Reading the Signs of Michael Wilding’s ‘Knock, Knock’
Michael Wilding's Reading the Signs (1984) is a rich and varied collection of stories. Thematically, it counterpoints 'accounts of a divided Old World' (Clunies Ross 25)—relying on the writer's experience in Britain, before he emigrated to Australia—and stories which 'reflect the divisiveness of modern Australian life' (Clunies Ross 25). As far as narrative technique is concerned, it explores different ways, sometimes more 'traditional', sometimes very innovative, of telling a story, which never fail to set up a dialectic tension between world and word. Although not one of the more elaborate or more resonant pieces, 'Knock, Knock' offers, with its ambiguity and allusiveness, its inversions and indirections, an attractive door into the writer's fictional space. Requiring horizontal and vertical readings, it obliges the reader to take the place, now of the narrator, now of the characters, and to construct a series of interpretive fictions. I may as well admit at the start that 'the reader' whose response I shall evoke in the course of this essay is herself a transparent fiction. A hybrid form, like many others in the collection, 'Knock, Knock' is inscribed against the horizon of narrative rules and gender conventions that it keeps flouting or short-circuiting, and it succeeds in making a dizzying story out of very little indeed.
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Published 1 June 1991 in European Perspectives: Contemporary Essays on Australian Literature. Subjects: Narrative techniques, Reader response, Semiotics, Michael Wilding.