With many parts of Australia currently facing devastating bushfires, we are overwhelmed with images of our country burning. It is hard to comprehend the full scale of destruction we will face at the end of this fire season and how the survivors will pick up their lives and continue on. A Constant Hum speaks to the magnitude of human emotion during and after tragic bushfires and examines how those that have lost everything will begin to re-build their lives. While it may be based on the Black Saturday bushfires, Alice Bishop’s book is equally pertinent to our current predicament, as individuals and as a country.
While this book may not give you a way of physically helping against the bushfires, it will give you the understanding you need to emotionally support victims in the aftermath. Bishop’s scalpel-like precision in carving out these human stories captures the emotions and perspectives of survivors and shows the trials they will continue to face. Too often are survivors supported in the moment, but quickly forgotten when the media moves on and the pressing threat has subsided. A Constant Hum shows that the trauma, grief and anger will linger far longer than the charred remains left behind by these fires.
‘A Constant Hum shows that the trauma, grief and anger will linger far longer than the charred remains left behind by these fires.’
A Constant Hum is a fictional exploration of the aftermath of the Black Saturday bushfires. The book is a collection of vignettes and short stories that evoke the pain, trauma and hope that comes from witnessing or being affected by bushfires. This book is such a timely addition to contemporary Australian literature and the cultural landscape at present. It speaks to the changes we have seen and the devastating impact climate change is already having on our landscape.
Not only is it a beautiful and heart-wrenching tribute to all that was lost in those bushfires, it is also a warning and a foreshadowing of what is to come if we don’t take drastic action. The book doesn’t preach its warning or blast it from every page, but flows through like a rip, a quiet but powerful undercurrent pulling through each story. It is clear and simple – each catastrophic fire season is inextricably linked to climate change and will continue to escalate. This is not the burning legacy we want to leave.
A Constant Hum explores the grim reality many faced in 2009 and mirrors to us the pain and suffering we face again now. Bishop explores the devastation, both physical and emotional, of the fires and their aftermath. She is thorough, detailed and careful, handling the sensitive topic with delicacy. Her writing style is very reminiscent of Helen Garner’s. Taking minute details and bringing them to the fore, Bishop captures the essence of each character and scene. She creates pivotal and poignant moments that evoke deep responses and reflection.
‘A Constant Hum explores the grim reality many faced in 2009 and mirrors to us the pain and suffering we face again now.’
Though Bishop is respectful in her approach to the narratives, she by no means shies away from the grief, anger and pain. Her stories are imbued with it. Each of the stories present a unique perspective that together build a collage of human experience and emotion. With each distinct voice and character, Bishop portrays a new aspect of the aftermath, the first as moving as the last. This book is an emotional rollercoaster but one that all Australians should become familiar with. Alice Bishop is one of the emerging Australian writers who I believe will continue to grow as a vital voice in the Australian literary landscape in the coming years.
This is easily one of the best books I read in 2019 and I hope it gets the recognition it deserves in 2020. I look forward to seeing it receive many award nominations and hopefully an appearance on the Stella Prize longlist. I hope you all take the time to read it.
Title: A Constant Hum
Authors: Alice Bishop
Publisher: Text Publishing
Extent: 240 pp.
Read If You Like: Helen Garner, Any Ordinary Day by Leigh Sales, Moral Hazard by Kate Jennings.