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ABR’s Favourite Australian Novel poll

February 1, 2010

Back in October I wrote about the Australian Book Review’s poll to find our favourite Australian novel (not Australia’s favourite novel!). Well, the result has just lobbed into my email inbox: it’s an interesting list. No great surprises, and it’s certainly pretty acceptable even though one can always find something to argue about when the opportunity arises.

Here they are:

  1. Cloudstreet, by Tim Winton (since members of the Australian Society of Authors voted this their top novel in 2003, it’s not a totally surprising win – and I’m happy enough with it!)
  2. The fortunes of Richard Mahony, by Henry Handel Richardson (the oldest in the top ten – and great to see a woman in second spot!)
  3. Voss, by Patrick White (woo hoo … this was my well-considered vote!!)
  4. Breath, by Tim Winton (another guernsey for the popular Tim – and perhaps its ranking here is largely due to its still being fresh in people’s minds? You know, along the lines of how well Harry Potter has done in recent readers’ polls. I’m not saying this is a bad choice but … currency often does come into play in these polls doesn’t it?)
  5. Oscar and Lucinda, by Peter Carey (this would have been a serious contender for my second choice if I’d had one, because I think it is often overlooked in discussions like this)
  6. My brother Jack, by George Johnston
  7. The secret river, by Kate Grenville (a riveting read that gets to the heart of our origins as a convict settlement and so good to see here)
  8. Eucalyptus, by Murray Bail (great to see this beautiful fable-like tale appearing in the top 10)
  9. The man who loved children, by Christina Stead
  10. The tree of man, by Patrick White (another worthy choice I think … though after Voss it is hard to choose which White should come next!)

In the link I’ve provided above, you will find the next 10, and here is a link to the complete list. Apparently 290 were nominated, and thousands (nothing more specific than that) voted.

And, before I close, some basic stats. Ten novels:

  • 8 authors;
  • 3 women;
  • no indigenous author (but Alexis Wright does appear in the top 20);
  • all published after 1900 (but a couple of earlier ones appear in the top 20); and
  • I have read only 7, of which I am a little ashamed (but I have seen one of the others as a miniseries – does that count? – and the remaining two are in my TBR, one physical, one virtual).
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20 Comments leave one →
  1. February 1, 2010 4:17 pm

    Well, I’ve read 4 anyway – Cloudstreet, Voss, The Secret River and Oscar and Lucinda and I loved those first two. There are a few more I’m very curious about – The Fortunes of Richard Mahony, Breath, and The Tree of Life. Thanks for posting this. :-)

    • February 1, 2010 4:37 pm

      Four’s good going Bekah (for an American – and I’m not being patronising just commenting on the lack of exposure over there of our literature) – good for you. The fortunes of Richard Mahony is an immense work – really a trilogy; Breath won our Miles Franklin in 2008 (making Winton equal Astley) and is a little controversial in that some, such as Lisa at ANZLitLovers, really don’t like it; and Tree of life is, well, the story of a couple and their struggle to survive – physically and psychologically over several decades and has, as I recollect a bit of an everyman feel about it.

      • February 2, 2010 5:32 pm

        Tree of Life seems to me, in my limited experience, to be the Patrick White read by people who don’t read Patrick White, for the reason you’ve got here — it’s more of an Everymannish book than his others — it isn’t as angular and sharp as Voss, it isn’t about a grumpy artist, like The Vivisector, it doesn’t have the prim grin of The Twyborn Affair (etc, etc) — it’s about people living on the land and making do with what they have, which brings it into line with established favourites like the Lawson short stories, Banjo Paterson’s bush ballads, and so on.

  2. February 1, 2010 5:29 pm

    Looking over the list of 290 nominees, the two surprises were that they included We of the Never-Never, because it’s not fiction, and they didn’t include Neville Shute’s The Legacy (aka, A Town Like Alice). Voss is my only hit on the top ten, but I saw lots of friends among the 290. Like you, I quite fancy Voss, and my “signature” on one chat site include a line from the novel — a line I quote often, in fact — “Nothing important is easy.”

    • February 1, 2010 6:28 pm

      And very true too … well spotted. I managed to encourage my reading group to do Voss this year and I am so looking forward to reading it again. Yes, given some of the things that are inlcuded the omission of A town like Alice is interesting. It’s certainly a sentimental favourite of mine

  3. February 1, 2010 10:11 pm

    I’m a bit embarrassed to admit this, that the only one I haven’t read is The Man Who Loved Children. (It is on my 2010 TBR).
    I’m rapt to see that PW gets two spots (BTW did you see Perry’s post about The Eye of the Storm being made into a film?), and other favourites of mine: The Fortunes of Richard Mahoney, My Brother Jack and The Secret River – these are titles that I recommend over and over again when international visitors to my blog ask for Oz Lit suggestions.

    • February 1, 2010 10:38 pm

      Well you’re ahead of me … I haven’t read the Stead or Richardson or Johnston … and don’t expect to read any of them this year though the Stead is probably the one I would choose next… Funnily enough, when I give Australian books to overseas bookgroup friends – through swaps for example – it’s usually Jolley or Malouf, though I did just send The secret river for my daughter to give as a thankyou to her friend’s mother at whose house in Virginia she recently stayed.

  4. February 2, 2010 12:46 am

    I’ve read six, The Fortunes of Richard Mahoney, Voss, The Secret River, Eucalyptus, The Man Who Loved Children, and The Tree of Man. This list gets me to debating whether or not to read Tim Winton. The idea of putting ‘The Fortunes of Richard Mahoney and Voss in second and third place seems almost ludicrous to me. It would take an absolutely magnificent novel to top either of those.

    • February 2, 2010 7:25 am

      Oh Tony, I don’t think there should be any debate about reading Cloudstreet. It is a very impressive book – and a very good read. I will, one day, read it again and know I will enjoy it. I can’t imagine MY putting it ahead of Voss – Voss is so grand in conception, so audaciously imagined and powerfully written – but Cloudstreet does stay with you and is very Australian in its own compelling way.

  5. February 2, 2010 3:23 am

    My inner sociologist is coming out, but I’d so love to see a breakdown of ages/genders/occupations/etc of who voted! And don’t be hating on Harry Potter – sure, it’s not that well-written, but it got a lot of kids reading, and hopefully some of them will eventually move beyond Twilight and Matthew Reilly to novels such as are found on this list!

    • February 2, 2010 7:28 am

      Oh yes, Hannah, you are right about all that – it just always looks funny to see books like that that haven’t yet proven longevity – appearing in a top 10 list alongside Lord of the Rings, Pride and prejudice and so on. I certainly think HP has been a wonderful boon to reading. Why, I even liked the first book or two!

      Oh, and a breakdown of voters would be good but they didn’t take that sort of info as I recollect…

  6. February 2, 2010 7:03 am

    I’ve read 6 and I loved them all: Oscar and Lucinda; My Brother Jack; The Tree of Man; Eucalyptus; The Secret River; and Cloud Street. I have a further two in my TBR: Voss; and The Fortunes of Richard Mahoney.

    • February 2, 2010 7:30 am

      I love those too kimbofo Well, the five I’ve read) – and I do think Oscar and Lucinda should be mentioned more often when we talk the Great Australian Novel. I wouldn’t say I’d choose it as number 1 but I’d have it up there and so was very glad to see it firmly in the list.

  7. February 2, 2010 7:34 am

    And oh, dear commenters of mine, I must be a little pedantic here and correct you. You are all making the mistake I nearly did when I wrote the post. I started to write MahonEy and then thought I’d better check, It is in fact Mahony without the E. Looks funny – unbalanced even – but there it is!

  8. February 2, 2010 9:05 am

    Though I am new to reading Australian writers (another American here), I was happy to see that what I have read is well represented in this poll; Kimbofo was my guide so I guess I couldn’t go wrong. I would add Kate Grenville’s The Lieutenant — I liked it even better than The Secret River. Voss apparently needs to be high on my list.

    • February 2, 2010 9:24 am

      Thanks for popping by Charlotte. It is great seeing Americans comment on this list – we read so much American literature but it is hard to find out how many Americans are familiar with ours. I have read quite a few Kate Grenville novels but not her latest. If you like you you might like to read her The idea of perfection – it is more contemporary unlike the most recent two – but it is a great novel. Won the Orange Prize. And, yes, do add Voss to your list…

  9. February 2, 2010 6:25 pm

    Thanks DKS, they’re great observations… I like your comment on its drawing from those earlier traditions. And in the interests of your comparisons, I would add that it’s also less, well, brown than The solid mandala!

Trackbacks

  1. My Own List of the Best Australian Novels « Tony's Book World
  2. My Favorite Lit-Blog Things: February 4, 2010 « Hungry Like the Woolf
  3. AWW 2012 Challenge Wrap-up: Literary Awards/Classics Part 2 « Australian Women Writers Challenge

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