First fox by Leanne Radojkovich

-Reviewed by Siobhan Denton

It is to Leanne Radojkovich’s credit, and unfortunately her detriment, that in reading First fox I was immediately reminded of Angela Carter’s The Bloody Chamber. Drawing comparisons to such a seminal text, while certainly flattering, can, as it does in this case, expose a text’s shortcomings. That is not to suggest that Radojkovich’s text is wholly lacking: rather, its ambition does not always result in success.

Billed as a collection depicting reality coloured with the dreamlike nature of fairy tales, First fox contains a number of stories that are effective. Those, such as ‘Mila and the Cat’, are inventive, simply written, and filled with evocative imagery. ‘Mila and the Cat’, perhaps the collection’s high point, takes the trope of the impoverished young girl and mother, who are compelled to accept aid from a sinister male figure, and subverts it successfully and satisfyingly against the backdrop of everyday life. Mila, once effectively orphaned through her mother’s disappearance, is forced into foster care and, receiving ill-treatment, escapes, resulting in homelessness. It is this mix of the contemporary and the fairy tale that proves to be so compelling. Mila’s plight is simultaneously recognisable and far removed from reality.

Take the lines:

The police drove Mila to an orphanage, where a boy with a warty nose chased her into the laundry and tried to kiss her; she escaped down the laundry chute and became a missing person too.

Simple, but wonderfully so, telling the reader all they need to know. Radojkovich’s writing knows where embellishment is needed, and recognises when sparse language is effective.

Again, look at the lines:
‘She’s in terrible danger. He sucks the life out of young wives then leaves them to die’. The semantic field is instantly recognisable to all those familiar with fairy tales, but when cast against the backdrop of Mila’s plight and experience with social services, Radojkovich manages to do something quite special, both contemporising fairy tales, as well as effectively highlighting how such events, in which a young girl can be taken away against her will, almost appears fairy tale like in its ludicrousness.

Other stories, sparse in their brevity, are not given the necessary room to develop, breath and take root in the reader’s consciousness. While succinct writing can, and often does, lead to resonance, it can, when too concise, result in a narrative that does not quite land with the reader. Some stories then, felt almost too simplistic in their execution, and in turn forgettable.

The closing lines in ‘The unexpected likeness of beings’ are almost too fantastical and, while conjuring pleasant imagery, read as jarring:

‘Tomorrow I would fly off, leaving behind my white dress folded neatly as an origami bird.’

Whilst in isolation they are evocative, when used to close a narrative lasting only a side and a half, they read as almost obstinately vague.

First fox feels like a transitional piece. A piece that indicates that Radojkovich is certainly a writer of talent, who can and does produce stories that are highly effective and thoughtful, inducing the reader to reflect and ruminate. Unfortunately, with any collection of stories, the collection’s quality needs to be maintained throughout, a feat that is, for even the most talented writer, difficult to achieve. Radojkovich has not been able to achieve this successfully yet, but there is no suggestion that she will not, with sharp editing, be able to produce a work whose effectiveness is consistent throughout.