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Miles Franklin Award 2014

June 26, 2014
Evie Wyld, All the birds, singing

Courtesy: Random House Australia

Well, the Miles Franklin Award judges have announced the winner of the 2014 award, and it is Evie Wyld’s All the birds, singing – the only shortlisted book I’ve read! How lucky am I? Check my review, if you are interested.

I loved All the birds, singing, and agree with the judges that it is  “spare, yet pitch perfect”, and both “visceral and powerfully measured in tone”. It’s a story about coming to terms with the past, about redemption. As I said in my review, it’s not the first book to deal with this subject but it is tight, powerful, evocative.

From my understanding of the award, Wyld, now apparently permanently resident in England, meets the requirements which are that, to quote the press release, the work must be “of the highest literary merit” and present “Australian Life in any of its phases”. Wyld is a dual national with an Australian mother*, and does, I understand, return to Australia from time to time. However, I don’t believe the rules state that the winner must be resident in Australia, or be Australian. They do state that the book must be in English and must represent Australia in content. Wyld’s book, set partly in Australia and partly in England, meets both these requirements.

The other shortlisted titles were:

  • Richard Flanagan’s Narrow road to the deep north (on my TBR, and to be read late this year)
  • Fiona McFarlane’s The night guest
  • Cory Taylor’s My beautiful enemy
  • Alexis White’s The swan book (on my TBR)
  • Tim Winton’s Eyrie (on my TBR – unfortunately I was away when my reading group did this)

* I initially wrote here that she was born in Australia. I’ve seen so many stories about her origins and her relationship with Australia, but I understand now that she was born in England, has lived here, still has family here, and visits here. All this though is not relevant to the award, as I understand it.

30 Comments leave one →
  1. June 26, 2014 8:27 pm

    Wow! I had it at fifth place – not because it’s bad, it just seemed such an unlikely choice. Good on her!

    • June 26, 2014 8:31 pm

      Yes, Jane, I must say I thought wasn’t expecting it … I thought probably the Flanagan or the Wright but not having read them I really couldn’t compare. I love the fact that a slim tight novel won it though. Small can be beautiful!

      • June 26, 2014 8:38 pm

        I really wanted the Swan Book to win, but also loved My Beautiful Enemy. Not at all a fan of Narrow Road (sorry!). Apparently Tim Winton has never not won when shortlisted, so he must be a bit bummed.

        • June 26, 2014 8:42 pm

          Oh I didn’t know that Jane. He has won four times, equalling Thea Astley’s record four times, so he shouldn’t be too bummed. I guess there has to be the first time! He can now relax!

  2. June 26, 2014 8:34 pm

    I liked it to and also the only one I have read. One of my book group was totally put off because it was suggested that the sheep property was in north WA. This put her off whole book.
    I thought she really captured place.

    • June 26, 2014 8:38 pm

      Thanks bmpermie. We are in the same boat then. Why did that location put her off? I thought she captured place, and sheep station/bush culture well.

      • June 26, 2014 9:14 pm

        I agree about how she captured place and sheep station well but the other member thought she had located a sheep station in a part of the country that does not support sheep. This got in the way of the rest of the novel for her.
        The relevance of the location passed me by.

        • June 26, 2014 9:27 pm

          I wondered if that’s what she meant … that sort of realism doesn’t really bother me, never has. I can’t recollect exactly where the stations were in the Australia bits. Clearly the Miles Franklin judges either didn’t feel that it was wrong or they didn’t know or it didn’t worry them. It would be interesting to know now you’ve raised it.

  3. Meg permalink
    June 26, 2014 8:35 pm

    I found this book strange and surreal, but also thought it was a great read. It was a difficult choice for the judges to make this year, as the standard was excellent. I thought Narrow Road to the North would win, but it is great that a new author who writes about Australia has has been introduced to readers.

    • June 26, 2014 8:39 pm

      I can’t wait to read the Flanagan Meg. You are right that it looked like a really excellent shortlist. It is lovely seeing emerging writers win awards like this. Gives them such a lift. I also like the fact that something short and tight won.

  4. June 26, 2014 9:38 pm

    It’s good to see this book winning prizes – I absolutely loved reading it. Like you, I haven’t read any of the others on the shortlist, although I’m about to start Fiona McFarlane’s The Night Guest which I’m looking forward to.

    • June 26, 2014 9:53 pm

      Thanks Gemma, glad you liked it too. I haven’t got The night guest, but I would very much like to read it.

  5. June 26, 2014 10:15 pm

    Good choice judges!

  6. June 26, 2014 10:40 pm

    Look forward to hearing what you make of Flanagan’s book, Sue. I didn’t love it, found it difficult to connect with, but it is beautifully written, is a worthy subject and is large in scope and ambition. I expected him to win and wouldn’t have begrudged him if he did. Also read Eyrie, twice actually, to make sure it was as good as I thought on first reading. It was. Preferred it to Breath, but not as much as Dirt Music and Cloudstreet. Again, beautifully written and to my thinking different for Winton. Urban to start with. Great characters and characterisation, powerful themes. And mysterious. I loved Birds, and was so surprised she won because it’s a small book compared to Flanagan, Winton and Wright (which I have, but not read). I have to say I’m quite stunned at the result but it’s deserving. Beautifully written again, and interesting,original and fresh. But I was *certain* it would go to one of the names, and I love that it wasn’t a predictable result.

    • June 26, 2014 11:05 pm

      Thanks Jenny for this extended response. I was surprised too, I must admit, but am very happy as you can tell. It’s an intriguing win. I was sorry I missed reading Eyrie with my group. I was travelling in north America at the time and just didn’t read much at all. They had mixed feelings I believe. Now I have to find time to read it on my own and that will be hard. I actually liked Breath more than Dirt music, but of course loved Cloudstreet. I also really enjoyed The turning.

      I’ve heard so much about Flanagan’s book that I’m really looking forward to reading it. Somehow I thought it might win because of the buzz out there about it, but it’s not winning the awards it’s been shortlisted for is it? Maybe it will win the Prime Minister’s prize (if we ever hear about that?)

      I think you asked Lisa about the judges? They are on the Award website: Richard (I think) Neville (the State Librarian in NSW), Murray Waldren (journalist), Anna Low (bookseller), Craig Munro (biographer, editor), and Susan Sheridan (academic).

      • June 26, 2014 11:19 pm

        Thanks for your reply and the judges’ names.

        I liked The Turning as well.

        I am confused about conversation around whether Wyld is Australian or not. She was born here so she is Australian. She wrote about Australia. Doesn’t matter where she lives now or how she identifies. People can identify & feel connected to more than one place. Maybe the prize is moving towards an opening up though, like the Man Booker? Anyway, all interesting questions for tomorrow maybe. I’m going to bed now. Goodnight!

        • June 26, 2014 11:55 pm

          Yes, I agree Jenny. Her mother was Australian I believe, and her father English. The fact that she makes England her home now doesn’t really deny her Australian-ness. I think she meets the prize conditions as they have been for a long time – if not always – i.e. the subject matter is Australian and from my reading of the rules there’s nothing about residency or citizenship of the author. Lisa feels differently (and she and I discuss it pretty much every year)… but I’ll let her speak for herself on that. Goodnight too.

  7. June 26, 2014 10:58 pm

    Hi Sue, for once I’ve read more than you! I’ve read the Wyld, Flanagan, Wright, and McFarlane novels. There is indeed no rule that states an author must be Australian. So we can’t blame Wyld for being more British than Aussie. Her novel qualifies, end of story. We can debate whether that’s good or not, but as it stands she’s in. My vote? I am torn between the Flanagan and the Wright. I think All the Birds runs them close. It’s an interesting choice, that’s for sure. One thing is for sure: there’ll be loads of debate! John

    • June 26, 2014 11:10 pm

      For once! That’s underselling yourself I think John. I tend to not push to read the MF books but read what I can when I can. That said, I should have read Eyrie with my group. I’d like to have read the Flanagan before and the Wright both of which I have here.

      Must say I was surprised but not disappointed – from the buzz they all sound like good books. Maybe the MF panel wanted to encourage controversy, says she cynically. It keeps our literary culture alive.

  8. June 27, 2014 8:47 am

    I’m a bit sad that Cory Taylor’s amazing ‘My Beautiful Enemy’ will just vanish from view after this. No one is talking about it as having been a potential winner (in fact, it seems almost no one has read it!). Narrow Road, Swan Book and Eyrie will continue to get an audience because they’re such big name books, and I think the Night Guest has had a high enough profile that it won’t disappear from our consciousness for some time. But poor old My Beautiful Enemy. I thought it was So Much Better than the Flanagan…

    • June 27, 2014 2:40 pm

      Yes, that’s the worry with lesser known books like this isn’t it Jane? Why does one book get the buzz and another not. I suspect quality of writing and ideas has little to do with it. I gave Taylor’s book as a gift a few months ago but haven’t read it myself. It sounds interesting too … I mean like you say McFarlane’s is.

  9. Jim KABLE permalink
    June 27, 2014 10:24 pm

    Thanks WG – prompting me to-day to read the Evie Wyld book which I had downloaded months ago after reading a positive review! It had become figuratively buried beneath other purchase/downloads! Interesting book – dark build up – but the denouement I found not as satisfying/believable as I had hoped. Gothic overwrite! But withal I am pleased she was awarded her writing Blue. FLANAGAN’s book though was stunning for me – and given my 16 years in Japan and intense personal exploration of the issues/themes covered by his story – brilliant in his understanding – and portrayal! Had he won the prize I would not have been surprised.

    • June 28, 2014 4:31 pm

      Thanks Jim … I know what you mean about forgetting e-books. I have now reorganised my collections to have a to be read one to enable me to quickly identify those I’ve not read. I hope this will help me. I am looking forward to reading Flanagan.

  10. June 28, 2014 7:40 am

    How fun that of all the books on the list the one that won is the one you read. I know for me that never happens! Do you have plans to read any of the other nominees?

    • June 28, 2014 4:38 pm

      Yes, Stefanie I do. Definitely the Flanagan with my Bookgroup, and the others when I can. They all look like ones I want to read.

  11. chillcat permalink
    June 29, 2014 5:51 pm

    What a wonderful win for Evie! I enjoyed her first novel and am looking forward to reading this. I’d like to read the whole list!

    • June 29, 2014 6:26 pm

      Oh thanks Catherine. I’d like to read her first one. It apparently won at least one award too.

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