Monday musings on Australian literature: Favourite books 2022, Part 1: Fiction

Over recent years, I’ve shared favourite Aussie reads of the year from various sources, with the specific sources varying a little from time to time. This year, my main sources are The Sydney Morning Herald’s Best Reads of the Year chosen by writers, Readings bookshop’s Best Australian fiction, and ABC RN’s Bookshelf panel. As last year, the picks ranged far and wide, but in this post I am focusing on their Aussie fiction choices. All being well, I’ll do the Aussie nonfiction and poetry picks next week.

For what it’s worth, last year, I noted that five of the “favourite” novels were on my TBR. I can report that I did manage to read two of them, Larissa Behrendt’s After story (my review) and Anita Heiss’s Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray (my review). I’m pleased with that!

Novels

  • Robbie Arnott’s Limberlost: “a lovely assiduous book, which explores language and narrative with an old-fashioned joy” (Tom Keneally); “dignified and surprisingly conventional … gem” (Michael Winkler); “calling it (hopefully not cursing it) for next year’s Miles Franklin shortlist” (Jennifer Down); “further underlines his mastery of nature writing” (Jock Serong); “another gem” (Readings); (Cassie McCullagh); (Jason Steger) (on my TBR) (Lisa’s review)
  • Jessica Au’s Cold enough for snow: “a meditative, mesmerising novel” (Anna Funder); “all composure … the elegance of its composition … its meditative contemplation of a mother-daughter relationship” (Hannah Kent) ; “loved the voice and pace (and, well, everything)” (Victoria Hannan); “stayed with me for weeks after I finished it … quietly brilliant” (Robbie Arnott); “more like mists … atmospheres you move through” (Miles Allinson); “exquisite prose and hypnotic pace” (Readings); (Jason Steger) (Lisa’s review; mine coming soon)
  • Isobel Beech’s Sunbathing: “sensitive and lyrical work” (Readings)
  • Gabriel Bergmoser’s The hitchhiker: (Dani Vee)
  • Emily Bitto’s Wild abandon: “such lyricism and dead on the money imagery” (Tom Keneally)
  • Brendan Colley’s The signal line: “speculative gothic fiction … nails it” (Bram Presser)
  • Sophie Cunningham’s This devastating fever: (Emily Bitto); “triumph of tone and lightness” (Miles Allinson); (Jason Steger) (Brona’s review)
  • Paul Daley’s Jesustown: “just loved” (Anna Funder); “scarifying tale of missionary colonialism” (Jock Serong)
  • Rhett Davis’ Hovering: “original and blackly funny story” (Toni Jordan)
  • Robert Drewe’s Nimblefoot: “a bag of picaresque fun” (Tim Winton) (on my TBR)
  • Kate Forsyth’s The crimson thread: (Dani Vee)
  • Peggy Frew’s Wildflowers: “confronting, generous, infectious, acutely observed” (Craig Silvey)
  • Sulari Gentill’s The woman in the library: (Felix Shannon)
  • Michael Winkler’s Grimmish: (Kate Evans)
  • Chris Hammer’s The tilt: (Dani Vee); (Kate Evans)
  • Jane Harper’s Exiles: “captivating read” (Readings)
  • Jack Heath’s Kill your brother: (Dani Vee)
  • Adriane Howell’s Hydra: “genre-busting” (Bram Presser)
  • Pirooz Jafari’s Forty nights: (Emily Bitto)
  • Gail Jones’ Salonika burning: “Dazzles again” (Readings); (Kate Evans) (Lisa’s review)
  • Yumna Kassab’s Australiana: (Emily Bitto); “lyrical, intimate” (Readings)
  • Hannah Kent’s Devotion: “aching and illuminating” (Trent Dalton)
  • Tracey Lien’s All that’s left unsaid: “gripping drama with unforgettable characters” (Readings)
  • Kate McCaffrey’s Double lives: “a really interesting hybrid-transcript format” (Felix Shannon)
  • Scott McCulloch’s Basin: “brutal, apocalyptic” (Miles Allinson)
  • Fiona McFarlane’s The sun walks down: (Emily Bitto); “mesmerising … inclusive … electrifying” (Michelle de Kretser); “best novel I’ve ever read about 19th-century Australia” (Geraldine Brooks); (Jason Steger); (Kate Evans)
  • Fiona Kelly McGregor’s Iris: “The most extraordinary evocation of 1930s Sydney” (Hannah Kent); “vivid and compelling” (Lucy Treloar); “a luscious read” (Readings)
  • Meg Mason’s Sorrow and bliss: “unique and improbable: a witty novel about depression” (Geraldine Brooks) (Kimbofo’s review)
  • Gillian Mears’ Fineflour: “revisit” (Jennifer Down)
  • Paddy O’Reilly’s Other houses: “powerful and captivating depiction of class” (Lucy Treloar); “as gripping as a thriller and yet so tender” (Toni Jordan) (on my TBR) (Lisa’s review)
  • Adam Ouston’s Waypoints: “a literary spectacle” (Bram Presser); “ambitious, Lissajous-curved” (Michale Winkler); “hypnotic and intricately layered … very funny” (Robbie Arnott)
  • Caroline Petit’s The natural history of love: “historical pick” (Toni Jordan)
  • Hayley Scrivenor’s Dirt Creek: “a brilliant take on its varied perspectives” (Felix Shannon); (Kate Evans)
  • Jock Serong’s The settlement: “powerful evocation of colonialism with a reverberant message” (Michael Winkler)
  • Holden Sheppard’s The brink: (Dani Vee)
  • Inga Simpson’s Willowman: “will almost certainly become a new Australian classic” (Readings); (Kate Evans)
  • Steve Toltz’s Here goes nothing: (Cassie McCullagh); (Kate Evans)
  • Emma Viskic’s Those who perish: “writing as immaculate as ever” (Lucy Treloar)
  • Chris Womersley’s The diplomat: “fabulous” (Miles Allinson)

Short stories

  • Kevin Brophy’s The lion in love: (Emily Bitto) (Lisa’s review) (on my TBR)
  • Bryan Brown’s Sweet Jimmy: “frequently hilarious collection of crime yarns” (Trent Dalton)
  • Else Fitzgerald’s Everything feels like the end of the world: (Emily Bitto); “standout post-human climate fiction” (Laura Jean McKay); “inventive and humane” (Craig Silvey)
  • Chris Flynn’s Here be Leviathans: “keeps giving with stories that entertain and make you think” (Pip Williams) (on my TBR)
  • Katerina Gibson’s Women I know: “sardonic, surprising” (Miles Allinson)
  • Mirandi Riwoe’s Burnished sun: a realist beauty that decentres dominant narratives” (Laura Jean McKay)
  • Ben Walter’s What fear was: “a hymn of place, a bravura display of sentence-smithing…” (Michael Winkler)

Finally …

It’s interesting to see what books feature most. Popularity doesn’t equal quality, but it does provides a guide to the books that attracted the most attention in the year. One of last year’s most frequent mentions was this year’s Miles Franklin winner, Jennifer Down’s Bodies of light. Will the same happen to one of this year’s most frequently mentioned books?

Several books were mentioned twice, but these received three or more mentions:

  • Robbie Arnott’s Limberlost; Jessica Au’s Cold enough for snow (7 each)
  • Fiona McFarlane’s The sun walks down (5)
  • Sophie Cunninghma’s This devastating fever; Else Fizgerald’s Everything feels like the end of the world; Fiona Kelly McGregor’s Iris; Adam Ouston’s Waypoints (3 each)

Another interesting thing about lists is discovering new books. There are several in the above lists that I’ve never heard of, because they are genre books. That’s the serendipity that can happen in lists like this. However, there are some here that I hadn’t heard of but that grabbed my attention, like Pirooz Jafari’s Forty nights, Adam Ouston’s Waypoints, and Else Fitzgerald’s Everything feels like the end of the world. You?

Thoughts, anyone – on this or lists from your neck of theod

33 thoughts on “Monday musings on Australian literature: Favourite books 2022, Part 1: Fiction

  1. I’ve read and loved several books on this list, including those by Jock Serong, Paddy O’Reilly, Chris Flynn , Emily Bitto, Sulari Gentille, Jane Harper and Emma Viskic. Adding Fiona McFarlane’s The Sun Walks Down to the list of books I’m buying myself for Xmas 😀

    • Thanks Cathy … yes’m looking forward to Limberlost too. It certainly sounds like it’s one of THE books to read right now. My reading group scheduled it for next year so I KNOW that I’ll be reading it.

  2. Yours is the second list today I’ve seen featuring Limberlost. Its waiting on my review pile so I’m excited to read it. Jessica Au is on my radar as well. Have heard such good things about Cold Enough for Snow.

    • Thanks Mallika … I think it’s going to be on several lists this year. And, I can recommend Cold enough for snow, as I’ve just finished it. But Christmas dos are playing havoc with my ability to read and to write the reviews so there’s a review ahead of it which I hope (hope being the operative word!) to post tomorrow, and then get to Au’s book on the weekend.

  3. Thanks for the mention… but wait! there’s more!!

    Brendan Colley’s The Signal Line: https://anzlitlovers.com/2022/04/19/the-signal-line-by-brendan-colley/
    Robert Drewe’s Nimblefoot: https://anzlitlovers.com/2022/08/11/nimblefoot-by-robert-drewe/
    Rhett Davis’ Hovering: https://anzlitlovers.com/2022/05/05/hovering-by-rhett-davis/
    Adriane Howell’s Hydra: https://anzlitlovers.com/2022/07/19/hydra-by-adriane-howell/

    I’ve just picked up Fiona Kelly McGregor’s Iris from the library. It looks good so far.
    I’m surprised that Angela Meyer’s Moon Sugar isn’t there, when some other books that I started but abandoned have made the cut. No accounting for tastes, but she’ll be disappointed as I’m sure other authors are when they’re omitted.

    As always, I am dithering about whether to do a list of my own. I am too tired to even think about it at the moment…

    And to save you looking it up again because your link is dead, here’s https://anzlitlovers.com/2022/04/03/other-houses-by-paddy-oreilly-and-a-shout-out-to-the-social-novel-from-jane-caro/

      • Ha! I’ll have you know that as well as Nimblefoot I have reviewed books featuring cricket, including The Taliban Cricket Club, by Timeri N Murari, Chinaman The Legend of Pradeep Mathew, by Shehan Karunatilaka, Spinner by Ron Elliot, and The Gift of Speed by Steven Carroll, plus a book featuring football i.e. The Family Men, by Catherine Harris and a New Zealand one about rugby The Book of Fame, by Lloyd Jones.
        LOL Maybe I should set up a category for sport, to make it easy for you to find them next time!

  4. Hi Sue, my TBR list grew over the weekend, it is now at 45. So many books listed above have caught my attention. I have read quite a few, and I am now reading Exiles. Wild Abandon and The Signal Line, are good reads, and are still popping up in my mind.

    • And you’ll read all those in a month or so, Meg! I wanted to read Wild abandon but I just haven’t seemed to have got to it. Of those above that you’ve read, which would you recommend for me if I asked you to name three? (Don’t answer if you’d rather not … but I would be interested in your thoughts.)

  5. I think Edison Yongai’s two books – NO NAME FOR REFUGEES and THE BOY AND THE HOMELESSMAN – are also popular and the author is an Australian citizen.

  6. I’m glad that Emma Viskic was there at the end of your list. At least I’d read one. Most of the others I have barely been aware of. Usually there are half a dozen books each year which dominate the discussions. What would they be this year? Grimmish certainly; Cold Enough for Snow; Limberlost; after that I’m struggling.

    • We’ll done Bill … I’ve only read Jessica Au. And that only just before I did this list.

      Good question re which books … it’s not a year like some have been is it? Or, is it just us.

  7. I’ve read five from the list, but one was last year (Cold Enough for Snow) as I had an ARC, so it was in my top reads for 2021. Limberlost, This Devastating Fever and The Sun Walks Down will be fighting it out for the top spot in my personal top reads of 2022. All very different, but magnificent in their own ways.

    I have the Else Fitzgerald for Bill’s Gen 5. I’d be keen to read the Riwoe short stories – loved her previous book. Wildflower is my next lunchtime read at work and I have All That’s Left Unsaid on my TBR as well.

    Willowman is getting some good press, but not sure I want to read a book about cricket. And the 4 Lucy books are just lovely, although reading the first three books during our Covid lockdown Christmas last year has now forever linked them to the pandemic in my mind.

  8. I can just picture you holding Anita Heiss’s Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray, and someone asks, “What are you reading?” My first response would be “a mouthful,” but then I would feel terrible for not knowing how to say the title.

  9. Happily Limberlost and Sunbathing are in my summer reading stack. Surprised that Victoria Hannan’s Marshmallow wasn’t there (also in my summer reading), given Kokomo was so well received.

    • Oh thanks Kate … I was given Limberlost for Christmas which I’m thrilled about but will save it until my reading group does it next year. I did the schedule but can’t recollect when that will be. (I think I tried to schedule it before the MF as people seem to think it will be shortlisted!) I hadn’t heard of Marshmallow, but I have really been quite out of it this year in terms of keeping up with the literary zeitgeist.

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