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Monday musings on Australian literature: Here come the men!

January 13, 2014

Women really have dominated the literary awards season in Australia over the last two years. In 2012, the majority of the awards were won by Anna Funder with All that I am and Gillian Mears with Foal’s bread. Last year it was mostly Michelle de Kretser with Questions of travel and Carrie Tiffany with Mateship with birds. ML Stedman also won an award with her The light between oceans. As well as all this, last year we had, for the first time ever, an all female shortlist for the Miles Franklin Award! Where, you may have been wondering, were the men?

Well, in their writing rooms it seems, beavering away, because by late last year their books started appearing in droves … and nice to see it is. I love reading fiction by women, but I also love reading fiction by men. Let’s face it, I love reading good fiction! Anyhow, I, and others like The Australian’s literary editor Stephen Romei, expect some strong showings by our male writers in this year’s award lists. Books like:

  • Richard Flanagan’s The narrow road to the deep north
  • Tom Keneally’s Shame and captives
  • Roger McDonald’s The following
  • Alex Miller’s Coal Creek
  • Christos Tsiolkas’ Barracuda
  • Tim Winton’s Eyrie

Stephen Romei predicts that Winton and Flanagan will battle it out, though says there are other strong contenders from a bumper year for Australian fiction. I will be reading Tsiolkas and Winton with my reading group over the next few months, and received Flanagan for Christmas. I am greatly looking forward to getting my teeth into these writers, each of whom I’ve reviewed before on this blog, and each of whom I respect and enjoy.

None of these, though, are debut authors. Every one has won and/or been shortlisted for the Miles Franklin at least once, and most, more than once. Of course it takes a little time for a debut to make it into public consciousness. However, you may remember that last year’s Miles Franklin Award shortlist of five titles contained three – yes, three – debut novels (Floundering, by Romy AshThe Beloved by Annah Faulkner, The Mountain by Drusilla Modjeska). That was healthy, and augurs well for the future, but I wonder if we’ll see any debut novels by male authors in the shortlists this year? While I don’t report regularly on awards, I’ll certainly be keeping an eye out for new authors appearing on the scene – or, indeed, for more established authors making their debut on the award lists.

Meanwhile, of course, I’ll continue to read Aussie women for the Australian Women Writers’ Challenge, including Hannah Kent’s debut novel Burial rites which could very well give the men a run for their money this year if the buzz surrounding this book is right.

2014 looks to be another exciting year for Australian fiction. How do you – Aussies and otherwise – see your reading shaping up for the year?

16 Comments leave one →
  1. January 13, 2014 20:25

    Yes, we needed a term for the opposite of ‘sausage fest’ for last year’s excellent crop! 😉 I think we can add Alexis Wright’s ‘The Swan Book’ to the list of contenders this year, Sue. Presumably Kent’s novel, while deserving, will fail the pesky ‘Australian life’ parameter when it comes to the Miles Franklin, but it has more than a good shot at the Stella. That said, I think Wright will win the Stella. But it’s undoubtedly shaping up as a hotly contested year with great depth – just getting on the shortlists will be some achievement. John

    • January 13, 2014 20:39

      Oh yes, John, I was nearly going to mention Wright too but decided to not start down the path of listing women. I’m glad you did though. You’re right about Kent and the Miles Franklin – I haven’t read it yet, of course, but even with the relaxed criteria I expect it won’t fit from what I’ve heard. I think you are right about getting onto the shortlists this year.

      I also have The Swan Book here … finding time to read it is going to be the challenge – in fact, why don’t I get to my books now!

  2. January 13, 2014 21:52

    I’ve read Tom Keneally’s Shame and the Captives, Alexis Wright’s the Swan Book and Roger McDonald’s The Following and liked them all very much, and wouldn’t want to have to choose between them. However I am now about half way through Richard Flanagan’s The Slow Road to the Deep North and can see why there is such a buzz around this book, and since not everyone seems to love Eyrie The Slow Road might just take it out. It really is remarkable and Flanagan is long overdue for a big prize. He’s one of out finest writers.
    I’ll be reading Coal Creek too before long, and will read Eyrie to see what this departure in style means for Winton but have no intention of reading the Tsolkias unless it’s shortlisted. And possibly not even then…

    • January 13, 2014 21:59

      Thanks Lisa … I can’t wait to read the Flanagan. I really enjoy his writing and the subject of this one intrigues me. I certainly hope to read all these – including Barracuda which my bookgroup is doing – but who knows if I’ll make it!

  3. January 14, 2014 01:17

    Isn’t Flanagan’s book called The Narrow Road to the Deep North, not The Slow Road? It presumably takes its title from Basho’s book of that name.

    • January 14, 2014 07:34

      Sorry, you are so right … I will fix it! How terrible, particularly when it’s one I have.

  4. January 14, 2014 04:45

    It’s interesting to read that women have dominated the literary awards season in Australia over the last two years. I wonder if that is the case too in other places, like the 2013 Giller (Canadian), Booker, and the Nobel have all been awarded to women. And of course, the question that’s always on my mind… are there differences between men’s and women’s writing? I just finished Jo Baker’s Longbourn (in audiobook), have you read it? This same question occurred to me as I listened: Would a man have written it? Why or why not?

    • January 14, 2014 07:43

      It’s an interesting question Arti. I suspect some generalisations can be made but as soon as you make them you find exceptions! I plan to read Longbourn for my JA group in March, when we discuss servants in her books. I believe it’s pretty good? I don’t tend to read spin-offs and sequels.

  5. January 14, 2014 05:36

    Interesting to compare the ratio of young female to young male writers, too. Though I guess that aligns with your comment about debut authors? I feel like I have a comment/query in my head, but I can’t make it make sense when I write it, about “young folks these days” and what kind of writing is being nurtured/encouraged/dared.

    • January 14, 2014 07:45

      Hmmm, Hannah, as a young folk you need to explain a bit more, are you suggesting there’s a different kind of writing?

  6. ablay1 permalink
    January 14, 2014 07:15

    Can an older male be a debut author? We’re looking forward to Howard Goldenberg’s new novel ‘Carrots and Jaffas’. He has won acclaim for his non-fiction works but this is his first go at fiction.

    • January 14, 2014 07:48

      Oh yes he can Anna! That was the case with Drusilla Modkeska last year. I queried calling her a debut author but they argued The mountain was her first novel.

  7. January 14, 2014 19:15

    I’ve just received a copy of Barracuda and look forward to sinking my teeth into this! That will be my first foray into Australian novelists this year. I need to catch up on some Tim Winton.

    • January 14, 2014 21:43

      Sink your teeth into! Well said, Catherine! I’m looking forward to it too, when it comes up in my group which is a couple of months away yet.

  8. January 15, 2014 06:42

    Isn’t it fun to have so many good books to look forward to? I’ve not been paying too much attention to new and forthcoming books since I have so many old books I haven’t gotten to yet, but I am sure once you and others start talking more about them I will eventually give in to the urge to go crazy at the library 🙂

    • January 15, 2014 08:28

      LOL Stefanie, I don’t always keep up with new books either … So many under my nose to read as you say!

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