If You’re Happy by Fiona Robertson – a review

Cover image of If You're Happy

If You’re Happy (2022) consists of a delicious collection of twenty-four cleverly crafted and beautifully written short stories. Fiona Robertson’s work has been published in literary journals in Australia and the United Kingdom. This collection won the Glendower Award for an Emerging Queensland writer at the 2020 Queensland Literary Awards.

I am proud to call her a friend although we have never met in person.

Short stories, as you may already know, are one of my favourite literary genres. I return to them often for pleasure and inspiration. They seem like art or poetry because, when well done, each piece captures a complete mood or emotion. Like art and poetry, short stories can be savoured in the moment, but also linger long after a first reading or viewing.

A well-written short story focuses our minds. It guides the reader to think intensely about a single aspect of life in all its complexity. This exquisite collection does both, and much more.

Photo of author, Fiona Robertson

Emotional honesty in If You’re Happy

If there is one outstanding characteristic of the stories in this collection, it lies in their emotional honesty. Nothing feels forced or out of place. Each story triggers strong feelings with unexpected but believable plots or endings with great impact .

The collection as a whole entertained me. As well, some stories affected me on a deep visceral level. As I read the them, I laughed or cried, my heart beat faster with fear or I dreaded the consequences of someone’s actions. I read quickly, but also wished the collection would not end.

Diversity

I’m struck with the diversity of types of stories, settings, characters and even points of view that Fiona Robertson presents in this collection. This complexity points to the confidence of a writer assured of her authority. At the same time, she has a light touch and ranges easily across the stories she presents in a way that reminds me of Cate Kennedy, another Australian author whose short stories I admire.

Settings

Eleven of the twenty-four stories in If You’re Happy are set in countries other than Australia. Fiona Robertson effortlessly sets scenes that make a reader feel they can see and touch them. We become immersed, even when the places themselves feel foreign. For example, there’s snow at Christmas; the mountains of Vatnajokull National Park; a tornado in Texas and the more familiar suburbs of several Australian cities. Tiny details create and define places that might almost be another character in the story.

Characters

The characters who people these stories range across the age spectrum from a toddler too young to talk to an old man no longer wanted by his family. A couple having sex on the first page, a divorcee, a widower, adolescents in an institution behaving badly and a tourist make their appearance in different stories.

Fiona draws each with a tenderness that perhaps reflects her other life as a medical practitioner. Details about them seep quietly into the stories so that they demand compassion, also, from the reader. All could be real people.

Conflict exists because they face change. Some face a crisis. They reveal what they want in often small, interpersonal exchanges. Like most of us, they seek happiness in some form.

Plots

Fiona Robertson possesses an uncanny skill in this area. Her plots are as varied as her characters, and they seem to evolve naturally from the characters and their interactions. Sometimes the climax comes as a shock, but mostly there is logical flow. Occasionally the author’s career as a doctor enables her to present details or plots that strike particularly poignant chords.

Summary of If You’re Happy

Overall, this collection of short stories deserves wide readership. The stories intrigue and satisfy. They are juxtaposed in a way that reminds me of an exhibition of art by a single artist. Each piece stands alone. But they also spark off each other in some inexplicable way. A keeper, to be dipped into again and again!

If You're Happy details

Recommendations for If You’re Happy

Highly recommended for different groups of readers.

  • Anyone who enjoys good literature, especially those who like short fiction.
  • Writers wanting to write better could learn a great deal from the stories in this collection.
  • If You’re Happy would be an excellent book club choice with its range of topics and variety of stories. There’s an added bonus of book club notes available at www.uqp.com.au
  • Middle and upper school teachers and students.

Links to some of my other blogs about short stories

An overview of short fiction: ‘Short stories as art and craft’.

Review of short stories by Tony Birch. Common People by Tony Birch.

Review of short stories by Carol Lefevre. Murmurations by Carol Lefevre

Copyright, Maureen Helen 2022
Photo, Maureen-Helen

Join the Conversation

6 Comments

  1. What a thorough and considered review, Maureen. Thank you so much for spending time with the stories, and for your beautiful words here. I’m really grateful

  2. I was thrilled to win a copy of this great read from Louise Allens blog.I also have been enjoying short stories lately. They leave different impressions …little messages that come during the day after reading a few comlete pages

    1. Thanks for taking time to comment, Maureen. What a good book to win! I love the way short stories well done can feed one’s spirit and provide new ways to look at the world.

  3. Yes, short stories can be vey fulfilling – both for author and reader. Thanks Maureen – I must get hold of a copy.

    1. You will enjoy these stories, Elizabeth. I’ll bring my copy next time we have coffee. Mx

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