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Meanjin’s Tournament of Books 2012 (2013), Final, or the Winner is announced

March 10, 2013

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.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. March 12, 2013 2:30 pm

    Sue, with all due respect to the great Astley,this book is my least favorite of hers. Not that I have read everything, but a few, and I am puzzled by this outcome. Rather, I am puzzled that the organizers chose this particular book in the first place. Not sure a non-Australian gets to have an opinion on this subject. Maybe just listen and learn.

    • March 12, 2013 2:47 pm

      Hi Fay … thanks a bunch for your comment. Of course you get to have an opinion – and I love that you have one.

      I should clarify though that it’s not the book they chose, but just the title short story. Does that change your viewpoint? I’m not sure how the short stories were chosen in the end but they did call for nominations on their blog. Much as I’m an Astley fan, I didn’t nominate her for this short story competition … I nominated stories by Elizabeth Jolley and Marjorie Barnard and, perhaps, Barbara Baynton though I can’t quite recollect now.

      I do like, though, the reason Chris Flynn gave when it came down to judging just these two. I think Astley does deserve more recognition for the body of her contribution to Aussie literature, for her fearless covering of tricky topics, and for her evocative and creative use of language. (I wouldn’t call ‘pineapple’ my favourite or most memorable either, really, but I liked this particular story as much as I liked the Cho. I’ll try to finished the Cho collection later and write it up.)

  2. meg permalink
    March 14, 2013 4:41 pm

    I wasn’t going to comment because I haven’t read the Cho collection. However, I just think Thea Astley is a wonderful writer, and loved all her novels. She captured her characters well. She wrote about the good, the bad and the ugly in all of us, and also in our country’s history.

    • March 15, 2013 10:02 am

      Oh thanks Meg … another Astley admirer. I haven’t read all her novels yet but have read a couple more than once. Would love to read The kindness cup again but must read some I haven’t read that are in my TBR pile. As you clearly agree I love the way she sees the personal but is able to place it also within political/historical contexts.

  3. March 14, 2013 6:08 pm

    I am ashamed to say I haven’t read Astley for years and must go back there. Some very compelling comments.

  4. acommonreaderuk permalink
    March 19, 2013 7:23 pm

    I am sure I would be a subcriber to Meanjin if I lived in Australia. It looks a really good magazine. We have plenty of literary journals but I have yet to find one which really satisfies.

    • March 19, 2013 10:27 pm

      This is a good one Tom … though I find that I tend not to subscribe but buy individual issues of different journals as strikes my fancy. So much to read!

  5. acommonreaderuk permalink
    March 19, 2013 7:26 pm

    I have never heard of this and I admire your commitment in reading it aloud. The website you link to is very useful isn’t it. Colin Greenlaw must have been quite a Becket fan to give it so much attention. Well, I may not read it myself but at least I know what it is now

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