Book review: Into Your Arms, Edited by Kirsten Krauth

A collection that demonstrates how forces within powerful music can sometimes shape and inform powerful writing.
Into Your Arms. Image is a purple book cover featuring a black and white picture of Nick Cave and on the right an editor's headshot of a woman with blond wavy shoulder length hair and black clothing smiling at the camera.

A compendium of stories, vignettes and abstract expressions, each inspired by a song from the catalogue of Nick Cave, Into Your Arms can be painfully visceral, other times elusive, romantic or surreal.

A dark (surprise, surprise) thread can be found through it all – linking themes of pain, yearning and love.

Nevertheless, the breadth of its style and tone, confounds neat description – and analysis, for that matter. But that’s a reflection of its strength, and the way it taps into Cave’s vast musical palette – one that can seemingly conjure nostalgic reflections on the 80s Melbourne scene (Christos Tsiolkas’ ‘Dance Hall Days’), for example, as easily as it can a gruesome slice of Americana (Neil A White’s ‘The Mercy Seat’). 

Of course, your mileage may vary with this eclecticism – but then Cave’s own questing artistic spirit has never gently led his fans by the hand, either. 

It’s also worth acknowledging (at the risk of being patently obvious) that having a vivid impression of the corresponding song at your disposal may be the best way to enjoy each contribution. As Commissioning Editor Kirsten Krauth remarks in her introduction, ‘Listening to the songs while reading the stories enriches the experience in so many wonderful and enlightening ways.’

This is ably demonstrated by her own beautiful work ‘Do You Love Me?’, with its hallucinatory representation of fan adoration (of Cave, naturally), that can be backgrounded by the song of the same name (if you choose), to expand upon a sense of love that is passionate and heartbreaking, but also a little goofy, camp and absurd (in the best possible way). 

Elsewhere, Richard J Frankland’s ‘Something’s Gotten Hold of My Heart’ with its simple, warm-spirited statements of a lost soul grounded by new love is wonderfully complemented by the strange (ironically) soaring romanticism of Cave’s cover of that song. 

Also notable, if you happen to play the song while reading, is the “relationship” between the respective versions of ‘Straight To You’ by Nick Cave and Rhett Davis. Davis, author of last year’s similarly (and enjoyably) surreal novel Hovering, takes some of the song’s deliberately histrionic vision of intimacy amid an apocalypse (‘And the sky will throw thunderbolts and sparks’) literally, to intriguingly quirky effect. 

More enigmatically, Andy Griffiths grabs at the heat and menace in the lyrics of Cave’s ‘King Ink’ with his ‘Sniffing Around’, and throws back onto the page an effective piece of Beckettian dialogue centred on a hostile encounter with a mysterious authority.

Meanwhile, Emily Brewin’s ‘Burning Bridges’ is counterpointed by Cave’s classic romantic ballad ‘The Shipping Song’, as its Uber-driving protagonist flees the physical touch of an abusive partner, hoping to find the comfort and companionship invoked by the song instead in the kindness of strangers. 

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The collection is ultimately testament to a remarkable voice and some fine Australian writers inspired by him. But it’s also a fascinating way to experience a particular frisson of music and prose fiction – informing rich experiences as they are “brought into our arms”.

Into Your Arms, Nick Cave’s Songs Reimagined, Edited by Kirsten Krauth

With contributions by: Neil A White, Mark Smith, Jon Doust, Bram Presser, Goldie Goldbloom, Mykaela Saunders, Andy Griffiths, Christos Tsiolkas, Cate Kennedy, Arnold Zable, Emily Brewin, Melissa Manning, Rhett Davis, Sarah Bailey, Toni Jordan, Tony Birch, Kirsten Tranter, Gillian O’Shaughnessy, Ben Hobson and Richard J Frankland. 

Publisher: Fremantle Press
ISBN: 9781760992781
Format: Paperback
Pages: 288pp

Publication date: 19 September 2023
RRP: $32.99

Richie Black is an AWGIE-winning writer living and working on Gadigal Land. His Twitter is: @NoirRich