Round two of this year’s Meanjin Tournament of Books has now been played – as of a couple of days before Christmas. Here are the winners
Well, I must say I’m surprised. Much as I love both these books – both of which won the Miles Franklin Award in their year – I thought That deadman dance would be the eventual winner. But, as in all exciting competitions, it was not to be – and who am I to argue with the judge Maxine Benebe Clarke. I don’t know her but she’s apparently “a widely published Australian writer and slam poetry champion”. Interestingly, she, a poet, found Winton’s Breath easy to read but “early on in the reading of this book [That deadman dance], I confessed to a fellow poet and voracious reader that I’d re-read the first sixty or so pages three times, because I felt them so inaccessible”. I understand how that might happen, though I didn’t find it so myself. She did come to enjoy Scott’s novel, once she let go of her expectations of historical fiction which are that it should give her knowledge of the era or event without her being aware it’s happening. Hmm … sounds to me like her definition of historical fiction is a little narrow. She said she enjoyed the novel when she “stopped aching for this to happen”. However, as she chose another book that I love and that has stuck with me since I read it, I won’t complain. She chose Winton because:
I found myself, despite my lack of knowledge of surfing culture, fighting for air, caught in a crazed obsession, the book which almost suffocated me under the deep blue, before landing me back on shore, face-grazed, foamy and gasping for Breath.
I know exactly what she means. It’s a breath-taking (sorry!) book.
This match was also judged by someone I don’t know. Clearly I’m not up on the Melbourne scene. Adolfo Aranjuez edited Award Winning Australian Writing, and is editor of Metro magazine, sub-editor of Screen Education, and deputy editor of Voiceworks. He found judging hard, particularly because he really was judging apples and oranges, that is, a collection of poems versus a novel. Moreover, he says that:
Thematically, Savige’s poems aren’t all about the ocean, either, handicapping it slightly. And then there was the pre-existing problem of bias: I’ve adored Lanagan for years, though I tried to summon as much impartiality as my Lanagan-fan heart could muster.
I haven’t read either of these books so can’t comment. Our judge discovered why Savidge is recognised as a great poet, but for him the selkie myth won out. His reasoning makes sense:
Lanagan’s nods to miscegenation and multiculturalism highlight the issues that I and those like me face as ‘mongrels’, unable to explain to largely-monocultural Australians where we ‘come from’. These intercultural themes raise questions that are increasingly relevant in our society, where arranged marriages aren’t uncommon, some are forced by circumstance to leave their homes, and the rhetoric of ‘assimilation’ continues to have currency.
I have been thinking for some time that I should read this book. Aranjuez’s adjudication has strengthened my resolve.
And so … we are left with a Final that will be between
- Tim Winton‘s Breath; and
- Margo Lanagan’s Sea hearts
I’ll be very surprised if Tim Winton doesn’t win at this point, but I’ve been known to be wrong before. As they say, it isn’t over until … as usual, watch this space, soon!