Meanjin’s Tournament of Books 2012 (2013), Round 2

Methinks our Meanjin Tournament of Books judges partied a little too much over the silly season because it has taken a few weeks for the second round to be judged. However, the judging has now concluded and the eight stories have been reduced to four, as follows:

Round 2 Match 1: Thea Astley’s ‘Hunting the wild pineapple’ defeated Barbara Baynton’s ‘Squeaker’s mate’

From my point of view this was a hard one because I admire both these stories (which I have reviewed here and here). I would like to have seen them both go through to the next round. The good thing however is that I was not going to be disappointed with the winner. Judge, Australian crime writer Jennifer Rowe, starts her judgement by commenting that both stories “harbour a certain grotesqueness” and she’s right, what with Astley’s stabbing pineapples and Baynton’s oppressive poverty. She said she started by thinking ‘Squeaker’s mate’ would have an “easy victory” because it is “an impressive, unflinching work of Australian gothic” but, despite admitting getting lost at times in Astley (as I also admitted in my review), writes that “Astley’s verve for language is ultimately endearing (and possibly contagious) and despite the initial frustration I was won over …”. As I keep saying, there’s something about Astley.

Round 2 Match 2: Nam Le’s ‘Love and honour and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice’ defeated Henry Lawson’s ‘The drover’s wife’

Another match-up of two stories I’ve read, and an interesting one that pits a much-anthologised Australian classic against a new kid on the block. The judge, Andre Dao, writes that “if Lawson is iconic of a certain type of Australian literature, then Nam Le’s ‘Love and honour and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice’ is emblematic of something at the very other end of Aussie lit’. Le grapples he says with ‘intergenerational trauma, ethnic literature and appalling crimes against humanity’. Dao appreciates the complexity, as do I, of the story commenting on “the layers of metafictionality and murky autobiography” in it. In the end he gives it to Le because Lawson “represents our literary past” while Le’s “writing augurs well for our literary future”. I think that’s a good enough reason as any, though I do wish that Le had given some thought to we poor reviewers and given his story a shorter, easier to remember title! Oh, and, it would be good to see something new from Le …

Round 2 Match 3: Jennifer Rowe’s ‘In the mornings we would sometimes hear him singing’ defeated Peter Carey’s ‘American dreams’

Oh no, another long short story title! This match is harder for me to comment on as I have only read the Carey. Looks like I’ll have to seek Rowe’s story out now that it’s won through to the next round. Judge, editor Melissa Cranenburgh, says that she’s always rather liked Carey’s story “for its classic fairytale structure” and says that it is “deceptively simple – both charming and barbed”. She writes that Rowe’s story also has “a fairytale quality, but of a more transportative, mystical kind than Carey’s traditionally told tale.” She gives it to, as she says, “the new kid on the block”. Interesting … because, look what happens in Match 4 …

Round 2 Match 4: Tom Cho’s ‘Today on Dr Phil’ defeated Elizabeth Jolley’s ‘Five acre virgin’

Now this one did make me sad as the Jolley was, as I’ve said in previous post, one of my nominations for the tournament. I love this story, which was one of the first Jolleys I read. Of course, I haven’t read the Cho so I should reserve judgment. Then again, the judge was a dog (aka First Dog on the Moon) so is a bit suss wouldn’t you think! Seriously though … well, can I be serious about a judge who says the winner is Tom Cho’s “because it had the Hulk in it and anyway Elizabeth Jolley is dead so I’m not likely to run into here anywhere am I?” Hmm …


Now, have you noticed something? In every match it was the newer story of the two that won. A changing of the guard? A bias on the part of judges towards the new? Coincidence or conspiracy? (Just joking). Meanwhile …

… we are left with 4 stories to go into the next round:

  • Thea Astley’s “Hunting the wild pineapple”
  • Tom Cho’s “Today on Dr Phil”
  • Nam Le’s “Love and honour and pity and pride and compassion and sacrifice”
  • Josephine Rowe’s “‘In the mornings we would sometimes hear him singing”

OK, so I’ve read two of these – the Astley and the Le. I will try to track down (the rhyming pair) Cho and Rowe, before the next round. Watch this space, but don’t hold your breath …

7 thoughts on “Meanjin’s Tournament of Books 2012 (2013), Round 2

  1. Interesting! I started reading the Barbara Baynton story from your last post yesterday and lost my place at the computer. I love her connection with landscape and didn’t really agree with Rowe’s comment that she was speaking from a lofty place. I confess I still haven’t read Thea Astley. And Nam Le is most deserving of recognition, not because of his newness but because he slides beneath his characters’ skins. I do like the idea of this sparring match – not to see who wins but to see how the match is played out.

    • No, I found that a bit odd too Catherine … though I partly get what she’s saying. I do love her description of the landscape and marked one out for possible posting.

      I agree, the sparring match is fun.

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