abuser himself. It’s a snapshot of a very critical moment in what is often cyclical behaviour – you can see how Darcy’s future will play out but Daylight reigns in the action and most of what happens is implied – the subtlety is what makes it very frightening.

“It had been easy to bring her round- he’d just had to tell her that was it, they were breaking up.”

4/5 Brilliant.

Will it win the Stella Prize? It could.

I received my copy of Six Bedrooms from the publisher, Random House Australia via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.

4 responses

  1. I’m only 3 stories in but so far she’s made me cringe with embarrassment and do a little loungeroom Madonna shimmy – not many books can claim that 😀

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