Meanjin’s Tournament of Books 2012, Matches 3 to 6
As I promised in my first post on this year’s tournament – whether you wanted it or not – I’m back with a progress report on the tournament. And, I must say, I’m rather thrilled with the results to date. I haven’t read all the contenders so my reaction is more than a little subjective but my favourite authors and some favourite stories are doing well.
Match 3: Thea Astley’s “Hunting the wild pineapple” defeated Tara June Winch’s “It’s too difficult to explain”
Thea Astley, as I’ve said before, is one of my favourite writers. I have read several of her novels, but she had a long and prolific career and so there’s still a lot for me to read. Her short story collection, Hunting the wild pineapple, is one I’ve yet to read. I also haven’t read the Tara June Winch story so I’m flying completely blind. I’d like to support the young, up and coming writer, but in my heart I’m glad Astley is through to the next round. I want to see her better recognised!
I loved the fact that the judge of this round, John Hunter, recognised (not that it’s relevant to this particular competition) Thea Astley’s Miles Franklin achievement when he says that she “single-handedly kept up the women’s quota of Miles Franklin Awards for decades. Even today I think not many people know this. Anyhow, he describes Astley’s short story as “social observation written with a razor blade”. I couldn’t describe Astley better myself.
Of all the matches, this is the one that mattered most to me, not only because Elizabeth Jolley is another of my favourite writers, but because this short story is one of the few I nominated in Meanjin‘s call for nominations on its blog. Estelle Tang, who judged this one, starts by commenting on the humour. This is one of the reasons I love Jolley, her wit, satire and irony. She’s dark but she makes you laugh despite yourself. “Five acre virgin” was my first Jolley. It introduced me to her interest in and empathy for the underdog, the marginalised and the outsider in our society, issues that she explores regularly in her fiction. Tang describes the story as “the classic swimming duck, an unassuming facade masking the maelstrom beneath” which could be a good description for Jolley herself. On the outside, she looked like a sweet little old lady but underneath was something far sharper. She was one funny, cluey woman.
Match 5: Josephine Rowe’s “In the mornings we would sometimes hear him singing” defeated Murray Bail’s “A.B.C.D-Z”
Of the four matches I’m reporting on today, this is the one I have least vested interest in because I’ve read neither of the short stories. However, I have read a couple of novels by Murray Bail and like his writing so on a purely subjective basis, I’d have been happy to see him win. However, the judge Jo Case calls Rowe’s prose “exquisite”, describes the story as “a mood piece” and says it’s “a seductive read”. I must locate a copy.
Match 6: Barbara Baynton’s “Squeaker’s Mate” defeated Frank Moorhouse’s “The Annual Conference of 1930 and South Dada”
Regular readers of this blog will probably remember that I reviewed “Squeaker’s Mate” last month. It’s a great story and offers such a different perspective on the “bush myth” that, although I haven’t read Moorhouse’s probably very worthy story, I am very glad to see Baynton win. Patrick Pittman who judged this match said that Baynton was new to him, and that the piece came as “a complete surprise”. He comments on its “sparse and unrelenting prose” and on its gender politics which “is radical and unsettling, if not always pin-downable”. I know what he means. Baynton is not simplistic – and should be better known.
Did you notice that these four rounds, which involved 6 female and 2 male writers, were all won by women? This is not a gender war … but it’s good to see some under-appreciated women gaining recognition.