Meanjin’s Tournament of Books 2011, Semi-finals

Miles Franklin, 1902

Miles Franklin, 1902, by H.Y. Dorner (Presumed Public Domain)

So now we are getting to the business end of Meanjin‘s tournament of books … and it’s getting exciting. Since I’ve been posting a little more frequently lately, I’ll keep this one short and, hopefully, sweet … after all, there’s still more to come.

Semifinal 1: Joan London’s Gilgamesh defeated Kate Grenville’s The secret river

It is at this point in the tournament that you start to feel really sorry for the losing book (and author). These are both contemporary authors, and both deserving of accolades, but if we are talking specific book and not body of work (as indeed we are) then I agree with the judge. The secret river is a brave book, and a well-written one. Kate Grenville is an excellent writer. But, London’s Gilgamesh has something special – a tone, a conception, a je ne sais quoi – that gives it the edge in this pairing. This seems to be what the judge, Robyn Annear, thinks too:

If Joan London sketches with a few bent lines and the suggestion of shade, Kate Grenville colours-in right to the edge of the page. Coming to The Secret River after Gilgamesh’s shrugged conclusion is startling, like plunging from sepia into vivid 3-D technicolour.

Semifinal 2: Miles Franklin’s My brilliant career defeated Henry Handel Richardson’s The fortunes of Richard Mahony

Well, if Semifinal 1 was a battle between two living writers, the second semifinal was between two dead ones! I’m a little surprised by the result, mainly because Career is generally regarded as the less “polished” of the two, but it was judged by none other than Hilary McPhee so who am I to argue? McPhee recognises Richardson’s achievement and, like the judges before her, finds the judging hard, but in the end she goes for the visceral. And I see no reason to argue against a reader judging on the basis of passion and feeling!

As always, the critical and the visceral response to powerful writing are in play — the tournament is located in my head. Right now, I’m with Sybylla, full of life, bouncing along in her boots made for sparring, outrageous, curmudgeonly, railing against fate. Fortunes is a masterpiece which has had its day and will have it again and again. My Brilliant Career might just be having it now. Go Miles.

Next up … the Zombie Round

I discovered, too late (why wasn’t I told?!), there’d been a poll on the Meanjin Facebook page for the two books to be returned in the Zombie round. They are Helen Garner‘s The children’s Bach and Alexis Wright‘s Carpentaria – but which book will be pitted against which semifinal winner we still don’t know. Keep watching this space …
Meanwhile, I could comment on which books did and didn’t make it to the final four … but I won’t, as I did say I’d keep this short! However, I’d love to hear what you think on the matter …

11 thoughts on “Meanjin’s Tournament of Books 2011, Semi-finals

  1. I haven’t read many of these, but is it cynical of me to think that ‘My Brilliant Career’ is a sentimental favourite that might be benefiting from a kind draw and some generous judging? 😉

    • You can be cynical if you like. They have played around with the draw from the original chart … And I’m not sure why they did that!

      I was lying in bed this am, thinking, as you do, about the tournament and decided it would be wonderfully just if Carpentaria won! I have read these four remaining books and they are all great, for different reasons, but I think I’d be happiest if Wright’s book won.

    • Sentiment has played such a large part in this tournament that I think all anyone can do is give up on it as a literary competition and go by WG’s recommendation further down the page — “not to see this as a serious “prize” to pick “the” best book but as a mechanism for bringing some books to the fore and encouraging discussion.” I keep typing out answers to these Meanjin posts and then deleting them, “because,” I think, “the judges are going by their real names online and I’m not, and it doesn’t seem right to target named and living people from behind a pseudonym.” So — nothing. But let me be very very general and say that when I think of someone overseas seeing the Meanjin site and thinking, “This is the way Australian writers talk about Australian writing,” my heart sinks.

      • Thanks DKS. I have made a couple of comments on the site – the two commentators just go by their first names, Jen and Ben, I think, so I don’t worry too much about the pseudonym issue. I’m not too worried about assumptions being made about how we write about writing. The tone of the judges tends to give something away … Particularly when they describe their criteria. Theres’s a certain lightness of tone and to it all. In a way, it almost spoofs – though that’s perhaps going a little too far – literary competitions. But perhaps I’m just reading it the way I want to!

        • I have just discovered that the two commentators are Melbourne comedians: Ben Pobjie and Jess McGuire. That makes sense but perhaps Meanjin could have made that clear?

        • They work as comedians? So that’s why they write like that. And I suppose that’s why the rest write the way they do too, they’ve all the got the word, “Lightness, lightness,” running through their heads, because they want to fit in.

  2. I felt so sorry for the people who were defeated at the AGM today! Sadface.

    Surely you’ll be going for My Brilliant Career as the ultimate winner? 🙂

  3. I am very curious to read Gilgamesh after these few comments. And Carpentaria, just the name makes my heart surge (ordered but I haven’t read that either. Kate Grenville’s and Helen Garner’s novels are no longer fresh in my mind, as is Sybill’s story, so I can’t say enough about the material. More slabs of reading time required! I do think it sad The Man Who Loved Children is not there. Initially I thought a tournament a silly idea but now it seems a great vehicle for discussion and the revival of great books.

  4. Yes, that’s the attitude to take I think – not to see this as a serious “prize” to pick “the” best book but as a mechanism for bringing some books to the fore and encouraging discussion. (If you read the two commenting on the the judges in each match, I think you can see that there’s a tongue in cheek element there about the “competition” aspect). I’m surprised Stead isn’t there … but I will be interested in what you think of Gilgamesh and Carpentaria.

  5. Hi DKS … you might like to read today’s Monday Musings post … I think “lightness” is the tone they wanted, and I guess I don’t mind that really. I was amused though when, researching today’s MM post, I came across a podcast with the judge of one of the rounds. The interviewer – whose name escapes me – felt that The man who loved children would be in the grandfinal, perhaps it and Carpentaria! Must say that when the tournament started I thought Man might be there at the end too. I am “plumping” though for Carpentaria.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s