Review: “Water” by Ellen van Neerven

by Johanna Edler

The short story “Water” from the collection Heat and Light by Ellen van Neerven was published in 2014 and discusses the treatment of Indigenous people in a futuristic Australia. Van Neerven is an Aboriginal Australian herself and an award-winning writer and poet.

Personally, I really enjoyed the short story, especially because it introduces many new plot threads that were very interesting to see unfold and sometimes surprised me a lot. The story really is a new perspective on the way Aboriginal people are treated by others in Australia and how a future might look like for them.     

The story’s main character Kaden is a young Aboriginal woman who identifies as queer which lets us as the readers see the world through her eyes. I find this representation not only refreshing and interesting but also very important as it gives space for a new perspective and voice that has not been heard that much before.

The genre of the short story is not very easily identified which again shows the versatility of the story as there are many different elements that could be considered magic realism, science fiction or even dystopian. In my opinion this makes the story even more interesting as it is not clearly confined to one genre but offers many different layers and lenses to analyze it through. Magic Realism shines through on many occasions, especially because the story feels very grounded in present-day problems and politics for example when considering the rights of Indigenous people and “Australia2”. Science Fiction on the other hand can be seen as well in the future setting or the way the “formula” is a scientific experiment that is performed on the plantpeople. The situation with Indigenous people in Australia, the problems they have to face and where they stand in society also seems to be relatable to dystopian settings which again shows the many different layers the story has. The mixture is what makes the story even more captivating which Ellen van Neerven manages quite well in her writing.     

In conclusion, I think that “Water” is an important contribution to all these genres and brings a new voice of an Aboriginal Australian woman into the discourse surrounding the addressed problems. I highly recommend the story to everyone who is interested and I am definitely going to see what else Ellen van Neerven publishes in the future.