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Portable Curiosities: Stories

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  294 ratings  ·  48 reviews
A biting collection of stories from a bold new voice

A young girl sees ghosts from her third eye, located where her belly button should be.

A one-dimensional yellow man steps out of a cinema screen, hoping to lead a three-dimensional life.

A journalist goes on assignment to report the latest food trend, which turns ice-cream eating into an extreme sport.

In Portable
Audio CD
Published May 8th 2018 by Bolinda Audio (first published May 25th 2016)
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Average rating 4.05  · 
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 ·  294 ratings  ·  48 reviews

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May 29, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
She can nurse us or she can crush us. The power is all hers.
Michael Livingston
It's great to read a collection of stories by an Australian writer doing something different from the usual realist stuff - these are mostly absurdist, satirical stories, that work to varying degrees. Some felt a bit obvious to me, while others were weird enough to surprise. Funnier than An Astronaut's Life, but without the power that Dechian brought to her skewed takes on reality.
These are the strangest set of short stories I have read. Koh's characters are Chinese in a white world, observers, angry, anti-consumerism, not attractive, not successful and not fitting in. But each story is just bizarre, absurd and satirical. In the main it works. Greed, ambition and fear of those who are different are all scathingly covered. Weird but entertaining.
Oct 28, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2017
The short story is flexible and more open to experiment.
I found the stories in Julie Koh's collection...
Creative? Yes.
Challenging? Yes
Biting satire? Yes
But Koh's freewheeling, playfulness involving
form and subject matter....
I just prefer a more traditional short story with
clever metaphors....and a message that
touches my funnybone or heart.

Jaclyn Crupi
I do enjoy a weird, satirical short story collection. Koh is certainly a writer to watch.
May 03, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: short-stories
This is a tight, smart collection of stories with great depth. Lots to think about.
Julia Tulloh Harper
'Portable Curiosities' is the perfect name for this book because almost every story is truly a curiosity, something you can pick up and look at from a number of angles and each time glean something new.

The stories are all absurdist and satirical: a 'yellow' man jumps out of film and abandons his screen life as a 1D plot device to become a three dimensional and complex human being (I particularly liked that one). I also really enjoyed 'Cream Reaper', about a new artisanal ice cream flavour that
Michael Camilleri
(Disclosure: The author is a friend.)

This a terrific, and refreshingly angry, collection of short stories. Koh deploys surrealism, not as a vehicle of escape, but as a means to engage our critical faculties. It's a giant wake-up call that tries to rouse us from our slumber and urges us to reflect and reconsider the current state of affairs. This is fiction consumed with the fierce urgency of now.
Emilie Morscheck
Dec 26, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Portable Curiosities is a delightful collection of short stories, and a great book with which to begin my year of reading. The sudden shifts from realism to surrealism are exciting, and keep the stories unpredictable. Koh's vision for the future is often bleak, but always has a hint of humour. Her stories ask for validation of a writer, asking the question, should I? To which I will resolutely respond, yes.
Nicholas Brodie
Jun 04, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Absolutely amazing, a star writer on the rise. I can't wait to see where she is in another 5 or 10 years, ruling over us all.
Jun 07, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Satire, like all forms of comedy, can essentially be boiled down to taking something familiar from the real world and turning it slightly to show how utterly strange its been the entire time. In her short stories Koh does this in much the way you would expect, taking shockingly familiar pieces of Sydney life and subverting them into surreal, sci-fi narratives with neat, satirical morals. What makes 'Portable Curiosities' so stark a read is that she never stops the turning, the stories screw in ...more
Cass Moriarty
Oct 25, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
It is rare for an author to write something that is dark and disturbing while at the same time being playful and quick-witted, and yet that is what Julie Koh has done in her collection of short stories entitled Portable Curiosities, published by UQP. This is an intellectual commentary on life and human behaviour presented with emotions stripped bare. The stories feature a cast of strange and compelling characters who are one thing one minute, only to be transformed into something else the next. ...more
Jun 18, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
3 1/2 stars. A bit of science fiction, a lot of satire and some absurd moments make this an entertaining collection of stories that have quite a bit to say about human relations, modern isolation and prejudice.

While I liked the use of these devices I did find that some of the stories had endings that overdid these, particularly the absurdity, and meant I was a bit confused about the author’s intention.

I will definitely read her future work as I think Koh has a very entertaining writing style.
Some remarkable insights in here, some brilliant moments of satire and some heartbreak as well. Julie Koh is perceptive and lacerating, clever and funny, and sometimes terribly sad. Great to see stories that step outside the usual run of thoughtful, beautiful, interior musing and into something stranger and wilder, as well as stories that remind us that Australia isn't wall-to-wall white people.
Jul 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition

Koh can make you laugh in one breath and cringe in horror the next. She deftly handles the narrative so you never know where it's going next. Very enjoyable and looking forward to reading more of her work.
Jacqui Dent
Jan 02, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have such love for this book. It made me laugh out loud. At other times it disturbed me in my soul. I'm going to grab my talking taxidermied cat Kenneth Waltz and cede from the Republic of Cat Cafe. Let's play pool!
Emily Wrayburn
Review originnally posted on A Keyboard and an Open Mind 18 November 2019

What an interesting collection of stories! As I’m getting into writing more short stories myself, I am finding myself drawn more to reading them. This collection from Julie Koh is clever, eyebrow-raising and sometimes laugh-out-loud funny.

The stories examine being Asian in a white world, being female in a male world, diversity, capitalism and consumerism, social media influencers, and many other aspects of the modern world.
Dec 31, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
A quirky collection of stories that manage to have heart as well as being supremely funny. I didn't think all the stories were equally strong though - my favourites were all in the first half, including The Fantastic Breasts, Satirist Rising, The Three-Dimensional Yellow Man and the very dark but genius Cream Reaper, about an icecream entrepreneur whose new product has a 50% chance of killing you on the spot. These stories explore casual racism and misogyny, and our obsession with material ...more
Thessa Lim
Jan 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Brilliant! Julie Koh's depiction of social realities is so spot on--eeriely close to the truth at times and darkly+funnily so. I love how some stories stick to my mind (artists as portable curiosities) and how some exposed the truths of immigration (three-dimensional yellow people) from both the migrant and the local's points of views. Would recommend this! Definitely something to make any reader smarter ...more
Clare Snow
Oddly surreal and strangely compelling.

My fav story is 'Cream Reaper' but that Cat Café!?!
Gabrielle Reid
If I had one word for this selection of short stories, it would be "clever". It's always hard to rate a collection, and while there were some 5-star stories in here (I particularly liked Cream Reaper and The One Dimensional Yellow Man) there were also some 2-star stories that didn't hold my interest or leave an impact. But overall, witty social commentary, weird premises and unique (or sometimes deliberately NOT unique!) characters are Koh's strengths. None of these were edge-of-your-seat fast ...more
I think this is my favourite book I've read in 2017 so far. Julie Koh is whipsmart, clever, funny, and the perfect amount of weird. These stories are strange AF. They hit on so many real world issues, like patriarchy (The Fantastic Breasts), consumerism (Cream Reaper) and racism (The Three-Dimensional Yellow Man). She reimagines Australia and the world in darkly funny and exceptionally strange ways, but the connection to our reality is concrete and, as a reader, you are able to pin it down.

Belinda McCormick
Feb 18, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: short-story
One of the best examples of social commentary from a satirical point of view I've seen from an Australian writer. Koh's digs at the state of the nation and indeed the world are funny, cutting and exquisitely crafted. Ranging from the loss of individuality to the corporate identity, to the disparagement of diversity within ethnic and religious groups, and much in between, this is collection exposes the prejudices of a nation in denial. My personal favourite in this collection, 'The ...more
G Batts
Mar 26, 2017 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This felt like a collection of stories from the author's creative writing course, a feeling exaggerated by the author pointing out the literary devices she was using in the story. I also found the frequent turns to ultra violence immature.
As an aside, does the author know the difference between the vulva and vagina? You probably weren't looking at the bride's vagina, unless she was walking in a very weird way.
Dianne Hamilton
This was a hard one for me to rate. The author obviously has enormous talent, but unfortunately I just didn't enjoy the stories.
However, just because I didn't like it doesn't mean that you won't so I encourage you to give it a try and see for yourself.
Nov 21, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Thought provoking, funny, clever and very readable. Reminded me of Murakami but with more satisfaction and purpose, and Dahl's "Someone Like You" stories. You'll find yourself re-reading sentences (as well as the short stories) because they're so full of wit and meaning.

Sep 28, 2016 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I really enjoyed this collection of surreal, satirical short stories with a Sydney bent. A couple of the stories didn't work for me, they felt a little forced but others blew my mind (especially Satirist Rising).

Julie Koh is a tremendous new Australian talent.
Jemimah Brewster
Aug 08, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: awwc-2017
Julie Koh’s first full-length collection of short stories, Portable Curiosities, is a strange journey through an unsettling landscape of curious characters in familiar but altered settings. A young girl’s third eye, located in her navel, sees the undetectable and impolite spirit world. A cooler than cool Sydney entrepreneur fashionista media darling chef explores the limits of art, privilege, entitlement, and ice cream, with deadly results. And a young woman steps out of her boyfriend’s BMW into ...more
Nov 25, 2017 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
"We come upon a young man in boat shoes, lying in the grass of the sunken garden, staring at the brick arches and penning a travel article about the radical self-expression and transcendent beauty of Burning Man.

I serve him a Reaper and ask how he is.

'I'm so tortured,' he says as he takes his first lick. 'I'm such a tortured, tortured writer. So, so tortured. So very much tortured. In this article I'm breaking apart the genre of creative non-fiction, I'm writing the sparest of spare sentences
Nov 24, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: audiobook, borrowed
This was an excellent set of short stories; biting in their satire, and poking at a dozen themes from racism, sexism right through to commercialism and instagram influencers.
A kid with a third eye… and a family who isn’t sure they want her to see things
The last satirist, and a contract to kill her.
Civility Place - well, someone worked in a corporate law firm. [I remember one of my friends who went to NY to work and said he had to work right around the clock once a week, to hit the billable hour
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Julie Koh studied politics and law at the University of Sydney, then quit a career in corporate law to pursue writing. She is the author of two short-story collections: Capital Misfits and Portable Curiosities. The latter was shortlisted for several literary prizes and led to Julie being named a 2017 Sydney Morning Herald Best Young Australian Novelist. Her short stories have appeared in ...more