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Like a House on Fire

3.74  ·  Rating details ·  413 ratings  ·  64 reviews
From prize-winning short-story writer Cate Kennedy comes a new collection to rival her highly acclaimed Dark Roots. In Like a House on Fire, Kennedy once again takes ordinary lives and dissects their ironies, injustices and pleasures with her humane eye and wry sense of humour. In ‘Laminex and Mirrors’, a young woman working as a cleaner in a hospital helps an elderly pati ...more
Paperback, 288 pages
Published October 1st 2012 by Scribe Publications (first published September 26th 2012)
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3.74  · 
Rating details
 ·  413 ratings  ·  64 reviews

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Apr 02, 2013 rated it really liked it
Cate Kennedy’s The World Beneath (2009) is one of my favourite Australian novels, so I was eager to read her latest volume of short stories – Like a House on Fire – recently shortlisted for the inaugural Stella Prize.

In one respect, this was a very easy book to read. The stories are simply structured, clear and well paced, with enough detail to draw you into the world of the story but not too much that you’re bogged down in dense description. Kennedy’s images are drawn with pinpoint precision a
Jul 09, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2018
Finished: 09.07.2018
Genre: short stories
Rating: C-
I only enjoyed 5/15 stories.
Low return on 'reading investment'
Here are my comments about the 5 best stories:


Aug 04, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A masterful collection depicting moments of Australian life. I'm in awe of the richness and complexity Cate Kennedy manages to create in each short story. My personal favourite was 'Ashes'.
Feb 10, 2013 rated it it was ok
This was originally posted at my blog

I enjoy reading short story collections. I also liked Kennedy’s previous collection, Dark Roots and her debut novel The World Beneath (you know where this is going, don’t you?) but I found Like A House On Fire very inconsistent. It was difficult to write about this collection because what do I know? I’m just another reader (I’m not a writer) saying that a well-respected Australian author who is renowned for her great short stories,
Jan 11, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This book is full of such good short stories... As I kept on reading, I had this growing sense - 'what if I had missed this book'!
B. R.  Kyle
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Jan 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: on-the-bookshelf
In this anthology, Cate Kennedy explores real issues many average families face as they tackle with the strife that exists within relationships, the discontentment that teeters on the edge of the depression, and the decisions and the mistakes that altered their lives completely.

The prose of the stories is simple yet powerful. Kennedy's use of language and colloquialisms is sophisticated yet perfectly coincides with and enriches the atmosphere of the stories. The stories themselves were relatabl
Jan 10, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I was a little reluctant to read this book because I rarely read short stories, but I loved every sentence of this compilation. Kennedy is a gorgeous writer and I can’t wait to read more of her work/share these stories with my family and friends. This book is everything I love about Australian fiction.
Jan 07, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: to-read-2018
That last story got me ...
ABookishGift Reviews (Max)
Jan 21, 2018 rated it really liked it
One of the first books assigned to me in school that I've actually enjoyed. Loved the last story so much.
Vika Len
Jan 26, 2018 rated it it was ok
This book is a very ugly shade of beige, the only story that remotely stood out to me was the Laminex and Mirrors and Seventy-Two Derwents, and *GASP* they were two short stories that feature a remotely likable female character. This is very Australian fiction, reading it felt like you're swallowing sand, and very very White. And as a bisexual Asian American, I am fucking disappointed.

If you're looking for good representation, please look elsewhere. There's a gay man in Ashes, but external and i
Dale Harcombe
Feb 22, 2013 rated it liked it
Three and a half stars
After reading Cate Kennedy’s poetry collection The Taste of River Water, which I loved, I was looking forward to reading Like a House on Fire, even though I rarely read books of short stories. Cate Kennedy has the ability to evoke a mood and a picture of characters at various points of life.
The first story Flexion concerns Frank Slovak a taciturn man of the land. In a few brushstrokes we get a glimpse of this man and his wife and the life the two lead. It is a simply told p
May 24, 2014 rated it really liked it
Like a House on Fire brings together 15 short but powerful stories, many of them set in rural Australia, and all of them about ordinary people thrust into extraordinary circumstances.

There's Frank, paralysed after a tractor accident, who resents his wife running his farm without him (Flexion); Rebecca, who spends her sick leave cyberstalking an old lover only to discover she's got the wrong man (Cross-Country); and the pregnant woman dreading her next ultrasound because one time her doctor told
4ZZZ Book Club
Sep 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2012, interviews
Cate Kennedy is an author based in rural Victoria who has written across many forms – short stories, a novel, a travel memoir and several collections of poetry. Her second short story collection, Like a House on Fire, was recently published by Scribe. In the tradition of great short story writers like Alice Munro and Raymond Carver, Cate Kennedy’s stories depict quiet yet revolutionary moments in ordinary people’s lives – drawing profound meaning from everyday events.

Listen to Grace's interview
Apr 14, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I loved this anthology of short stories by Cate Kennedy. All of them were brilliantly written. Some I didn’t like, but that’s a personal, subjective response. My favourite story was Flexion, outstanding in its depiction of a marriage and the ructions within it; it had me on tenterhooks . As did the many of the other stories, portrayals of everyday life, examined with a humane, devil-for-detail, eye.
Jo-liz Lewis
Jan 20, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Absolutely loved each morsel of this collection of short stories. Each one pulls the reader into a world of its own. Such gripping stories and well drawn characters. Some left me breathless from the journey travelled in so few pages!
Apr 24, 2013 rated it liked it
Short story collections are slightly frustrating. Just when you're interested by a story, it ends. I read some of the voices as somewhat inauthentic, but there are some masterful moments here. Mostly easy to read.
May 28, 2015 rated it liked it
Maybe I am just no longer in the mood for short stories, because I think these are well written, but I had a hard time connecting with them.
Gail Chilianis
Jan 29, 2015 rated it really liked it
I enjoyed dipping into these short stories. A lovely book.
Ben Cole-De Witt
Mar 13, 2018 rated it did not like it
The stories in Like a House On Fire are dreary and boring! I was forced to read the stories for year 12 English. The stories lack a storyline and there is also no resolution/solution.
It seemed to me that in the stories I read, all the mothers were casted as the bad characters, which is contrary to society's movements on equality towards women.
In nearly all the stories, the characters are also painfully self obsessed. The stories are literally about their own miseries that they can't resolve.
Joe Fitzpatrick
Nov 23, 2017 rated it it was ok
"Cross-country" was a stand-out in this otherwise underwhelming, repetitive and often bland effort.

Has a careful eye for domestic detail (often to no real effect); the most creative moment comes with an experimentation with a single second person narrative which, unfortunately, achieves absolutely nothing.

Almost every tale ends on what is presumably intended to be an ambiguous, 'isn't life complex?' note, sometimes to hilariously unrealistic effect.

Kennedy set herself a high bar here - to demon
Apr 15, 2018 rated it really liked it
I read this collection of stories in two parts, half in Feb amd the 2nd half of the book in April. I found almost all of these stories easy to get into and I could relate to many of the characters in one way or another. I like reading the small details of Australian life and knowing from my own experiences what is being described.
Some of my favourite stories were: Laminex and Mirrors, Five dollar Family, Sleepers, Cake, Little Plastic Shipwreck, Static and Seventy two Derwents. Kennedy is brilli
Mar 30, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: read-for-school
Having had this book chosen from the school curriculum to study, I watched my peers looking extremely confused with certain parts of the stories. Only one story really stood out to me personally ('Seventy-Two Derwents'), the others quite boring. Kennedy's change in language techniques from story to story allows the reader to connect differently with each, some more so than others. Despite this, I think overall the book is a pretty easy read, and its likely one's social context that will affect t ...more
Dee Rose
Jan 30, 2019 rated it really liked it
I suggest listening to the audiobook version. It really brings the stories to life. The title of each story was brilliant and quite deep with regards to the underlying message in the story. All the stories were wonderful and insightful but by far my favourite was the last story called Seventy-two Derwents about a pre-teen girl who keeps a diary about her home life. Her mother is an addict of sorts and already had 2 or 3 of her children taken away by the govt. She has 2 young daughters still at h ...more
David Dzartov
Dec 30, 2018 rated it really liked it
Like A House On Fire is a great book. An iota of the stories were a bit dull to me. But some stories, such as Ashes, Flexion, and especially Seventy-Two Derwents, were very allusive into demonstrating a deep meaning of the definition of the expression 'Like a House on Fire', and honestly, the last story really got to me and I could even somewhat relate.
I was required to read this for a Year 12 SAC, however I do not regret reading this book.
Jan 12, 2018 rated it liked it
Shelves: school

Such a hit or miss collection of short stories. They ranged from being brilliant and captivating (cross country, cake, seventy-two derwents) to just plain dull and seemingly with little purpose or impact (sleepers, little plastic shipwreck), with the rest just passing as plain mediocre.

Overall, most of these stories were easy to read and somewhat enjoyable, I just wished that all were up to the standard of the stand out stories within this collection.
Sep 30, 2017 rated it liked it
Poignant is the word for it. It's not the Hollywood-blockbuster drama of people somewhere far away, it's the significant moments of everyday people's lives. The kind of stories you might find in the lady standing in front on you in line at the supermarket, or that guy sitting at the far end of the bus. It's the extraordinary in the ordinary.
Mar 11, 2018 rated it really liked it
Kennedy infuses each of these stories with the most brilliant Australian feel--authentic without an ounce of cultural cringe. She writes her characters' mundane life events with incredible attention to interesting detail, and masterfully constructs an individual and distinctive voice for each. I can see why this one has ended up on the VCE English list.
Kate Atkinson
Oct 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: norwood-booklist
New Year 12 booklisted novel at school for 2019. This was a joy to read, each short story capturing the core of a human emotion or action - fear, relief, pride, kindness, loss, regret, freedom, and so much more. Each story was masterfully written, didn't feel too long or too short, and pulled at the heart strings! A great anthology of human emotion.
Annie Gilholm rowland
I appreciate the art of the short story all the more after reading this compelling collection - it’s a real craft to invite the reader to feel so much in such a tight frame of time in so few words.
Seventy-Two Derwents is worth a special mention.
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The Stella Prize ...: Like a House on Fire 3 6 Apr 07, 2013 05:29PM  
  • Sufficient Grace
  • Floundering
  • My Hundred Lovers
  • Heat and Light
  • Nest
  • Journey to the Stone Country
  • The Gulf
  • Mateship With Birds
  • Blue
  • Blood
  • Our Magic Hour
  • The Untold
  • Foreign Soil
  • Darkness on the Edge of Town
  • The Old School
  • The Mountain
  • Portable Curiosities
  • Six Bedrooms
Cate Kennedy is an Australian author based in Victoria. She graduated from University of Canberra and has also taught at several colleges, including The University of Melbourne. She is the author of the highly acclaimed novel The World Beneath, which won the People’s Choice Award in the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards in 2010. It was also shortlisted for The Age fiction prize 2010 and the ASA Barbar ...more