Book review: Cautionary Tales for Excitable Girls by Anne Casey-Hardy

An assured debut collection of short stories for and about women.

Love short stories? You’d be hard pressed to find a collection better than Anne Casey-Hardy’s treasure trove.

Cautionary Tales for Excitable Girls is an outstanding debut, with stories that stick in your mind, long after reading them. 

The common theme throughout the yarns is the trials and tribulations of being female, particularly being a young female traversing her way through life, and all the dangers, horrors and highs that come with it.

Opening the collection is a story called’ Being the Mother’ a tale of two girls who try their hand at motherhood. While they are fussing over the tot and trying to ensure the child’s needs are being met, it is revealed that this situation has come about in a particularly underhanded way.

One of the standout stories in the collection is titled ‘Literally Beside Myself’, where a mother handles the delirium of dealing with a baby by venturing into a dream world where the potent and irresistible Viking Ragnar Lothbrok is her lover and sire of her unborn child. Despite her dream world with her lover, she faces a tough self-assessment of how her life has turned out when confronted by her teenage self.

Other stories of note include ‘The Merri Creek’, a haunting tale that was inspired by a true crime involving the unsolved murder of a Catholic schoolboy; ‘My Beautiful Dollhouse’, where childhood toys carry through into adulthood and provide significant reminders of family ties; and ‘The Wailing Willow’, a type of modern day horror story about childhood fables and terrors.

Cautionary Tales for Excitable Girls is Anne Casey-Hardy’s debut book, but she has already won a range of accolades for her writing, including the 2018 Peter Carey Short Story Award, a shortlisting for the 2019 VU/Overland Short Story prize and a 2021 Varuna Residential Fellowship. Her stories have also featured in a range of publications such as Meanjin Quarterly and several anthologies.

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These accolades come as no surprise after reading her debut, as Casey-Hardy is a master at telling compelling stories in only a few pages.

This collection is dark, thought-provoking and highly recommended for anyone who loves short format reads.

Cautionary Tales for Excitable Girls by Anne Casey-Hardy
Publisher: Simon and Schuster Australia
ISBN: 9781761107269
Format: Paperback
Pages: 241 pages
Release date: 30 August 2022
RRP: $29.99

Paula Thompson is a journalist who has written for The Advertiser, SA Weekend and the Stock Journal newspapers. She is now freelancing