Black Juice

by Margo Lanagan

Hardcover, 2005

Call number



HarperCollins (2005), Edition: First Edition, 201 pages


Provides glimpses of the dark side of civilization and the beauty of the human spirit through ten short stories that explore significant moments in people's lives, events leading to them, and their consequences.

User reviews

LibraryThing member GingerbreadMan
I have some serious mixed feelings about this. Been wobbling back and forth in what I think. But in the end, I guess I like it.

Here’s the thing. Most of these short stories aren’t really stories. They are more descriptions of glimpses of people and their worlds. Most of them lets us meet a
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young main character in a very concentrated event that sort of moves them in a new direction. We get a world – often a post-apocalyptic one, but sometimes fairy-tale, fantasy or a plain strange – drawn up with a few penstrokes, we get a vague idea of the character and what he or she is about. And that’s about it. This is a book of samples, of hands kept extremely close.

Which is half the time exciting, leaving me with questions, thoughts and a sense of wonder. When it works, it really works. Lanagan creates brave and drastic snapshots, oozing strangeness and ambience. I’m reminded of both Kelly Link’s books and Michael Ende’s Der Spiegel im Spiegel, but Lanagan writes clearer, crisper, less dreamlike, and her worlds are very original. But then there’s the other half, when her situations just feel vague, slippery and under-established. When the hidden story just isn’t exciting enough for me to try and find my way in.

The first story, Singing my sister down, is the one everyone seems to rave about. And it’s undoubtedly very strong. My favourite stories, however, are the one about the boy going out to find the horrifying angel and the one about the subterranean monsters coming up to feed. I could easily have done without the elephants, the barefoot-dancing queen and the Dick-ripoff in the desert. I kind of needed to know more about, for instance, the clown shooters and the bride.

There are basically just images here, but enough of them are memorable enough to be well worth the price of admission. A few I will remember forever.
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LibraryThing member delzey
Having been given a number of "warnings" about the intensity of Lanagan's most recent book, Tender Morsels, I decided to get a better sense of her writing through one of her short story collections first.

I wish someone had warned me about this collection as well.

Lanagan is an intense writer of
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dark, emotional, human fantasy worlds. There are echoes of older cultures and languages buried deep in these worlds, a sense not so much as coming from another planet but as if reading reports from undiscovered country. It is the type of fiction that reads like literary reportage from a past frontier transported through time. Like something forbidden, these stories are a black juice indeed.

The collection opens with "Singing Down My Sister," a strange description of a ritual that involves sending a woman out into the center of a lake of tar. Knowing Lanagan hails from Australia, and having grown up with the tar pits of LA, it wasn't too illogical a step for me to imagine a sort of hybrid Aboriginal culture that appeared to be redressing some sort of wrong through an old, odd cleansing process involving tar. But no, this is clearly something else as the event at hand is actually an execution, a slow death in front of an audience with a wake built in. Equally fascinating and disconcerting, the effect is how I would imagine it to be watching surgery being performed on myself while fully conscious.

Short story collections by their nature must start off strong and bold. They must open with a story full of promise for the rest of the collection yet not be so strong as to let the reader down along the way. Reading "Singing Down My Sister" it almost feels intimidating to continue with the rest of the book. If the rest of the book is anywhere near this intense it might be impossible to finish.

Fortunately, the book wasn't impossible to finish. Unfortunately the rest of the book was equally intense.

Each of the stories contained so completely build their worlds – unique and richly textured worlds at that – this it is possible for each story to sustain its own book. "Red Nose Day" delves into a dark world full of professional clowns and the hitmen who kill them, with more than a hint of allegory aimed at the Catholic church. "The House of Many" posits a clash of parallel worlds that fluidly includes a Middle Ages cult surrounded by a more contemporary society rich with cars and candy. Demonic angels that help children break free of oppressive adults. Queens who prefer the company of dancing gypsies to their own kingdoms. Lanagan plucks the familiar image and icon and from our consciousness and folds them deftly into something new, a magical literary origami.

I think the warning I would have wanted was more in the form of advice. I think these stories should be savored slowly, with a lot of space between them. Perhaps as ways of cleansing the palate between other books. One after another, the power in these stories makes reentry into the world difficult. Better to dip into these waters with some reserve.

Whether this has helped me to better enter the world of Tender Morsels has yet to be determined. As it stands, I feel richer for the diversion.
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LibraryThing member amandrake
This book is worth buying just for the story "Singing My Sister Down."
"Singing My Sister Down" is a jewel of a thing, exactly what a short story should be. It's a block of time taken from a group of lives, and in describing the situation the author references past and present to create clearly
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defined characters. Somewhat open-ended but still satisfying.
Unfortunately, I thought the other stories made much less of an impact. They are only mildly interesting, though the writing is still good.
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LibraryThing member clfisha
I just find her short stories fantastic and this collection is no exception. Found usually in the YA section it mixes fantasy/sci-fi & horror genres. She is never explicit, no unnecessary exposition, so you must tease it out but to me this makes the stories richer, more emotional & mysterious. The
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first story "singing my sister down" is one of the best short stories I have read. It packed such an emotional punch but it did overshadow the rest (so maybe read it last!). I don’t really want to spoil anything by saying too much about plots of the stories so I will stop here…
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LibraryThing member framberg
This is an amazing collection of short stories that deserves an audience far beyond readers of YA or SF literature. Lanagan creates tiny unique worlds in each story, using precise details to bring these worlds into focus for the reader. Each story is a small mystery, allowing the reader to discover
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people and places that feel at once completely familiar and totally strange. Lanagan creates this paradox through accessible characters, and by revealing the complex societies she has imagined little by little, so that even the most bizzare events feel inevitable.
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LibraryThing member isabelx
What I really liked about the short stories in this collection, is that the author doesn’t give too much away at first. Reading the first few pages you are unsure where and when the story is set, but you gradually realise what is going on as the story progresses. It started exceedingly well with
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the story "Singing My Sister Down", and carried on in the same vein.

Loved it! Definitely recommended to anyone who likes short stories that make you think.
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LibraryThing member lindabeekeeper
Margo Lanagan has a very unique writing style. You enter her world not knowing quite where you are. For each story, you ask yourself "what is going on?", "where am I?", "why are these people acting this way?". By the end, you have accepted another of her strange universes.

To enjoy this book, you
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must be able to deal with ambiguity, but if you can, it will take you to places that are unlike anything else.
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LibraryThing member edspicer
Black Juice and Margo Lanagan may be new to American readers, but her work is well known in Australia where she has delighted serious readers for years. This book was originally published in Australia in 2004 and is eligible for its 2006 Printz Honor because its first American edition was published
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in 2005. Readers who appreciate Black Juice will be interested to know that White Time, an earlier collection of her stories published in Australia in 2000 will be released this summer (also by eos, Harper Collins).

Warning! Readers who expect to find the traditional short story introductions or tidy endings will be seriously disappointed. Readers looking for light bed time reading will fall asleep without ever appreciating the craft and care of these ten astonishing, dark, and difficult stories. Have an English teacher who needs examples of high quality fiction for teens? Give that teacher Black Juice! Know a critic who mistakenly believes that teen literature is dumbed down fiction for teens too stupid to read real adult books? Give that critic Black Juice!

In this collection of short stories, Lanagan drops us unceremoniously into the middle of a world whose rules readers may discover as they begin each darkly twisted, yet exquisite tale. Character and setting are vastly more important than any sense of problem and resolution. We are given a character(s) in a vaguely familiar setting that evokes a mood. Despite very clear differences in the ten stories, if readers were randomly given one hundred different anonymous stories including these ten, they would have no difficulty recognizing which ones belong in Black Juice. Lanagan writes well enough that these sculpted people and places often make us not care about the fact that the problems are often not linear or even very clearly defined and may even lack any clear sense of resolution. It is on closer scrutiny that readers begin to piece together problems and tease out solutions. The stories require patience and richly reward diligent readers.

The collection begins with “Singing My Sister Down.” What seems like some sort of picnic celebration in which the family is laying down mats and eating and singing, is really an execution of a daughter who has killed her husband.
“Sweet Pipit” is told in first person elephant but readers at no time accuse Lanagan of engaging in anthropomorphism. In first person elephant we are told how difficult it is for elephants to tolerate the fast, high, human squeakings. Astonishing! In “Red Nose Day” we are surprised to find that we feel connected to a mass murderer. In all the stories we enter in the middle of a place that seems vaguely familiar, but grows stranger and stranger with each astounding word. We journey to dark and surprising places that can leave us lost and far from home, yet richer for the journey.

Black Juice is not a collection of short stories that will NOT appeal to every reader, but it is a collection that will reward readers and teachers willing to work patiently without a map. This collection will provoke great discussions on themes like cultural norms, death rituals, love, family expectations, justice, abuse, and more! This collection very much deserves its Printz Honor and is recommended for sophisticated readers of all ages.
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LibraryThing member ohioyalibrarian
Lovely writing! A pleasure to read! Interesting stories! Brilliant!
LibraryThing member seldombites
This is the first I've heard of Margo Lanagan, but I feel it won't be the last. Black Juice is a collection of short stories of the superb quality I have come to expect from the genre's Australian authors. I fully enjoyed every single one of the stories included in this book.

* Singing My Sister
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Down- This is a very sad story about an unusual tribal punishment, and my favourite story in this collection.
* My Lord's Man - A story about love, acceptance and misjudgement.
* Red Nose Day - An interesting twist on the typical clown story.
* Sweet Pippit - A beautiful story about elephants and their love for their handler. This is my second favourite story in this collection.
* House of the Many - A story about the fading of our childhood impressions.
* Wooden Bride - An interesting story about living up to our word.
* Earthly Uses - A twist on the concept of angels.
* Perpetual Light - Set in a future world where the air is unbreathable.
* Yowlinin - Monsters and outcasts of society meet.
* Rite of Spring - Singing in the season.
* The Point of Roses - This is my pick for third place in this collection. A boy with great powers influences others.

Margo's stories are magnificent, engrossing and above all, thought-provoking. My top three stories in this collection are Singing My Sister Down, Sweet Pippit and The Point Of Roses. All three of these stories are worthy of your attention.
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LibraryThing member sogamonk
Well developed, unusual short stories. "Singing my Sister Down" is terrifying.
"Sweet Pippit" gives us an inside look at elephants.
Some of the other stories were somewhat tiresome.
All in all , an interesting read
LibraryThing member FicusFan
Short Stories are not my favorite form. I find them too short to get all the details and the story in, and they leave me unsatisfied. So most writers are going to disappoint me in details and story, and Lanagan does. I picked this book up because it was getting such rave reviews, and winning
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The other problem for me is the poor quality of the writing. Post-industrial chic for the illiterate. I am sure she has adopted these voices on purpose, but they are annoyingly limited. They don't speak properly, they use bad grammar and made up words, and for some strange reason words are often misspelled in the text.

The characters themselves are limited in education, outlook and experience. As though the denizens of Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure are somehow made interesting or important because they are from non-western cultures (aborigine chic) and live in some sort of post-industrial landscape.

The stories are all very dark, and often have the children as victims. I can't imagine that this is written for children.
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LibraryThing member JalenV
Singing My Sister Down: aside from the horror of a loving family singing to their disgraced member during her slow public execution, I found most interesting that we never learn what drove the sister to kill as well as the victim's parents' reaction to one child's reaction to his only sister's
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death. I inferred from the story that this society doesn't care about why someone kills or if the person was even sane -- one punishment fits all.
Four stars.

My Lord's Man: according to the two pages of acknowledgments at the book's end, Ms. Lanagan was inspired by a song called 'Seven Yellow Gypsies'. I looked it up and it is a variant title for a ballad I know better as 'The Raggle Taggle Gypsies'. The viewpoint given is that of the lord's extremely loyal manservant, who has no use at all for his master's wife. I was not expecting the ending. three stars.

Red Nose Day: had to look up 'wowserism' and Jeux des Buffons (I remember very little of my schoolgirl French), but this is a chilling little tale about a couple of young serial killers. They're shooting clowns from what was once a convent before the nuns were murdered. Each boy has his own reason for murdering clowns. I find one petty and the other more understandable. three stars.

Sweet Pippit: a small herd of elephants search for the man who cared for them with love before one of the herd went mad and other men took him away. It's told from one of the elephants' viewpoint. four stars

House of the Many: this story seems to be about a very patriarchal cult. My lip started curling as Bard Jo started to describe Anneh, Robbreh, and Viljastramaratan, their goddess and gods. The goddess is the one who does all the work while the father god talks wisdom. Their child is wild. I didn't like Bard Jo's rules, but his reaction to a little boy who started singing too loudly really roused my wrath. The best scene with Bard Jo is the one where he compares himself to young Dot's mother. (Dot is a boy, by the way.) I liked the eulogy for a severely handicapped child. four stars

Wooden Bride: At first I thought this might be about becoming a nun in some futuristic society, but as I read on, it seemed to be more like graduation day from finishing school. Matty Weir, who has the reputation of never finishing anything, is determined to make it to the church and through the bridde ceremony no matter how many difficulties she brings on herself. I liked her. four stars.

Earthly Uses: My late father was an abused child who grew up to be an abuser (to his kids, not Mom). The portrayal of the physically and verbally abusive grandfather in this story is very well done. I understand the boy's need to keep his thoughts from his Gran-Pa, especially when they differed from his. The end of the story made me grin hugely. five stars

Perpetual Light: the best scenes, in my opinion, were the flashbacks to the heroine's memories of her grandmother, especially when they watched a bird courtship. Good luck with those seeds. three stars.

Yowlinin: this is a real chiller of a story that I think could do well as an episode of some horror show. The heroine is worth plenty of the boy she has a crush on. five stars

Rite of Spring: it's another poor narrator who is called 'boy,' this time by his mother, who also tells him he's 'thick'. This society values the 'Deep Ones' who perform the rituals that ensure a proper change of season. The narrator's scrawny brother, Florius, is a Deep One. People have been making much of Florius for years. The only one who makes much of the narrator is his dog. It's time to go up on the mountain and perform the rite that will turn winter into spring, but Florius is very sick. So is Mum. Now it's up to the narrator to brave the blizzard on the mountain. He doesn't want to go, but his mother insists. He has to say all the words properly and heaven forbid he lose the fancy robe to the howling wind. Can he do it? Can he even survive? four stars

These are good stories, but don't read it if you're feeling down or blue -- and especially avoid it if you're depressed.

Amy Ryan is the artist for the cover with what look like part of two reddish-brown leaves or a brown bat's wings, blackish-greenish liquid in the middle, and squiggly white outlines in greenish-black liquid at the bottom. The title and author's name are enclosed in a box.
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LibraryThing member coralsiren
I was disappointed with this collection of short stories. Many of these stories are completely forgettable and only a couple of them are even worth reading.
LibraryThing member JenJ.
Weirdly wonderful. Lanagan manages to capture whole worlds in her brief glimpses of strange and fascinating characters. Even though I would have welcomed longer explorations of each of her worlds, each story felt complete in and of itself. The imagery she uses is simply gorgeous as well.
LibraryThing member amkj
4Q, 1P The short story "Singing My Sister Down" fits perfectly with the theme of the book showing darkness and light in every story. The story somehow manages to pull together murder, justice, honor, family, and love into one hauntingly disturbing 16 page story. The writing could only be improved
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by fewer pronouns. As it is I had to reread multiple passages to figure out which characters were being referred to. Although craftful, I found the story to be unsatisfying and it reminds me of stories I never would have read if they hadn't been required in high school literature classes.
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LibraryThing member pussreboots
Black Juice by Margo Lanagan is a collection of ten short stories with a science fiction or fantasy bent. The book is oddly, as the SF Site Review notes, classified as juvenile fiction. While many of the main characters are young, it doesn't read as being specifically written for teens. As the
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stories are open for interpretation, I can, though, see them being used in a junior or senior high school English course.

The first story — "Singing My Sister Down" — was the stand out for me. A family goes to watch their daughter sink into the hot tar as punishment for a crime that is only vaguely described. It reminds me in terms of language and tone to Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery."

The other stories to me seemed unnecessarily vague. In afterword, Lanagan explains the inspiration for each story. Frankly, I wish I had read that first. It would have made understanding and appreciating the stories easier.

Take for example, "Pippit." It's a story of slow talking giants who miss their small human friend, whom they see as a Messiah. They want to escape to go find him. To me, the story read like the creatures were whales, perhaps. Turns out they're elephants.

To be honest, I got tired of trying to wrap my head around these stories. I didn't make it through the entire collection. Other reviewers, though, have had much better success and enjoyment from reading Black Juice.
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LibraryThing member keebrook
quirky is a good word for Lanagan's short stories. frustratingly tantalizing would represent another way of describing them.

written like incomplete Twilight Zone episodes, the truncated anecdotes in Black Juice introduce many intriguing situations and worlds that we'll probably never have fleshed
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they introduce punishment by slowly sinking into a tar pit, a frenetic clown assassination game played with live ammo and sponsors, feral angels that smell of earthworms and fish slime, etc., etc. much of it feels post-apocalyptic or dystopian; some pure fantasy but nothing is expected.
you want to know more; you want to see the point the author is making;see what, if any, moral or ethical head-scratcher she is trying to spell out, but just when the stories get really good, more often than not, they just end.
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LibraryThing member susan259
very powerful collection of short stories. I am in awe of the author. These would be great for students to discuss or for a creative writing class to read and study.
LibraryThing member Cheryl_in_CC_NV
I can't really say that I 'liked' this collection of intense YA short stories. I will say I thought they were extraordinarily original and beautifully written. And challenging. So, I liked them 3 stars, but I do believe it was a 5 star amazing book.

ETA a conversation on the GR group 'Aussie
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Jenny wrote: Cheryl, is that the book with the story, Singing My Sister Down? OMG that story has haunted me for ages!"

Yes it is. And yes, that's a haunting story. If I weren't so squeamish, I'd've read the stories one at a time, and they all would be haunting me. "Sister..." is the first one so I think that's at least partly why it makes the biggest impact. I liked the acknowledgements, wherein the author gives clues about the inspirations. If she hadn't given those, I would not have been able to stop wondering if she were alien, or possessed, or something...."
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LibraryThing member m_mozeleski
Vivid imagery, wild immaginings, and varied settings, these stories are very intriguing. You should definitely read this collection.
LibraryThing member dandelion1
The first story (all I read) was entrancing -- the story of a young African woman who must die by being swallowed by a tar pit, an event which takes an entire day to happen, for having killed her husband. The husband's family watches from the sidelines, while the young woman's family supports her
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and mourns her at the same time throughout the ordeal.
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LibraryThing member devilwrites
The premise: ganked from As part of a public execution, a young boy forlornly helps to sing his sister down. . . . A servant learns about grace and loyalty from a mistress who would rather dance with Gypsies than sit on her throne. . . . A terrifying encounter with a demonic angel gives a
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young man the strength he needs to break free of his oppressor. . . . On a bleak and dreary afternoon a gleeful shooting spree leads to tragedy for a desperate clown unable to escape his fate.

In each of Margo Lanagan's ten extraordinary stories, human frailty is put to the test by the implacable forces of dark and light, man and beast. black juice offers glimpses into familiar, shadowy worlds that push the boundaries of the spirit and leave the mind haunted with the knowledge that black juice runs through us all.

Provides glimpses of the dark side of civilization and the beauty of the human spirit through ten short stories that explore significant moments in people's lives, events leading to them, and their consequences.

My Rating: Worth Reading, with Reservations

I should be honest: I'm rating this a wee bit harshly. The trouble is, the first story in the collection is one I'd read and re-read years ago and loved, so I had SUPER HIGH EXPECTATIONS for this collection, expecting every story to knock me over with a feather. They didn't. The collection was 50/50 for me: half of the stories I really dug, the other half had me scratching my head. That being said, and please take note, because this is praise: all of the stories deserve to be read, and re-read, and re-read some more. There's something about Lanagan's storytelling that invites the reader to come back again and again, to consider the situation, the layers, the symbolism, of each piece. Especially the ones that didn't click with me the first time, because those are the ones the beg for a more careful look. Fans of short stories should definitely pick this collection up and give it a go, and keep this around for re-reading. I'm not even a big fan of short stories as a rule, but I'm considering re-reading these tales again in the future.

Spoilers, yay or nay?: Nay. Given that this is a collection of short stories, there really is nothing to spoil. So instead of spoilers, you'll get some general impressions for each story before the wrap-up at "My Rating." The full review is at my blog, which is linked below. As always, comments and discussion are most welcome.


Happy Reading!
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LA Times Book Prize (Finalist — Young Adult Literature — 2005)
World Fantasy Award (Nominee — Collection — 2005)
CBCA Book of the Year (Shortlist — Older Readers — 2005)
Ditmar Award (Winner — 2005)
Printz Award (Honor — 2006)
Victorian Premier's Literary Award (Winner — Young Adults — 2004)
Best Fiction for Young Adults (Selection — 2006)




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