ABR’s Top Twenty Aussie novels of the 21st Century

Ten years after publishing its first ABR readers fan poll, the Australian Book Review asked its readers again to nominate their best Australian novels, but to keep it to those published this century. In its intro to the resultant list, ABR says that Richard Flanagan’s novel The narrow road to the deep north emerged as the clear winner. It also noted that Tim Winton’s Breath came fourth as it did in the original FAN Poll for the best Australian novel of all time. (That poll was won by Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet). Two other books appeared in the top ten (I think they mean) of the two lists: Alexis Wright’s Carpentaria and Christos Tsiolkas’ The Slap.

In my report of that first poll, I wondered whether Breath’s high ranking was “largely due to its still being fresh in people’s minds”. Clearly it’s more than that, which is fine with me because it’s a book that has remained vivid for me.

You can see the whole list, plus reviews and interviews for the Top Ten, on ABR’s page.

The top twenty

  1. Richard Flanagan’s The narrow road to the deep north (2013) (my review)
  2. Trent Dalton’s Boy swallows universe (2108) (my review)
  3. Alexis Wright’s Carpentaria (2006) (my review)
  4. Tim Winton’s Breath (2008) (my review of sorts)
  5. Markus Zusak’s The book thief (2005) (my review)
  6. Peter Carey’s True history of the Kelly Gang (2000) (read before blogging)
  7. Heather Rose’s The museum of modern love (2016) (my review)
  8. Charlotte Woods’ The natural way of things (my review)
  9. Christos Tsiolkas’ The slap (2008) (my review)
  10. Hannah Kent’s  Burial rites (2013) (my review)
  11. Craig Silvey’s Jasper Jones (2009) (my review)
  12. Michelle de Kretser’s Questions of travel (2012) (my review)
  13. Jane Harper’s The dry (2016)
  14. Kate Grenville’s The secret river (2005) (read before blogging)
  15. David Malouf’s Ransom (2009) (my review)
  16. Peter Temple’s Truth (2008) (my review)
  17. Steve Toltz’s A fraction of the whole (2008) (my review)
  18. Gillian Mears’ Foal’s bread (2011) (my review)
  19. Kim Scott’s That deadman dance (2010) (my review)
  20. Shirley Hazzard’s The great fire (2003) (read before blogging)

Comments? Not many. After all I’m on the road in Japan and my time is short. I am astonished though, to discover that I’ve read nineteen of the top twenty, and most of those I’d regard as worthy of faring well in such a list. Some of course are very recent, and may not appear in ten years time, given the century is so young. Nine of the twenty are by women, which is a fair representation, and two are by indigenous writers. There’s also some immigrant literature here, that is, fiction dealing with issues relating to our multicultural society. There are coming of age stories, some crime, a dystopian novel, and quite a bit of historical fiction. There are books grappling with our uncomfortable history, and there are quieter more contemplative books. In other words, a broad range.

Although there are notable omissions – Murnane springs to mind, for example, but there are many many others – I’m not going to get into what I think should or shouldn’t be here. Sorry!

Thanks to Colin Steele who organises ANU/The Canberra Times Meet the Author events that I try to attend.

And now, over to you. I have a train to catch.

33 thoughts on “ABR’s Top Twenty Aussie novels of the 21st Century

  1. Well, you’re ahead of me, Sue, I’ve only read 16, but have no intention of reading things like The Dry or Burial Rites. (I did actually try that but abandoned it).
    But this is a good reminder that I really should get round to reading True History of the Kelly Gang, I’ve never subscribed to the Kelly legend but I suppose I should get over that!

  2. I’ve read 10 out of the 20 and endorse all but Jasper Jones for their ranking in the top 20. I just don’t see what people respond to in JJ, which felt hackneyed and derivative to me. Keep on enjoying Japan, Sue. Are you getting to Naoshima or the other ‘art islands’?

  3. Super impressed but not really all that suprised that you have read almost all of the top 20. Thanks to you, I have read number one 🙂 I hope you are having a great time in Japan!

  4. Hi Sue, I am travelling too but in Europe. I have read them all I would have had some different choices but I was pleased to see Peter Carey’s and Shirley Hazard’s novels still ranked highly. Enjoy Japan, I hope the weather is improving.

    • Me too Meg (re different choices, I mean,)

      As for Japan, we’ve been unbelievably lucky with the weather, actually. Almost no rain during the day to affect our sight-seeing for ten days.

      Where are you in Europe?

  5. I am in Beaudapest. Travelling through parts of central Europe; Germany, Austria, Czech, Slovakia,. I will then have 10 days in France catching up with a primary school friend. Love travelling in Japan. Keep enjoying.

  6. I’ve read 13 and have a couple more on the shelf. I reckon this is a pretty good list and had I voted, some of my nominations would have made it – Kent, Wood, Rose, Zuzak, Flannagan. I loved Boy Swallows Universe but realise it’s fresh in our minds – will it endure? Time will tell. Other authors on my list would be Sofie Laguna, Carrie Tiffany, Sonya Hartnett, Favel Parrett, Elliot Perlmann.

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