Julie Koh’s “Portable Curiosities”: A Review

Julie Koh is one of Australia’s best writing talents and her newest short story collection Portable Curiosities only serves to cement her place as one of the best voices in contemporary literature.

Portable Curiosities, a collection of twelve of Koh’s infamous satirical tales, takes reality and creatively twists it into a strange dark world with brilliantly absurd humour and spot-on critiques of important social issues.

Sight, the first in the collection is perhaps the best introduction to Koh’s witty writing style, taking the magic of childhood imagination and bringing it to reality with the physical embodiment of a child’s imaginative eye, sitting in the place of a belly button on a child chastised for taking it out and trying to see the world and all its ghosts. The Fantastic Breasts similarly tugs on familiar strings, relaying the problems with casual misogyny and the objectification of women in mass market media. I can’t help but see Scarlet Johansson’s Black Widow when I read this story, and all the conversations I have had with friends about the problems surrounding the way her character is presented and spoken about, and the injustice of having such strong character potential deliberately restrained despite fans crying out for the strong female superhero lead film that she deserves. But I can also see the way in which men I have known, have continued to discuss women as objects. It also contains one of my favourite lines in the collection, which made me laugh a little too hard:

“Hollywood adapts the comics into the blockbuster hits The Fantastic Breasts, 2 Breasts 2 Fantastic, The Fantastic Breasts 3: Tokyo Drift and The Fantastic Breasts: Redid, Redone & Rewound.” *

Honestly, I could continue to go on about every single one of the stories in this collection, but I will leave it to you to read and discover how incredibly creative and insightful her work is. That is the magic of Koh’s writing: you can’t help but see our social world hidden behind it, with all its terribly familiar problems out on show.

I have been a fan of Koh’s work since I read The Three-Dimensional Yellow Man (perhaps my favourite of her stories) in The Lifted Brow some time ago, so to see it in this collection felt like a familiar step into the witty satire that I admire in Koh’s work. Her ability to take the absurd and make it feel deeply familiar is a gift that, as a writer, I am incredibly jealous of. As a reader, I am incredibly glad this talent exists.

Portable Curiosities is an apt name for this collection, not just the title of one of the stories contained within, but also the best description of the stories themselves. You can carry these amazing curiosities with you and enjoy their magic and dark humour anywhere, and I encourage you to do so, if only to laugh yourself silly in public places and tell people that they should read this amazing work as well. You can nibble on a single story at a time or devour the whole collection in one sitting, letting the brilliant wit of it completely take over. This a book for anyone who is even mildly interested in short stories, satirical takes on social issues or indeed anyone with a wicked and witty sense of humour. Portable Curiosities, and indeed  all of Koh’s work, is unique and brilliant, and I seriously cannot recommend it enough.


Portable Curiosities is available in all good bookstores.

As always, INWORDSANDINK encourages its readers to shop at and support their local independent bookstores.

You can also follow Julie Koh on @juliekoh on Twitter.


*That is more times that I ever expected to use the word ‘breasts’ on this blog – maybe that was Julie Koh’s secret agenda the whole time… Well done Julie, well done.


© Hayley New 2016


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