Paperback

Published: Lightning Books (August 2019)

ISBN: 9781785630910

The Drover’s Wives

Ryan O'Neill

£9.99

101 reinterpretations of a classic Australian short story

‘A work of virtuosic flippancy tempered by considerable intellect’ – TLS

SHORTLISTED: Queensland Literary Awards

SHORTLISTED: Russell Prize for Humour Writing

Henry Lawson’s short story The Drover’s Wife is an Australian classic that has sparked interpretations on the page, on canvas and on the stage. But it has never been so thoroughly, or hilariously, re-imagined as by Ryan O’Neill, remixing and revising Lawson’s masterpiece in 101 different ways.

The variations include a pop song, a sporting commentary, a 1980s computer game, an insurance claim, a Hollywood movie adaptation, a cryptic crossword and even a selection of paint swatches printed on the back cover.

Inventive and unexpected, this is laugh-out-loud literature from the author of the award-winning Their Brilliant Careers.

Extracts


An Agony Aunt Column

Does he love you, or does he love ewe?

Dear Pamela,

My husband is a drover, and his work frequently takes him away from home for months on end, leaving me to look after our four young children. Sometimes I get so lonely I could have a good cry. Last week, while my husband was absent yet again, a black snake came into the house, terrifying the children and myself before I managed to kill it. I love my husband, but I don’t know how much longer I can stand this solitary lifestyle. In the last five years there have been fires, floods and mad bulls to contend with. I’m at my wit’s end. Please tell me what I should do.

—The Drover’s Wife

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Extracts


An Agony Aunt Column

Does he love you, or does he love ewe?

Dear Pamela,

My husband is a drover, and his work frequently takes him away from home for months on end, leaving me to look after our four young children. Sometimes I get so lonely I could have a good cry. Last week, while my husband was absent yet again, a black snake came into the house, terrifying the children and myself before I managed to kill it. I love my husband, but I don’t know how much longer I can stand this solitary lifestyle. In the last five years there have been fires, floods and mad bulls to contend with. I’m at my wit’s end. Please tell me what I should do.

The Drover’s Wife


Dear Drover’s Wife,

Quite simply, your husband has to choose between you and ewes. I know many people are doing it tough at the moment, but I don’t believe for one second that an able-bodied man can’t find work closer to home. You have been left on your own so much, you are in danger of losing your sense of identity. It concerns me deeply that you signed your letter ‘The Drover’s Wife’, which indicates that this is how you define yourself. You are so much more than a wife to a largely absent man. You are a mother, a lover, and a warrior. You are a woman, and never forget that. Don’t be a sheep. Your husband sees enough of those at work.

A snake drove Adam and Eve apart, but it may be the cause of bringing you and your husband together. Send him a telegram tonight and tell him how frightened you were when you saw the snake, and how much you needed him. Men like to feel they are protecting their family, and I have a suspicion this will release something primal in your husband, and he will come running home. Just remember not to gush or make a fuss when he does.

Pamela

quotes

‘In his supercalifragilisticexpialidocious new book Ryan O’Neill does something stunningly original using Henry Lawson’s The Drover’s Wife – turning it into a bravura literary game. I have never read a work like this before. It is a perfect reference book and teaching aid for teachers and students of English by illustrating the rich variety of ways we play with and use the language. A cerebrally imaginative tour de force

Frank Moorhouse

‘Playful, inventive and often laugh-out-loud funny, The Drover’s Wives is a brilliant array of Oulipo-inspired exercises in style’

David Belbin

reviews

‘A work of virtuosic flippancy tempered by considerable intellect – great fun from start to finish’

Times Literary Supplement

‘The book is imaginative, clever, experimental, adroit, self-reflexive and very funny. As you turn the pages, you wonder just what O'Neill will come up with next’

Sydney Morning Herald

‘Pitch perfect… hilarious… Fellow writers in particular will enjoy O’Neill’s gift for literary karaoke… This is a book that begs to be read aloud. The reinterpretations are short, between one and three pages, and every one is entertaining. O’Neill is so adept at literary ventriloquism and at mastering multiple genres and forms’

The Australian

‘Inventive and ridiculously funny, this is a book about the multifarious ways in which a story can be told’

NB magazine

‘Captivating, coruscating, brilliantly honed satire... With this new work, O’Neill brings something new and thoroughly engaging into the Australian literary scene. Read it slowly, bit by bit, because satire gobbled too fast can overwhelm the reader or dull the senses. But read it, and odds are you will, by turns, laugh and weep’

Australian Book Review

‘The literary world can be rather po-faced sometimes, so it’s always a pleasure to come across an inventive book which offers the dual delights of intelligent writing and funny jokes’

On the Bookshelf

‘It’s a kind of satire of everything that's been done on the subject [of Henry Lawson’s The Drover’s Wife] in the past, and I think it’s brilliant. It’s hilarious… There’s so much literary criticism built into it, so much awareness of popular culture, so much wit and little jokes that come into into it, that I’m totally entranced’ 

Susan Wyndham, ABC Radio

‘Really enjoying this playful book which retells a classic 19th-century Australian short story in 101 different ways’

Booktime Magazine

‘An incredibly witty and entertaining satire’

Bookshine and Readbows

‘Highly enjoyable, constantly surprising, and well worth your time’

David’s Book Blog

extras

Ryan O’Neill: Why I wrote 99 versions of Henry Lawson’s most famous story – Sydney Morning Herald interview.

How the trade press in the Northern Hemisphere and Down Under reported our acquisition of The Drover's Wives.

Listen to a broadcast review by Australian literary critic and prize judge Susan Wyndham on ABC Radio Sydney. From 1'35.

Read an entertaining Q&A with Ryan O’Neill for the Australian Book Review.

Read the citation for The Drover’s Wives from the judges of the Russell Prize for Humour Writing.

ABOUT

Ryan O'Neill

Ryan O’Neill was born in Glasgow in 1975 and lived in Africa, Europe and Asia before settling in Australia.

His short story collection The Weight of a Human Heart was shortlisted for the 2012 Queensland Literary Awards.

His debut novel Their Brilliant Careers, first published in Australia in 2016, won the Australian PM's Prize for Fiction and was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award.

He lives in Sydney.

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