Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Flames” as Want to Read:
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview


4.22  ·  Rating details ·  1,138 ratings  ·  252 reviews
A young man named Levi McAllister decides to build a coffin for his twenty-three-year-old sister, Charlotte—who promptly runs for her life. A water rat swims upriver in quest of the cloud god. A fisherman named Karl hunts for tuna in partnership with a seal. And a father takes form from fire.

The answers to these riddles are to be found in this tale of grief and love and t
Paperback, 226 pages
Published May 1st 2018 by Text Publishing (first published April 30th 2018)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Flames, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Flames

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
Average rating 4.22  · 
Rating details
 ·  1,138 ratings  ·  252 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Start your review of Flames
Kevin Ansbro
"Everything changes, nothing perishes."
—Ovid, Metamorphoses

What a great start to a book! A dead Tasmanian mother returns to her family two days after they'd spread her ashes, and no-one bats an eyelid. This phenomenon isn't unusual within the McAllister clan, for a procession of deceased relatives routinely reappear, albeit amalgamated into the flora, fauna and flotsam of the locale in which they were scattered.
Yes! Yes! YES! I was seduced by Robbie Arnott before he'd even bought me flowers
Nov 05, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I would give this book six stars if I could.
Richard Derus
Oct 18, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindled
2020 UPDATE this book is nominated for the International DUBLIN Literary Award! Best of luck, Author Arnott!

Sleep first, then review. 0200 is no time to be coherent.
I have words, as the saying goes; lots of them. Here are a few.

This lovely debut novel from a small-yet-mighty Australian publishing house was a delight to me from the moment I met Karl and his seal. Karl fishes off the northern coast of Tasmania, that deep-southern island state of Australia, the last significant spot of land betw
Jul 14, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: australian
Well, this was wonderful. Lots of magical realism, but done right. It's not cute or twee but elemental and a bit fearsome.

The book plays with different styles in the first half, and while these are all well-executed, a couple of comedic sections did 'break the spell' a bit. The second half is more consistent in tone, and as a result feels more powerful.

In Flames Robbie Arnott has invented his own mythology which is wholly original and yet also feels timeless and endemic to Tasmania. Great stuf
Gumble's Yard
Now shortlisted for the 2019 Guardian Not The Booker prize.

Gabriel Garcia Marquez meets Richard Flanagan for this Tasmanian Fusion of Fantasy, Folklore, Flora and Fauna.

The first chapter introduces us to the McAllister family – whose woman folk are cremated after death, but then are briefly resurrected their bodies somehow fused with the nature of the site where their ashes were scattered. After the death of his mother, who returned as a fern before self-immolating outside the house of his long
Jan 29, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Levi and Charlotte are not surprised when their mother returns from the dead a week after she has been cremated. The women of their family have been doing it for generations. Not all of them. It seems the ones who come back have a reason for doing so. Something left unfinished, a message to be delivered. All of them return supposedly back to whatever realm or plain they entered upon their first death, in an instant conflagration of flames once this unfinished task is completed. With both childre ...more
Jun 27, 2019 rated it liked it
I find it difficult to take magical realism too seriously, but based on previous reviews by GR friends I was surprised that I didn't enjoy this book more. It started off wonderfully for me, then it just got a bit weird. Sorry to those of you who loved this one but it didn't work for me, especially the second half.

This tipped too far into Neil Gaiman's world in the end there. However, it is a lovely celebration of everything Tasmanian. The section about the seal/tuna hunting is stunning, I was hoping the entire book was going to be in this vein.
Jaclyn Crupi
Feb 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
This book is beguiling and beautiful. So much #auslit is about grief but Arnott approaches the theme with mythological originality. The interconnectness of people and place unravels naturally and powerfully in this extraordinary novel. I loved it and Arnott is definitely one to watch. His control of language and voice had me enraptured. Hot damn!
Text Publishing
‘A strange and joyous marvel.’
Richard Flanagan

‘Flames is brilliant…Enjoy it for its prose poetry, its vivid imagery, its brilliant turns of phrase on nearly every page.’
NZ Listener

‘An Australian literary fabulist classic – well, it certainly deserves to be.’
Avid Reader

‘Unique and memorable…Extraordinary energy…A rich and memorable picture with prose of an exceptionally high quality. You won’t read another Australian literary novel like this anytime soon.’
Kill Your Darlings

‘It's not hard to se
May 11, 2018 rated it it was amazing
“Black spurs of the mountain range poked high and sharp above them, daggering up into the pale sky. The sheer cliffs that fell away from these peaks revealed great faces of jagged Jurassic rock. Down where the land was less vertical snowgums gnarled their way out of frozen dirt, their trunks a patchwork of grey-brown-green, as if all the colours of the forest had poured themselves into a single species of tree.”

Flames is the first novel by Australian advertising copywriter and author, Robbie Ar
I found this book quite astonishing. With its magical realism against a distinctly Tasmanian backdrop, it felt like Isabel Allende or Laura Esquivel meets Richard Flanagan. Perhaps also with a generous dollop of Joan Lindsay’s depictions of the Australian bush as a character in its own right and the inclusion of vivid native fauna totems thrown in. But that gives the impression that this work is derivative, and it isn’t - Arnott is an original and exciting new voice in the small but elite Tasman ...more
Resh (The Book Satchel)
I could underline the whole book and I am not exaggerating. I've scribbled in the margins of nearly every page. Exquisite language - a marriage of nature, grief and folk lore. This book is so moving and beautifully crafted that I want to re read it already. I wish I could give this SIX STARS. Also, lots of Easter eggs for the careful reader (I am sure you'd annotate like crazy too. This book is so good). Highly recommended.
John Banks
Sep 25, 2020 rated it really liked it
On reflection more a 4 than a 5. Somewhat uneven in sections. But in terms of my personal delight from the read a 4.5.

Arnott's Flames is a pyrotechnic wonder, a joyous playful and even frenzied fun house of magic realism that I feel was written just for me and my tastes.

It's like Marquez and Gaiman mixed in with some Winton to produce this weird love child of a book concoction. I get that it would be all too much for some readers and Arnott at points does lose control of the fire that he is stok
Aug 27, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition

I've been curious about this novel since it was first published, and while I thought the storyline sounded good, with the Tasmanian setting an added bonus, I'm a reader who shies away from magical realism and fantasy. So I recognised that this book could go either way for me - the potential was there for it to leave me feeling either enchanted or nauseated. I'm happy to say I adored it, to the point where I can imagine wanting to re-read it one day.

Although the story is told from multiple po
Sep 08, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Weird, surreal and beautiful.

I hiked the Overland Track a few years ago and the authors description of the environment takes me right back to Tasmania.
Nov 12, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
4.5 stars Highly original and beautifully written, this is one of the best debut novels I've read this year. I'm keeping my eye on Arnott - everyone should. Can't wait to see what he does next.
Alex Cantone
Charlotte is watching the waters of three rivers meet. The two Esk’s – one brown and slow, the other churned white – mix in the broad slate Tamar that pushes north, away from Charlotte, through the reedy wetlands. Beneath the water’s three-way face swim countless mud eels, but nobody is angling for them from the pontoons that hang onto the river’s edge–it is too dark. Earlier the sun would have dipped behind the cliffs of Launceston’s craggy gorge, brushing the waterfront with fingers of pale wi ...more
John Purcell
Dec 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Mad, brilliant and exciting. If you want to feel reinvigorated as a reader, take the plunge. I read it in two sittings. Will read it again to make sure I understood what the fuck I was reading. Bravo.
Mar 26, 2018 rated it it was amazing
A strange, magical, nigh mythical work of deeply Australian storytelling in which the characters are almost indistinguishable from the elemental forces that rage within. Trust me, you haven't read anything like it. Just beautiful.
Aug 23, 2018 rated it liked it
Being a Tasmanian local I thought WOW. A novel written by a young Tasmanian set in Tasmania, something I can enjoy and relate to.
But instead I found this novel a bit disjointed, strange and somewhat odd. Although I did really enjoy the descriptiveness of the Tasmanian bush, animals, scenery and places. They were spot on and you could really picture the scenes and the beauty of this great state.
The story to me had glimpses of The Firestarter by Stephen King and even JRR Tolkien novels but just no
Angus (Just Angus)
I love love LOVE what this book did for Tasmania and Australian storytelling.
So unique and unlike anything I've ever read.
Such a promising start; I did feel it lost track a bit towards the middle/end but I still enjoyed this so much.
So much to unpack.
Tamsien West (Babbling Books)
Nov 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: australia
A strange and oddly hopeful book. Flames is difficult to describe. On one hand it's a literary novel about family and grief/love, and on the other hand it's a fantasy about gods of the natural world bleeding over into our world.⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀
I loved how strange it was, it captivated me from the opening line "Our mother returned to us two days after we spread her ashes over Notley Fern Gorge".
Jaclyn (sixminutesforme)
Oct 22, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: auslit

This is one of the most unique, imaginative, and utterly captivating Australian stories I have EVER read. With a landscape that jumps off the page, this was a nature narrative intertwined with a magical realist family saga.

It is like nothing I have read before - while structured as a novel, the chapters are almost written like interconnected short stories that detail the cast of characters and their bizarre piece in this jigsaw of a narrative! We have a fisherman that bonds with a seal, a woman
Nov 10, 2018 rated it really liked it
Shelves: fiction
4.5 rounded down

This book was a lovely surprise. Wonderfully written, and Arnott flawlessly incorporated magical realism into the narrative, and I loved all of the descriptions of nature throughout the book.

Only rounded my rating down because it lost a little bit of momentum in the second half, but after this I would read anything Robbie Arnott writes.
May 20, 2018 rated it liked it
Recommended to Lisa by: Saturday Paper
A book from Tassie called Flames has to be about bushfires, right? Well, not quite. This strange and beautiful book begins with the tale of the McAllister women, who reincarnate after death to deal with unfinished business, old grudges, forgotten chores. And they do it with flame…
Levi McAllister sees the transformation:
Our mother returned to us two days after we spread her ashes over Notley Fern Gorge. She was definitely our mother – but at the same time, she was not our mother at all. Since her
Jennifer (JC-S)
Sep 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
‘Our mother returned to us two days after we spread her ashes over Notley Fern Gorge. She was definitely our mother – but, at the same time, she was not our mother at all.’

I kept reading, intrigued by Mr Arnott’s opening, curious about where the story would take me. I learned that sometimes the McAllister women did reincarnate after death. Levi McAllister, who saw his mother’s transformation, is determined to prevent his sister Charlotte sharing their mother’s fate. He decides to build her a cof
Shawn Mooney (Shawn The Book Maniac)
Well I gave it a try. The writing was so good, but the story was way, way, WAY too magically realist and fantastical and mythological for me. Blech. Bailed just under a fifth of the way in.
Karen Mace
Nov 19, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I have found myself totally mesmerized by this book! A wonderful debut and very difficult to sum up, other than it was pure escapism and I was transfixed by the characters, the settings and the overall feel of the book!

It's about a family who see female relatives return after they die only for them to burst into flames and die once again soon after. It's about a brother caring for his sister, except she doesn't interpret it that way and runs away to deal with her own adventures. Its about a man
Jul 04, 2020 rated it really liked it
Arnott's second book The Rain Heron is probably my fav so far this year. His first book Flames is similar but not quite as consistent. Nonetheless this is a beaut. A tale of surprising events that participants seem to accept as normal, our relationship with nature and the beauty of intense weather events.
Narrated by various characters in current and past tense, first, second and third persons, every chapter is a new adventure.
Women in a family tend to come back to life for a short period, Charl
« previous 1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • The Octopus and I
  • Ghost Species
  • Mammoth
  • The Animals in That Country
  • The Yield
  • Bruny
  • A Constant Hum
  • The Weekend
  • The Bluffs
  • Stone Sky Gold Mountain
  • Pink Mountain on Locust Island
  • There Was Still Love
  • Exploded View
  • Please Read This Leaflet Carefully: Keep This Leaflet. You May Need to Read It Again.
  • The Bass Rock
  • Lanny
  • Too Much Lip
  • The Dictionary of Lost Words
See similar books…
Robbie Arnott was born in Launceston in 1989. His writing has appeared in Island, the Lifted Brow, Kill Your Darlings and the 2017 anthology Seven Stories. He won the 2015 Tasmanian Young Writers’ Fellowship and the 2014 Scribe Nonfiction Prize for Young Writers. Robbie lives in Hobart and is an advertising copywriter.

Related Articles

If you love the fantasy genre, this is the season for you! Some of the biggest books out this fall promise to be epics full of magic, adventure,...
167 likes · 43 comments
No trivia or quizzes yet. Add some now »