Sorry folks, but I have been slack. Meanjin took a little while to post the final round but I’ve taken even longer to report back to you. February was not a good reading and blogging month for me as my Past Whisperings link shows. I am, however, back now and ready to post the winner which, you may remember, was to be chosen from Thea Astley‘s “Hunting the wild pineapple” and Tom Cho’s “Today on Dr Phil”. I have (now, anyhow) read them both.
And what a pair of stories they are … it’s fitting in many ways that it came down to these two because they are probably the most “out there” of the stories in the tournament. Both take you on wild rides where one minute you feel firmly planted in reality and next you’re not quite sure. They seem grounded in reality but what’s going on stretches your imagination almost to breaking point. Cho’s “Today on Dr Phil” exposes our modern culture’s propensity for public confession, for seeking our five minutes of fame, while Astley explores the violence lurking just below the surface of many human relationships.
For the final round, Meanjin used three judges all of whom are published authors themselves:
Ryan O’Neill, the Scottish born Australian writer of The weight of a human heart, wrote that Cho “expertly controls the story until the fitting, chaotic climax, while at the same time posing serious questions about identity and self”. But, he gives it to Astley’s story for “the spikiness of its style, the oddness of its characters, and the vividness of its setting”.
Susan Johnson, author of several novels including Life in seven mistakes which I’ve reviewed, writes of Astley’s “wonderful, theatrical, imaginative flourish”. However, using a horse race metaphor, she gives it to Cho, not only because he manages to make some “brilliant cultural and ethnic allusions” but because “he’s alive, and straining, and needs to get home to eat”.
So, one vote each now. Who will win?
Chris Flynn, author of A tiger in Eden which I’ve also reviewed, has the casting vote – and what a vote it is. I love it because, while appreciating Tom Cho’s wonderful, clever story, he gives it to Thea Astley – and I can’t argue with his reason:
… this is Thea Astley we’re talking about here. If Cho had been up against any of the more realist writers we’ve seen in the competition, some of which he’s already taken out, it would be game over man, game over … But … Astley was the progenitor, the chain-smoking, wise-cracking, jazz-loving four times Miles Franklin-winning champion of linguistic manipulation whose style got on Helen Garner’s nerves and who pushed the envelope of Australian literature when no-one else had the cojones to do so. My vote goes to Thea Astley, as without her, I don’t know where we’d be today.
I love that Flynn recognises and takes into account Astley’s contribution to Australian literature. I hope Cho isn’t disappointed because he was beaten by a real grand dame. He has nothing to be ashamed of – and I will continue to read his short stories in Look who’s morphing. It’s a great collection.
And so the winner of the latest Meanjin Tournament of Books is Thea Astley’s “Hunting the wild pineapple”.
You can read the full judgements here.