London, Joan 1948-
LONDON, Joan 1948-
Book of the Year Award from Age, and Western Australia Week Literary Award, both for Sister Ships and Other Stories; Steele Rudd Award, 1994, and Award for Fiction, Western Australia Premier's Award, both for Letter to Constantine; Christina Stead Prize finalist, New South Wales Premier's Award, and Book of the Year Award from Age, both for Gilgamesh.
Sister Ships, Fremantle Arts Centre Press (South Fremantle, Western Australia, Australia), 1986, Penguin (New York, NY), 1988.
Letter to Constantine (short stories), Fremantle Arts Centre Press (South Fremantle, Western Australia, Australia), 1993.
Gilgamesh (novel), Grove Press (New York, NY), 2001.
The New Dark Age, (collected stories), Pan Macmillan (Sydney, New South Wales, Australia), 2004.
Australian writer Joan London is the author of the short-story collections, Sister Ships and Other Stories and Letter to Constantine, and the novel Gilgamesh. Sister Ships features tales about women who have a hard time fitting into the "easy frivolous world," to use a phrase from the short story "Lilies," in which their happy, well-adjusted neighbors seem to live. "Rather than making her stories seem repetitive," Mary Titus wrote in Belles Lettres, "her heroines' similarities unify the book without diminishing it." Further adding to the melancholy air of the book, London "has a remarkable gift for shadowing a character with his or her unfulfilled destiny, coloring what is with what might have been," Susie Mee commented in the New York Review of Books. London's Letter to Constantine also received high praise from Australian Book Review contributor Carmel Bird: "London's sentences are seductive, beautiful; the language is simple, strong and precise; the images live and grow in the reader's mind.…The characters charm and fascinate, and the situations and events are sharp and haunting."
London's first novel, Gilgamesh, echoes the themes of that ancient Middle Eastern epic in the lives of Edith, a girl from the wild lands of Western Australia; her son, Jim; her English cousin, Leopold; and Aram, Leopold's Armenian friend. The tale covers nearly fifty years of history, beginning with Edith's parents meeting in a convalescent home for soldiers after World War I, and takes the reader from England to Australia to London, across Europe to the Middle East, and back to Australia in just over 250 pages. In 1937, when Edith is seventeen, Leopold and Aram arrive for a visit, fresh from participating in an archeological dig in Iraq. Aram and Edith become lovers, and after he and Leopold leave, Edith discovers that she is pregnant. To the horror of her small town, Edith decides to keep the child, and she sets out with her son to travel across the world to find Aram. As Francine Prose wrote in the New York Times Book Review, "intelligent, observant, resourceful and gifted with a rich and entirely plausible inner life, [Edith] is compelling enough to hold her own in this paradoxically stripped-down and densely populated epic." "The chapters covering Edith's sojourn in Soviet Armenia, threatened by both Germans and Russians, are unforgettable, brought to life in myriad brilliant details," declared a Publishers Weekly reviewer.
London explained to Suite101.com interviewer Maggie Ball the parallels between the epic of Gilgamesh and her tale: "All of [the main characters], like King Gilgamesh, set off on their major journeys after suffering loss of some kind, and the reason for their journeys could be seen as an attempt to restore that loss, and to 'find eternal life,' through love or heroic deeds, or perhaps in Jim's future, artistic production. Jim is just starting out, and Aram dies, but Edith and Leopold have to suffer, like Gilgamesh, the painful process of return, of finding one's place."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Sister Ships and Other Stories, Penguin (New York, NY), 1988.
Australian Book Review, September, 1993, Carmel Bird, review of Letter to Constantine, pp. 14-15; May, 2003, Paul Hetherington, review of The New Dark Age, p. 40.
Belles Lettres, July-August, 1988, Mary Titus, review of Sister Ships and Other Stories, p. 6.
Booklist, December 15, 1998, Brad Hooper, review of Sister Ships and Other Stories, p. 971.
Houston Chronicle (Houston, TX), August 22, 2003, William J. Cobb, review of Gilgamesh.
Kirkus Reviews, February 1, 2003, review of Gilgamesh, p. 168.
Library Journal, February 1, 2003, Eleanor J. Bader, review of Gilgamesh, pp. 116-117.
New York Times Book Review, February 14, 1988, Susie Mee, review of Sister Ships and Other Stories, June 15, 2003, Francine Prose, review of Gilgamesh.
Publishers Weekly, December 4, 1987, John Mutter, review of Sister Ships and Other Stories, p. 66; January 27, 2003, review of Gilgamesh, p. 232.
Suite101.com,http://www.suite101.com/ (August 1, 2001), Maggie Ball, interview with Joan London.
Vancouver International Writers Festival,http://www.writersfest.bc.ca/ (June 9, 2004), "Joan London."