Tuesday, March 27, 2007


Penni Russon was born in Tasmania in 1974 and now lives in Melbourne, Australia. Her "Undine trilogy," published by Random House in Australian and Greenwillow in the US, is a series of magical books set in Hobart’s streets and the surrounding bush and seascapes.

She applied the "page 69 test" to Breathe, the second book in the trilogy, and reported the following:
Oh what a fascinating and illuminating idea. I think all writers should have to sum up their themes from page 69, I'm sure it would make us better writers! In the hardcover edition of Breathe (Greenwillow, 2007) page 69 definitely illustrates many of the themes and tensions of the novel.

Page 69 finds Undine and her mother, Lou, having a conversation about ostensibly sex (the not having of it), though Undine suspects it's also a veiled way for Lou to talk about Undine's magic, the dangerous and chaotic force that Lou has already persuaded Undine to suppress.

"And then," Lou went on, "once you went so far, it felt like there was no going back, no putting it way for later. Do you know what I mean?" Suddenly Undine wondered if Lou was just talking about sex or whether this was just a roundabout way of talking about the magic.

This tells us a lot about Undine's slightly dysfunctional but still close relationship with her mum and it shows us that to Lou the magic is even more taboo than sex.

But also this section shows that the magic is sited in the corporeal, related to the body's impulses and to Undine's emerging identity as she transforms from child to adult. The link between sex and magic is actually all about power – who has it? Who doesn't? In particular I was interested, when writing Undine, in the fact that sixteen year old girls are actually extremely powerful, even if they're not sure how to use their power (I think we often forget because we're so busy thinking of the ways in which they're disempowered). Also that if you don't have a religious upbringing (and many people don't these days) there's no roadmap for a lot of these issues, the values and morals around them are ambiguous, just like the magic. Undine lives in a postmodern world, represented by the chaotic and unruly force of the postmodern magic. Understanding her power and negotiating boundaries of self is Undine's journey, and sex is definitely a part of that.
Visit Penni Russon's website and read an excerpt from Breathe.

Russon's blog is called Eglantine's Cake.

Check out the complete list of books in the Page 69 Series.

--Marshal Zeringue