Book Review: Ordinary Matter by Laura Elvery

Ordinary Matter…

About the Book:

Elvery_FINAL-COVER_9780702262760.jpgInspired by the twenty times women have won Nobel Prizes for science, this short-story collection from award-winning writer Laura Elvery is a dazzling, thought-provoking follow-up to Trick of the Light.

In 1895 Alfred Nobel rewrote his will and left his fortune made in dynamite and munitions to generations of thinkers. Since 1901 women have been honoured with Nobel Prizes for their scientific research twenty times, including Marie Curie twice.

Spanning more than a century and ranging across the world, this inventive story collection is inspired by these women whose work has altered history and saved millions of lives. From a transformative visit to the Grand Canyon to a baby washing up on a Queensland beach, a climate protest during a Paris heatwave to Stockholm on the eve of the 1977 Nobel Prize ceremony, these stories interrogate the nature of inspiration and discovery, motherhood and sacrifice, illness and legacy. Sometimes the extraordinary pivots on the ordinary.

My Thoughts:

I’ve always struggled with short stories, far preferring the novel as a fictional form. But more and more collections of short stories written by Australian women are being released, or at least it seems so, and I wanted to give short stories another chance, just in case I was cheating myself out of something. Unfortunately, while I did enjoy particular stories within this collection, some definitely more than others, I think I am pretty certain that short stories will never work for me. A few of them only reeled me in the final paragraphs, and then they were over just as things seemed to get interesting. I also felt a bit discombobulated whilst reading because I thought all of these short stories were going to be about each of the women who have won a Nobel Prize for science, however, each story was instead inspired by the work of that woman, but more often than not, I failed to grasp that connection as it was so obscure. Each story opened with the year, name of the woman who won, and what they won for. Only one story in the entire collection was clearly about the woman and the win, if that makes sense. Coincidently, it’s the one I have quoted from below, because it was also the story I liked the most.

‘Winning does not mean only joy will follow. Winning does not stop sadness. You have to be tougher than all that and forget the faceless men from your past who failed to have faith in you, who pointed out that you were indeed a woman, and not a good bet to join their program, their hospital, their team. To be obsessed with fairness, with what is owed, well, that mustn’t enter into it. Not today. Certainly not tomorrow. Focus on all the luck you have received. Polish it like a coin.’ – Stockholm (1977, Rosalyn Yalow, Physiology or Medicine, Prize Motivation: ‘for the development of radioimmunoassays of peptide hormones’.)

The author notes at the end of the book were more interesting than the stories (for me). They did offer some more context which in turn helped me think back to each story and make a bit more sense of it in terms of seeing the connection that had eluded me whilst reading it. I wonder if it might have been better to preface each story with this information instead of having it in the end in the author note. It really would have helped me understand each story more. I’m not good though with reading fiction and not ‘getting it’. It kind of just annoys me, to be honest, and makes me feel insignificant as a reader, or not clever enough to understand the underlying themes or reasons for the story. The quote below is the author note that corresponds with the story I have quoted above.

Stockholm, 1977, Rosalyn Yalow, Physiology or Medicine – Rosalyn Yalow conducted revolutionary work with her long-time lab partner, Solomon ‘Sol’ Berson, that resulted in the radioimmunoassay – which provided the capacity to test for incredibly small measures of substances in liquids like water and blood. On 10 December 1977, Yalow collected her Nobel Prize without Berson, who died in 1972 (Nobels cannot be awarded posthumously). Yalow and Berson never patented their work, which had direct and far-reaching impacts on diabetes treatments and physicians’ understanding of insulin, hepatitis and cancer. Yalow raised two children alongside her demanding lab schedule. – Author note.

Readers who are fans of short stories will doubtlessly enjoy this collection and appreciate the author’s intent far more than me. Probably, all of you should ignore this review and just make your own mind up about reading it based on whether you like short stories or not. The cover is stunning though and really does seem to convey a lot about the collection within.


Thanks is extended to UQP for providing me with a copy of Ordinary Matter for review.

About the Author:

Laura Elvery is a writer from Brisbane. She has a PhD in Creative Writing and Literary Studies. Her work has been published in Overland, Griffith Review, Meanjin, Kill Your Darlings and The Big Issue fiction edition. She has won the Josephine Ulrick Prize for Literature, the Margaret River Short Story Competition, the Neilma Sidney Short Story Prize and the Fair Australia Prize for Fiction. In 2018 Laura’s first collection of short stories, Trick of the Light, was a finalist in the Queensland Literary Awards.


Ordinary Matter
Published by UQP
Released 1st September 2020

7 thoughts on “Book Review: Ordinary Matter by Laura Elvery

  1. This one sounds interesting to me (because of the subject matter, although if they are overly fictionalized, I might struggle….). Before you give up on short stories entirely, have you read Curtis Sittenfeld’s You Think It, I’ll Say It? Easily the best collection I’ve read.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: Short Stories Round up – June, July and August 2020 | Australian Women Writers Challenge Blog

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