Monday musings on Australian literature: Some New Releases in 2022

For several years now, my first Monday Musings of the year has focused on “new releases”. As before, it is mostly drawn from the Sydney Morning Herald. Their writers do a wonderful job of surveying publishers large and small, but I have found a few more on my own! Also, remember, this is Monday musings on Australian literature post, so focuses on Australian authors. Do click on the SMH link to see the full list, which includes non-Aussies, Aussies I haven’t selected, and some additional book info.

Links on the authors’ names are to my posts on those authors.

Fiction

Last year, I listed over 30 fiction works, including short story collections, and read very few – though have some on my TBR. Here’s this year’s selection:

  • Robbie Arnott, Limberlost (October, Text)
  • Jessica Au, Cold enough for snow (February, Giramondo): Brona’s advanced review
  • Mandy Beaumont, The furies (February, Hachette)
  • Geraldine BrooksHorse (June, Hachette)
  • Michelle Cahill, Daisy and Woolf (April, Hachette)
  • Jay Carmichael, Marlo, 1953 (August, Scribe)
  • Steven Carroll, Goodnight, Vivienne, Goodnight (March, 4th Estate): final in the Eliot Quartet
  • Shankari Chandran, Chai time at Cinnamon Gardens (January, Ultimo Press)
  • Claire G. ColemanEnclave (July, Hachette) 
  • Gregory Day, The bell in the world (December, Transit Lounge)
  • Ceridwen Dovey and Eliza Bell, Mothertongues (April, PRH): “experimental book of bio-autofiction about early motherhood”, a genre-bender?
  • Robert Drewe, Nimblefoot (June, PRH)
  • Nigel Featherstone, My heart is a little wild thing (no date, Ultimo Press)
  • Victoria Hannan, Marshmallow (September, Hachette)
  • Hilde Hinton, The loudness of unsaid things (April, Hachette)
  • Gail Jones, no title yet (November, Text)
  • Yumna Kassab, Australiana (March, Ultimo)
  • Tom Keneally, Dancing the Liberty Dance (August, PRH)
  • Tom Lee, Object coach (November, Upswell)
  • Robert Lukins, Loveland (Allen & Unwin, March)  
  • Fiona McGregor, Iris (October, Picador)
  • Holly Ringland, The seven skins of Esther Wilding (June, 4th Estate) 
  • Philip Salom, Sweeney and the bicycles (November, Transit Lounge)
  • Wendy Scarfe, One bright morning (March, Wakefield)
  • Jock Serong, The settlement (September, Text)
  • Craig Sherborne, The Grass Hotel (February, Text)
  • Inga Simpson, Willowman (November, Hachette)
  • Steve Toltz, Here goes nothing (May, PRH)
  • Pip Williams, The bookbinder of Jericho (November, Affirm). 
  • Dominique Wilson, Orphan Rock (March, Transit Lounge)
  • Alexis WrightPraiseworthy (October, Giramondo)

SMH lists many books under Thrills and Chills, but this is not my area of expertise. So, I’m going to leave you to check SMH’s link if you are interested, and just bring a couple to your attention:

SMH also lists Debut Australian fiction. Most of these names are, by definition, unknown, so I’m sharing them by publisher:

  • Affirm: Omar Sakr, Son of Sin (February: poet moving into fiction)
  • Allen & Unwin (A&U): Isobel Beech, Sunbathing (May); Emily Brugman, The Islands (February)
  • Finlay Lloyd: Sandy Gordon, Leaving Owl Creek (February: on my TBR)
  • Fremantle Press: Brooke Dunnell, The glass house (November: Fogarty Literary Award winner)
  • Hachette: Megan Albany, The very last list of Vivian Walker (February: First Nations); Rhett Davis, Hovering (February: won the 2020 Victorian Premier’s Award for an Unpublished Manuscript)
  • Harper/Collins: Kimberley Allsopp, Love and other puzzles (February)
  • Picador: Jessica Stanley, A Great Hope (February)
  • Penguin Random House (PRH): Clare Fletcher, Five bush weddings (September); Ashley Goldberg, Abomination (May); Lizzie Pook, Moonlight and the Pearler’s Daughter (February); Justin Smith, Cooper not out (January)
  • S&S: James Weir, The Hemsworth effect (June)
  • Scribe: Sam Wallman, Our members be unlimited (May: graphic novel)
  • Transit Lounge: Brendan Colley, The signal line (May); Alan Fyfe (T, September); Adriane Howell, Hydra (August)
  • Ultimo: Pirooz Jafari, Forty nights (July)
  • UQP: Al Campbell, The keepers (February); George Haddad, Losing face (May)

Short stories

  • Ennis Cehic, Sadvertising (March, PRH)
  • lse Fitzgerald, Everything feels like the end of the world (April, A&U)
  • Chris Flynn, Here be Leviathans (second half, UQP)
  • Kat Gibson, Women I know (May, Scribner)
  • Mirandi Riwoe,The burnished sun (April, UQP)
  • Andrew Roff, The teeth of a slow machine (March, Wakefield Press) 
  • Maria Samuela, Beats of the Pa’u (March, Victoria University Press)

Non-fiction

SMH provides a long, long list of new non-fiction books covering a huge range of topics, so my lists here are highly selective.

Life-writing (loosely defined, and focused mainly on the arts and activism)

  • Carmel BirdTelltale: Reading, writing, remembering (July, Transit Lounge): need I say more?
  • Nick Cave, Faith, hope and carnage (October, Text): reflection on son Arthur’s death
  • Jessie Cole, Desire (August, Text): memoir
  • Jim Davidson, Emperors in Liliput: Clem Christesen of Meanjin and Stephen Murray-Smith of Overland (October, MUP): on these two literary journals and their editors
  • Aaron Fa’Aoso, So far, so good, (September, Pantera Press): memoir of Black Comedy star
  • Anna Funder, Wifedom (September, PRH): on George Orwell’s first wife; billed as a “blazing feminist masterpiece”
  • Hannah Gadsby, Ten steps to Nanette (April, A&U): memoir
  • Kate GrenvilleA room made of leaves: Elizabeth Macarthur’s letters (April, Text): non-fiction accompaniment to the novel 
  • Brittany Higgins, no title (October, PRH): memoir of activist
  • Nathan Hobby, The red witch (May, MUP): biography of Katharine Susannah Prichard (been waiting for this) 
  • Anita Jacoby, Secrets beyond the screen, May, Ventura): television producer’s memoir
  • Lee Kofman, The writer laid bare (March, Ventura)
  • Wendy McCarthy, Don’t be too polite, girls (March, A&U): activist/feminist’s memoir
  • Paddy Manning, Sly fox (November, Black Inc): unauthorised biography of Lachlan Murdoch
  • Patti Miller,True Friends (April, UQP): memoir
  • Brenda NiallMy accidental career (March, Text): biographer’s memoir 
  • Rick Morton (ed), Growing up in country Australia (April, Black Inc)
  • Ann-Marie Priest, My tongue is my own (May, La Trobe University Press): biography of poet Gwen Harwood
  • Magda Szubanski, no title (second half, Text): memoir
  • Simon Tedeschi, Fugitive (May, Upswell): pianist, “straddles the borders of poetry and prose, fiction and fact, trauma and testimony”
  • Tom Tilley, Speaking in tongues (September, ABC Books): broadcaster’s memoir

SMH also lists several biographies and memoirs on/by politicians, past and present, but, as last year, I’m taking a break from parliamentary politics. (Do check SMH’s link, if you are interested.)

Essay collections

  • Eda Gunaydin, Root and branch (May, NewSouth): race, genre and migration
  • Eliza Hull (ed), We’ve got this (March, Black Inc): by parents who identify as deaf, disabled or chronically ill
  • Kim Mahood, Wandering with Intent (October, Scribe)
  • Pantera Press anthology of Liminal and Pantera Press Nonfiction Prize longlist (August)

History and other non-fiction

  • Anna Clark, Making Australian history (February, PRH)
  • David Duffy, Nabbing Ned Kelly (March, A&U)
  • Meg Foster, Boundary crossers (November, NewSouth): Aboriginal, African-American, Chinese and female bushrangers
  • Duane Hamacher, The first astronomers (March, A&U): First Peoples’ knowledge of the stars; Hamacher is not First Nations, but did I believe work closely with Indigenous elders
  • Leah Lui-Chivizhe, Masked histories: Turtle shell masks and Torres Straight Islander People (July, MUP): First Nations author
  • David Marr, A family business (November, Black Inc): our colonial past
  • Elizabeth Tynan, The secret of Emu Field (May, NewSouth): the first British atomic test site, South Australia
  • Don Watson, The passion of Private White (October, Scribner): the 50-year-old relationship between anthropologist and veteran Neville White and Aboriginal clans of remote northern Australia

Some current-interest topics being written about, include:

  • Women and the “home-front”: Tabitha Carvan, This is not a book about Benedict Cumberbatch (March, HarperCollins: joy in women’s lives); Eloise Grills, Big beautiful female theory (July, Affirm); Sonia Orchard, The female of the species (September, Affirm: the “science of womanhood”); Sian Prior, Childless (April, Text: living without children); Gina Rushton, The most important job in the world (April, Pan Macmillan: choosing motherhood).
  • Politics and current affairs: Allan Behm, No enemies, no friends (March, Upswell: on Australia’s diplomatic relationships); Ed Coper, Facts and other lies (February, A&U: on disinformation); Jo Dyer, Burning down the house (February, Monash University Press: rethinking our political system); Osman Faruqi, The racist country (August, PRH); Samantha Maiden, Open secrets (no date, HarperCollins: on the Canberra bubble); Andrew Quilty, Fall of Kabul (August, MUP); Matthew Ricketson and Patrick Mullins, Who needs the ABC? (April, Scribe).

Interestingly, I see little this year on COVID-19 and climate change, compared with last year. Nor much about our big women’s issue of 2021, except for Brittany Higgins’ memoir coming out. Why?

Poetry

Finally, if you love poetry, do check the link, but these might whet your appetite:

  • Lisa Gorton, Mirabilia (August, Giramondo)
  • Sarah Holland-Batt, The Jaguar (May, UQP)
  • John Kinsella and Charmaine Papertalk Green, Art (June, Magabala Books)
  • Les Murray, Continous creation (March, Black Inc): final posthumous collection
  • Tracy Ryan, Rose interior (April, Giramondo)

New publisher Upswell and the established Fremantle Press also have poetry collections coming …

Anything here grab your attention?

Reading highlights for 2021

Regulars know that my annual Reading Highlights post is my version of a Top Reads post. It’s my way of sharing highlights from my reading year without actually ranking books or nominating a “best” which I just can’t do.

I don’t, as I say each year, set reading goals, but my “rules of thumb” include trying to reduce the TBR pile, increasing my reading of Indigenous authors, and reading some non-anglo literature. This year was another difficult one – of which COVID-19 was only a part. Consequently, once again, I didn’t make great inroads into these … but there were highlights.

Literary highlights

My literary highlights, aka literary events, were, for the same obvious reasons as last year, mostly online – except that I seemed to attend fewer than last year. I don’t think it was that I was Zoomed-out so much as that times just didn’t seem to suit. However, those I attended were excellent:

  • Sydney Writers Festival: Live and Local: Many online festivals – some solely online, and some hybrid – were offered over the year, but I only attended a couple of sessions from the now well-established Sydney Writers Festival streamed series: one featuring Sarah Krasnostein in conversation with Maria Tumarkin, and the other Richard Flanagan with Laura Tingle.
  • F*ck Covid: An online literary affair: This event, organised by the ACT Writers Centre, was a mini-festival. It comprised two sessions, both convened by Nigel Featherstone: one featured established authors (Irma Gold and Mark Brandi) and the other, emerging authors (Shu-Ling Chua and Sneha Lees). It was a most enjoyable and enlightening afternoon.
  • Stella: The Stella Prize is coming up for its 10th year – can you believe it – so they put on a little online celebratory event, Stella … 10 Years. It featured three previous winning or short-listed authors – Carrie Tiffany, Emily Bitto and Claire G. Coleman. It was brief, but I liked that the questions were a little different to the usual ones you get at a book launch.
  • Author interviews/book launches: With COVID-19 abounding, there weren’t many in-person book launches, but we did get to a couple: Irma Gold’s debut novel The breaking, and Omar Musa’s gorgeous book, Killernova.

Reading highlights

What follows here are highlights based on what I love about – or in my – reading.

So, I love …

  • reading First Nations Australian authors: Each year I try to ensure my reading diet includes First Nations authors, and this year I read quite a variety: Jasmine Seymour and Leanne Mulgo Watson’s Cooee mittigar (picture book), Carl Merrison and Hakea Hustler’s Black cockatoo (children’s/YA novel), Nardi Simpson’s Song of the crocodile (novel), Adam Thompson’s Born into this (short story collection), Alf Taylor’s God, the devil and me and Cindy Solonec’s Debesa (memoirs).
  • it when my reading connects in some way: This year, for example, Sarah Krasnostein’s The believer and Alison Croggon’s Monsters, both referenced the idea of living with uncertainty in a way that made me stop and think, but more interesting was the link between Krasnostein’s nonfiction book on believers and Helen Meany’s novelistic exploration of belief, truth and authenticity in Every day is Gertie Day.
  • reading essays: I read many this year, including three by George Orwell, as well as essay collections, like The best Australian science writing 2020, which is always a stimulating read.
  • Australian novels that address contemporary life and issues: Favourites this year include Irma Gold’s The breaking, Malcolm Knox’s satirical Bluebird, Helen Meany’s above named novel. Interestingly, there were not so many climate change dystopias in my reading this year.
  • reading short stories: I read some engaging collections this year, including one from Mumbai authorJayant Kaikini (No presents please) and some debut Australian collections, Marian Matta’s Life, bound, Margaret Hickey’s Rural dreams and First Nation’s Adam Thompson’s collection.
  • coming across writing that stray from the mould: I didn’t have any talking foetuses, skeletons or fossils, this year, but I did read a second-person book, Tsitisi Dangarembga’s This mournable body, which movingly captured its protagonist’s uncertainty. I also read Bernadine Evaristo’s syntactically different Girl, woman, other which looked off-putting with its almost completely absent punctuation but which, in fact, flowed beautifully. Loved it.
  • reading writers on other writers: I read some excellent commentary by writers on other writers this year: two books from the Writers on Writers series (Jensen’s warm but informative tribute to Kate Jennings and Stan Grant’s honest discussion of Thomas Keneally), and three essays from Belinda Castles’ Reading like an Australian writer.
  • reducing the “dreaded” TBR (which I define as books waiting for more than 12 months): I started off the year with a bang, reading four worth-waiting-for books in the first four months – Angela Savage’s Mother of Pearl, Elizabeth Harrower’s The long prospect, Garry Disher’s Bitter Wash Road, and Trevor Shearston’s Hare’s fur – but I then fell in a heap. The result is that my TBR grew significantly over the year. Wah!
  • rereading loved books: I rarely find the opportunity to reread, but this year, I actually managed a few. There were classics by Jane Austen and Anthony Trollope, but the one I want to highlight is Sara Dowse’s West Block. I’d been wanting to re-read it for some time, and was not disappointed as I loved reacquainting myself with its original approach and still-relevant content.

And then there were the little misses!

  • The one that got away: I was astonished to discover, when writing my Reading Group favourites post, that I had missed reviewing our first book of the year, Anthony Trollope’s Barchester Towers. I realised why – the meeting was a week after my Dad died – but I can’t believe that I wasn’t even aware that I hadn’t reviewed it. Such is the discombobulation wrought by grief.
  • The one I started but have not (yet) finished: I started reading Jess Hill’s 2020 Stella winner, See what you made me do, on my Kindle, very early in the year. It’s a good read, but I only read it when I’m out and about about, and there’s been less out-and-abouting this year, meaning that at the end of the year, it remains unfinished.

These are just some of 2021’s highlights. I wish I could name them all.

Some stats …

As for actual stats, I don’t read to achieve specific stats, but I do have some reading preferences and like to keep an eye on what I’m doing to keep me honest to myself! So, how did I go?

I like …

  • to read fiction most: 62% of my reading was fiction (short stories and novels) which is less than recent years, albeit only just less than last year’s 63%. Around 75% is my rule of thumb, plucked out of thin air I admit, but, the fact is, there’s some great non-fiction around so, well, I read a bit more of it this year!
  • to give precedence to women: 65% of the works I read this year were by women which is better than last year’s aberrant 80%, and more like what I think is a fair thing! This includes collaborations with male writers and editors.
  • to read non-Australian as well as Australian writers: 27% of this year’s reading was NOT by Australian writers, which is close enough to my goal of around one-third non-Australian, two-thirds Australian.
  • to read older books: 25% of the works I read were published before 2000, which is more than last year, and closer to the longer-term average of around 30%. I will try to lift this a bit more.
  • to support new releases: 25% of this year’s reads were published in 2021, which is similar to last year. I think this is fair!

Overall, it was a great reading year in terms of quality reads, but not so great in terms of quantity. As in 2020, my personal circumstances, in addition to the disruptions caused by COVID-19, meant I did less self-directed reading than I would have liked and that was a bit frustrating. Here’s hoping for a better 2022, for all of us.

Meanwhile, a huge thanks to all of you who read my posts, engage in discussion, recommend more books and, generally, be both thoughtful and fun people. Our little community is special, to me!

I wish you all an excellent 2022, and thank you once again for hanging in this year.

What were your 2021 reading or literary highlights?

Monday musings on Australian literature: Australian Women Writers Challenge 2021

Challenge logo

For the last time, I am devoting my last Monday Musings of the year to the Australian Women Writers Challenge ( in its current form at least, see below). What a couple of years we’ve had. It’s hard to know whether it has affected the challenge or not but, anecdotally, our numbers did not increase over a period when more people were stuck at home. Were we too discombobulated to focus on reading or were many of our participants too tired from the challenges of working from home and home-schooling to read and review as well? I look forward in the future to seeing what sociologists and other researchers make of these years and how we behaved.

Anyhow, the challenge … it has continued to go very well. The full database now contains reviews for nearly 7,700 different books across all forms and genres, from all periods, of Australian women’s writing. This means that the number of books reviewed on our database increased in 2021 by nearly 700 books, less than the number added last year, but still a healthy 10% increase to the database.

My personal round-up for the year

These last two years have not been stellar ones for me, so my posting to the challenge was down (mirroring the overall trajectory for the challenge!) I posted only 23 reviews to the Challenge over the year, a few less than last year, but I did also read three essays I didn’t post to the challenge. I will include them here as they were by women and appeared in a book edited by a woman, Belinda Castles’ Reading like an Australian writer. I’m disappointed in my reading achievements this year, but it is what it is! Here they are, with links to my reviews:

Fiction

Non-fiction

Anthologies/Essays

This year, fiction (including short stories) represented around 53% of my AWW challenge reading, which is a little less than last year’s 61%, and only two were classics by my loose definitions. One, Elizabeth Harrower’s, was read for Bill’s (The Australian Legend) Gen 4 week (Part 1). As always, I appreciate the impetus to read books from the past, because they do not deserve to be forgotten! In terms of that problematic word “diversity”, I read four books by First Nations Australia women.

My non-fiction reading was even more heavily slanted towards memoir/life-writing than usual, though the essays shift the balance a little, with a focus there on writing about writing.

Finally, as always, a big thanks to Theresa, Elizabeth and the rest of the team. I have loved being part of this challenge, partly of course because it equates with my reading goals so has never really been a challenge, but also because it’s been a generous and supportive team working on an important goal.

And so, 2022

Challenge logo

Most of you will know that this challenge was instigated by Elizabeth Lhuede in 2012 in response to concerns in Australian literary circles about the lack of recognition for women writers. I have been involved as a volunteer since 2013. In many ways, we feel that ten years on, the goal has been achieved, as women writers seem to be well-established on Australia’s literary scene, at least by observable measures.

Partly for this reason, the challenge will change tack in 2022 and focus on past and often under-recognised or overlooked women writers, from the 19th- and 20th-centuries. The new team overseeing this new phase comprises Elizabeth, Bill (The Australian Legend) and me. We plan to offer articles and reviews about earlier writers, and publish their actual writings – in full or excerpt form, as appropriate. We three feel that Australia’s rich heritage of Australian women’s writing hasn’t been fully explored and we’re keen to nudge it a bit more into the limelight.

This does not mean that the always popular contemporary aspect of the challenge will cease, but it will now be carried through our Facebook groups, Love Reading Books by Aussie Women and Australian Women Writers News and Events. Please join those groups if you are interested and haven’t already joined them.

Meanwhile, you will hear more about AWW 2022, when we get going in February.

Monday musings on Australian literature: Favourite books 2021, Part 2: Nonfiction and Poetry

Last week, as most of you will know, I shared the favourite Aussie fiction books named by writers in the Sydney Morning Herald’s Books we loved in 2021 and ABR’s Books of the Year 2021. This week, as promised, I’m sharing the nonfiction and poetry favourites. Again, I’m only including Australian titles (as this is a Monday Musings post). It’s a much longer and more varied list than last week’s.

Nonfiction

Nonfiction picks tend to speak to the professional interests of their nominators – historians, for example, tend to choose histories, while literary critics might range across essays and literary biographies, and social commentators tend to like other analyses of contemporary life and behaviour. The result is a rich, and tempting, list.

Despite this variety, a few books were picked multiple times, like Bernadette Brennan’s biography of Gillian Mears, Leaping into waterfalls, and Delia Falconer’s essay collection, Signs and wonders. Political biographies/analyses are usually popular and so it is here with Gideon Haigh’s The brilliant boy: Doc Evatt and the great Australian dissent and Sean Kelly’s Sean Kelly’s The game: A portrait of Scott Morrison.

A few other titles appeared more than once, including a couple on my TBR, but one stood out because it was new to me and sounds different: Anwen Crawford’s No document.

As for the most popular form of nonfiction favourited this year, you could probably say that the memoirs have it.

  • Ruth Balint’s Destination elsewhere: Displaced persons and their quest to leave postwar Europe (history): (Sheila Fitzpatrick)
  • Clem Bastow’s Late bloomer: How an autism diagnosis changed my life (memoir): “frank and fearless” (Graeme Simsion); “astute and illuminating” (Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen)
  • Lech Blaine’s Quarterly Essay: Top blokes (essay): “hilarious and incredibly illuminating explanation of how identity politics shapes actual politics” (Bri Lee)
  • Lech Blaine’s Car Crash (memoir): “deeply moving” (Bri Lee) 
  • Bernadette Brennan’s Leaping into waterfalls (biography): “verve and sensitivity … intimate and often unsettling” (Caroline Baum); “a skilful, unforgettable distillation of a writer’s creative imagination” (Mark McKenna); “scholarly, passionate, readable” (Don Anderson); “The book I never wanted to end” (Zora Simic); “an exceptional work” (Brenda Walker)
  • David Brophy’s China panic: Australia’s alternative to paranoia and pandering (nonfiction): “some uncommon common sense on Australia’s current hyped-up alarm” (Sheila Fitzpatrick)
  • Edmund Campion’s Then and now: Australian Catholic experiences (essays, theology): “humane, literate, hospitable, engaging essays” (Don Anderson)  
  • Anwen Crawford’s No document (book-length essay): “superb … resonant power, about grief, politics, ephemerality and art” (Lucy Treloar); “sophisticated, moving lament” (Bernadette Brennan); “a striking collage-like essay written in a spirit of lucid grief and righteous anger” (James Ley); “so beguiling I read it twice” (Zora Simic); (Declan Fry) (Lisa’s review)
  • Emma Do and Kim Lam’s Working from home (may ở nhà) (social commentary): “this book!” (Declan Fry)
  • Delia Falconer’s Signs and wonders (essays): “both solace and alarm as she renders the impact of living in the anthropocene” (Anna Funder); “exquisite writing that swerves with heartbreaking facts, into hidden realms of our broken world, luminous with humanity” (Robert Adamson); “illuminating book on the climate crisis ” (Brenda Walker); “captures the fragility and incredulity of living at a tipping point of earthly life” (Tom Griffiths) (Lisa’s review)
  • Fiona Foley’s Biting the clouds (history): (Anita Heiss)
  • Helen Garner’s How to end a story (diaries):”reads like a thriller, gripping us in the quotidian, real-time horror of her unravelling marriage” (Clare Wright); “the taut shape of a fine novel” (Brenda Walker); “the most formidable book of excerpts from the diaries so far” (Peter Craven) (on my TBR)
  • Caroline Graham and Kylie Stevenson’s Larrimah (nonfiction): “strange and extraordinary” (Craig Silvey)
  • Stan Grant’s With the falling of the dusk (memoir/politics): “an insightful analysis of a world unravelling since the 1990s” (Andrew West)
  • Bella Green’s Happy endings (memoir): “astute and illuminating” (Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen)
  • Gideon Haigh’s The brilliant boy: Doc Evatt and the great Australian dissent (history): “concerns H.V. Evatt’s compassion as a High Court judge in a negligence case” (Judith Brett); “exemplary in its forensic analysis and sympathetic treatment of a brilliant man” (Jacqueline Kent); “a fascinating and moving story of callousness, compassion, and creativity” (Frank Bongiorno)
  • Amani Haydar’s The mother wound (memoir): “poetic rumination on the false binaries between “public” and “private” violence, and modern Australia” (Bri Lee); “narrated with unsentimental intelligence” (Bernadette Brennan); “powerful” (Zora Simic); “astute and illuminating” (Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen)
  • Veronica Heritage-Gorrie’s Black and blue (memoir): “an eye-opening and heartbreaking examination of how messed-up policing is in Australia” (Bri Lee); “powerful” (Zora Simic)
  • Jennifer Higgie’s The mirror and the palette (feminism): “spellbinding update of Germaine Greer’s and Linda Nochlin’s seminal feminist research” (A. Frances Johnson)
  • Kate Holden’s The winter road: A story of legacy, land and a killing at Croppa Creek (true crime/terrorism): “powerful environmental parable … brilliant, sensitive” (Tom Griffiths)
  • Eleanor Hogan’s Into the loneliness (biography): “the delicately handled story of the friendship between writers Ernestine Hill and Daisy Bates … a complex and moving book” (Delia Falconer)
  • Sarah Holland-Batt’s  Fishing for lightning: The spark of poetry (essays): “luminous” (Mindy Gill)
  • Terri Janke’s True tracks (nonfiction): (Anita Heiss)
  • Evelyn Juers’ The dancer: A biography for Philippa Cullen (biography): “richly researched cultural history” (Georgie Williamson) (Lisa’s review)
  • Sean Kelly’s The game: A portrait of Scott Morrison (political profile): “outstanding for the subtlety of its psychological insights, weighing of evidence, and the breadth of reading” (Mark McKenna); “illuminating psychological exposé of Scott Morrison … grim but essential reading” (Peter Rose); “the best thing I have read on our current prime minister … full of insights and ideas” (Judith Brett); “deserves to become a political classic” (Frank Bongiorno)
  • Krissy Kneen’s The three burials of Lotty Kneen (memoir): “fascinating and powerful” (Favel Parrett); (Anita Heiss)
  • Sarah Krasnostein’s The believer (nonfiction): “the nutty given dignity by her sharp, empathetic eye” (Jock Serong) (my review)
  • Janet McCalman’s Vandemonians: The repressed history of colonial Victoria (history): “her trademark approach: take the local and specific and use them to illuminate a whole stratum of life” (Glyn Davis) (Lisa’s review)
  • Mark McKenna’s Return to Uluru (history): “profoundly moving” (Jock Serong); “a powerful microhistory and meditation on frontier violence and its legacies” (Frank Bongiorno); “metaphysical true crime story … may it change hearts and mind” (Geordie Williamson); “challenge[s] Australians with the responsibility of truth-telling” (Tom Griffiths) (on my TBR) (Janine’s review)
  • Sylvia Martin’s Sky swimming (memoir): “intimate, generous, written with modesty and great empathy … a gem of a book from the heart of a deeply intelligent writer” (Alex Miller)
  • Fiona Murphy’s The shape of sound (memoir): “deft explorations of disability and self-discovery” (Fiona Wright)
  • Cassandra Pybus’ Truganini (biography): “essential reading for understanding Tasmania” (Jock Serong) (Janine’s review)
  • Stephanie Radok’s Becoming a bird (essays): “an unassuming gem of a book” (Michelle de Kretser); “a marvellous book about the freedom of the mind to take wing” (Nicholas Jose) (Lisa’s review).
  • Yves Rees’ All about Yves: Notes on a transition (memoir): “a new and important critical voice” (Clare Wright)
  • Henry Reynolds’s Truth-telling: History, sovereignty and the Uluru Statement (history): “challenge[s] Australians with the responsibility of truth-telling” (Tom Griffiths) (Janine’s review)
  • Della Rowley and Lynn Buchanan’s (ed.) Life As Art: The biographical writing of Hazel Rowley (essays): “vibrant collection of essays” (Brenda Niall)
  • Chelsea Watego’s Another day in the colony (memoir): “you should read” (Declan Fry)
  • David Williamson’s Home truths: A memoir (memoir): “big book for a big life” (Don Anderson)
  • Michael Winkler’s Grimmish (experimental nonfiction): “a brilliant experimental stroll through pain, boxing and sweary goats” (Jock Serong): “a feral, unpinnable creature” (Beejay Wilcox)
  • Ghil’ad Zuckermann and Emmalene Richards’ Mangiri Yarda (Healthy Country): Barngarla wellbeing and nature (language/culture): “an inspirational examination of the …. benefits of language revival and the profound importance of reawakening languages” (Alice Nelson)

Poetry

  • Eunice Andrada’s Take care: “thank you for your care” (Declan Fry)
  • Evelyn Araluen’s Dropbear: “with subtlety and an occasional razor” (Tony Birch); “discourse-altering” (John Kinsella); “showed us where it’s at!” (Declan Fry) (Brona’s review)
  • Eileen Chong’s A thousand crimson blooms: “piercing reflections on memory and loss” (Lucy Treloar): “a nuanced, tender volume of deceptively complex and disarmingly emotive verse that is at once deeply personal and universal” (Maxine Beneba Clarke) (Jonathan’s review)
  • Jelena Dinic’s In the room with the she wolf: “an understated wonder, a journey from war to peace, and from one poetic tradition to another” (Peter Goldsworthy)
  • Toby Fitch’s Sydney spleen: “existential linguistic meltdown” (John Kinsella) (Jonathan’s review)
  • JS Harry’s New and selected poems (posthumous): “imaginative genius” (Robert Adamson)
  • John Hawke’s Whirlwind duststorm: “innovative, intelligently creative, almost fearless” (Jennifer Harrison)
  • A. Frances Johnson’s Save as: “some of the most moving confessional and elegiac poems you’ll read anywhere” (Gregory Day)
  • Bella Li’s Theory of colours (poetry/art): “gloriously disquieting combo of image and text” (Declan Fry)
  • Kate Llewellyn’s Harbour: “more meditative book overall, a safer haven, but she is still plenty naughty” (Peter Goldsworthy)
  • Mal McKimmie’s At the foot of the mountain: “innovative, intelligently creative, almost fearless” (Jennifer Harrison)
  • Caitlin Maling’s Fish work: “has the terseness of an Anthropocene novella” (Tony Hughes-d’Aeth)
  • Jazz Money’s How to make a basket: “tender and sharp, clear-eyed and lyrical” (Jennifer Down); “a powerful and accomplished debut” (Maxine Beneba Clarke)
  • Omar Musa’s Killernova (woodcuts/poetry): “a unique hybrid creature – a beautifully designed, stunning combination of woodcuts and poetry” (Maxine Beneba Clarke) (my post on the launch)
  • Pi O’s Heide: “staggering in its audacity, and an intoxicating thrill to read. It is history as ode, and a bold vindication of art … also wickedly funny and heretical” (Christos Tsiolkas)
  • Elfie Shiosaki’s Homecoming: “exquisite hybrid work” (Tony Hughes-d’Aeth)
  • Emily Sun’s  Vociferate | 詠: “cultural-presumption-shredding” (John Kinsella); “bristling with spiky maternal reclamations and intercultural electricity” (Tony Hughes-d’Aeth)
  • Maria Takolander’s Trigger warning: “confronting and sculpted” (John Kinsella); “some of the most moving confessional and elegiac poems you’ll read anywhere” (Gregory Day)
  • Lucy Van’s The open: “read it with an increasing sense of excitement” (Declan Fry)

As I said last week, the lists will come thick and fast over the next month, but I’d be interested in any thoughts you have on these, particularly if you like nonfiction and poetry.

My reading group’s favourites for 2021

In our now annual tradition, my reading group once again voted for our favourites from our 2021 schedule – and as has also become tradition (see last year’s if you like), I’m sharing our reading and findings with you.

First, though, here is what we read in the order we read them (with links on titles to my reviews):

This schedule is very different to last year’s which was was less diverse than usual: nearly all were Australian and we didn’t do a classic. It’s true that our focus always has been Australian – with a special interest in women – but it was never meant to be quite so narrow as it was last year. So, this year … we did a classic; we did just 5 Australian books; and we read three male authors (plus those who had essays in the Best Australian science anthology). The first half of next year will see a continuation of this variety, with not only a classic but a translated book (which has been absent for a couple of years).

The winners …

All twelve of our currently active members voted, and the rules were the same. We had to name our three favourite works, which resulted in 36 votes being cast. No weighting was given to one over another in those three, even where some members did rank their choices. Last year we had a runaway winner – it received twice the number of votes as the two which shared second place. This year though was completely different. The winning book received 8 votes, second 7 votes, third 6 votes and so on down to fifth with 4 votes. Consequently, we have two Highly Commendeds this year, because after 4 votes we dropped to 2, 1 and none.

  1. Shuggie Bain, by Douglas Stuart (8 votes)
  2. The crocodile song, by Nardi Simpson (7 votes)
  3. Girl, woman, other, by Bernadine Evaristo (6 votes)

Highly commended: Where the Crawdads sing, by Delia Owens (5); Hamnet, by Maggie O’Farrell (4).

  • Book cover

It was a real tussle this year, and I enjoyed watching the votes come in. Until the last two votes, Nardi Simpson was winning – oh, how I would have loved her to win, particularly after Melissa Lucashenko’s win last year – but she was pipped at the post.

Interestingly, last year all three of the nonfiction titles on our list featured among our favourites, while this year the two nonfiction works didn’t get any votes at all, though they both generated excellent discussions. It’s just that we read such strong fiction. Every book but the two nonfiction books received at least one vote.

Of course, this is not a scientific survey (and it’s a very small survey). Votes were all given equal weight, even where people indicated an order of preference, and not everyone read every book (though most did this year), so different people voted from different “pools”.

Oh, and if you want to know my three picks, they were Tsitsi Dangarembga’s This mournable body, Bernadine Evaristo’s Girl, woman, other, and Nardi Simpson’s Song of the crocodile. It was a hard decision though, with Shuggie Bain fighting for a place!

Selected comments (accompanying the votes)

Not everyone included comments with their votes, and not all books received comments, but here is a selection of what members said about the top five:

  • Shuggie Bain: Commenters used descriptions like “perceptive”, “powerful”, “brilliant evocative writing”.
  • Song of the crocodile: Comments included “punchy truth-telling”, “loved the ‘fantastic aspects’ … [like] the crocodile totem”, “edgy and important”, “full of beauty and … I understand intergenerational trauma more”.
  • Girl, woman, other: Commenters saw it as a “fabulous evocation of women in complicated relationships”, and “satirical, insightful exploration of diverse women”, while another said “made me feel like I was almost there in London. A great book to read while the borders stopped travel.”
  • Where the crawdads sing”: Our one commenter on it called it “evocative and compelling”.
  • Hamnet: Commenters agreed it was “powerful”: “powerful story of an invisible woman, and the impact of grief” and “powerful … imagined history. Beautiful descriptive writing”, while another said “engaging, well-plotted and historically plausible”

And a bonus!

As in 2019, a good friend (from my library school days over 45 years ago) sent me her reading group’s schedule from this year (links are to my reviews where I’ve read the book too):

  • Kate Grenville, A room made of leaves: novel, Australian author
  • Tony Birch, Ghost River: novel, Australian author (First Nations)
  • Annabel Crabb, The wife drought: nonfiction, Australian author
  • Mark Henshaw, The snow kimono: novel, Australian author
  • Richard Fidler, Ghost Empire: nonficton, Australian author
  • Clive James, The fire of joy…roughly 80 poems: poetry, Australian author
  • Michelle de Kretser, Questions of travel: novel, Australian author
  • Kim Mahood, Craft for a dry lake: nonfiction, Australian author
  • Behrouz Boochani, No friend but the mountains (on my TBR): nonfiction, Kurdish-Iranian author
  • Pip Williams, The dictionary of lost words (on my TBR): fiction, Australian author

My group has read the Henshaw and de Kretser in past years, and we have also read a different book by Kim Mahood (Position doubtful) which we loved.

So, I’d love to hear your thoughts, particularly if you were in a reading group this year. What did your group read and love?

Monday musings on Australian literature: Favourite books 2021, Part 1: Fiction

For a few years now, I’ve shared favourite Aussie reads of the year, from the ABC and, last year, other sources.

This year I’m doing it a bit differently. I’m focusing on the Sydney Morning Herald’s Books we loved in 2021 and ABR’s Books of the Year 2021. Both these contain favourites from a large number of Australian writers. Both also include fiction and nonfiction, Australian and non-Australian works – and there are a lot. So, I’m writing two posts, one on fiction (this week) and the other on nonfiction and poetry (next week). I am only including their Australian favourites – this is a Monday Musings after all.

Novels

Book cover
  • David Allan-Petale’s Locust summer: (Toni Jordan) (Lisa’s review)
  • Miles Allinson’s In moorland: “lays out his territory with authority and a quiet, complex beauty” (Helen Garner); “darkly funny novel of generational bonds, a dazzling ride that is full of heart” (Lucy Treloar); “insightful and ambitious” (Toni Jordan); (Emily Bitto); “engrossing portrayal of obsession, loyalty and destruction within a family” (Robbie Arnott); “very smart novel” (Robbie Arnott) (Lisa’s review)
  • Amal Awad’s The things we see in the light: (Toni Jordan)
  • Larissa Behrendt’s After story: “ambitious in conception and masterful in execution” (Clare Wright); (Anita Heiss) (on my TBR, Lisa’s review)
  • Hannah Bent’s When things are alive they hum: “heartfelt and sweet” (Trent Dalton)
  • Emily Bitto’s Wild abandon: “kicks over the traces and breaks hearts” (Helen Garner); “brilliant and inventive” (Craig Silvey); “wonderful novel, daring and surprising, and profoundly humane” (Christos Tsiolkas); “thrilling and audacious” (Michelle de Kretser); lushly baroque, ruinous, and fantastically inventive … style in spades: its lyricism is exhilarating” (Sarah Holland-Batt)
  • Katherine Brabon’s The shut ins: “a poignant conceit, reminiscent of the work of W.G. Sebald and Patrick Modiano” (Anders Villani)
  • Brendan Cowell’s Plum: “the brain-damaged-rugby-league-poet-book I was waiting all my life to find” (Trent Dalton)
  • Garry Disher, The way it is now: (Judith Brett)
  • Jennifer Down’s Bodies of light: “witness to the creation of a resilient self” (Bernadette Brennan); “mesmerising chronicle … of one of the most sharply drawn characters I’ve encountered in recent fiction … extraordinary” (Robbie Arnott); “an epic Bildungsroman that honours the dignity of crafting a life in the wake of childhood trauma” (Yves Rees); “equal parts devastating and hopeful” (Giselle Au-Nhien Nguyen)
  • Stephen Downes’ The hands of pianists: “an extraordinary book which appropriates the style and strategies of W.B. Sebald but then succeeds in equalling him” (Peter Craven)
  • Robert Gott’s The orchard murders: “perfectly executed Melbourne noir” (Jock Serong)
  • Anita Heiss’s Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray: “much-needed look at white settlement from an Indigenous maid’s point of view” (Jane Sullivan) (on my TBR, Lisa’s review)
  • Sally Hepworth’s The younger wife: “delivered wit, warmth and suspense” (Jane Harper) (Theresa’s review)
  • Kathryn Heyman’s Fury: (Fiona Wright); (Anita Heiss)
  • Antoni Jach’s Travelling companions: “funny, layered” (Toni Jordan) (Lisa’s review)
  • Mette Jakobsen’s The wingmaker: ‘dare I say “uplifiting”‘ (Graeme Simsion); “exquisite” (Favel Parrett)
  • Susan Johnson’s From where I fell: “inspired me as an author” (Anita Heiss) (Lisa’s review)
  • Michelle de Kretser’s Scary monsters: “about the thought crimes that divide us, but also stunning, profound and funny” (Anna Funder); (Fiona Wright); (Emily Bitto); “its riskiness, unashamed intellectualism, and rage against ageism, misogyny and racism” (Bernadette Brennan); “brilliant, chimeric” (Sarah Holland-Batt); “creatively repositions contemporary concerns around race, immigration, and national identity” (Paul Giles)
  • Amanda Lohrey’s The labyrinth: “luminous, meditative and richly layered fiction” (Cassandra Pybus): “moody and allegorical with overcast skies, distant waves, and silences” (Glyn Davis) (On my TBR, Lisa’s review)
  • Laura Jean McKay’s The animals in that country: (Emily Bitto) (kimbofo’s review)
  • Emily Maguire’s Love objects: (Fiona Wright); “a tender and aching story” (Tony Birch) (Lisa’s review)
  • Meg Mason’s Sorrow and bliss: “contemporary laughter and heartbreak” (Mick Herron)
  • Jennifer Mills’ The airways: (Fiona Wright); “subtle and fierce” (Geordie Williamson) (Lisa’s review)
  • Liane Moriarty’s Apples never fall: (Jane Harper)
  • Alice Pung’s One hundred days: ” the quiet, bold power of Pung’s writing, the commanding precision of her prose” (Christos Tsiolkas); “warm, funny, compelling read” (Judith Brett) (kimbofo’s review)
  • Diana Reid’s Love and virtue: “discomfiting ambiguities” (Hannah Kent); ‘restores what’s gone missing from contemporary sexual politics: the distinction between “being hurt and being wronged”’ (Helen Garner); “sharp” (Victoria Hannan) (Brona’s review)
  • Nicolas Rothwell’s Red heaven: “an engrossing novel of ideas” (Glyn Davis)
  • Claire Thomas’ The performance: (Emily Bitto) (on my TBR, Brona’s review
  • Evie Wyld’s The bass rock (Emily Bitto) (on my TBR)

Short stories

  • Tony Birch’s Dark as last night: “richly evocative and deeply empathetic … Birch is more at home with his material than any other modern writer I know” (Alex Miller)
  • Paige Clark’s She is haunted: “deft and original” (Craig Silvey); “stayed with me long after the last word” (Victoria Hannan); “fresh and fantastic” (Bri Lee); (Jennifer Down)
  • Melissa Manning’s Smokehouse: “exquisite” (Jennifer Down) 
  • SJ Norman’s Permafrost: “ghost stories that queer and disrupt the Western gothic tradition” (Hannah Kent); “a beguiling collection of queer ghost stories” (Yves Rees)
  • Chloe Wilson’s Hold your fire: “enthralled and amazed” (Anna Funder)

Finally …

It’s always interesting to see what books feature more than once – which is not to say that popularity equals quality, but it does say what has most captured attention this year. And it seems that Miles Allinson’s In moorland, Emily Bitto’s Wild abandon, Jennifer Down’s Bodies of light, Michelle de Kretser’s Scary monsters, Diana Reid’s Love and virtue, and Paige Clark’s She is haunted are this year’s ones. Most by women writers. I wonder if they’ll all be longlisted (at least) for the Stella?

Another interesting thing about lists is discovering new books. Paige Clark and Chloe Wilson’s short story collections, for example, are new to me – and appeal. Dare I put them on the wishlist?

I know lists will appear constantly over the next month, but I’d be interested in any thoughts you have on these (or on your own list, if you’d prefer!)

Monday musings on Australian literature: 2021 Mark and Evette Moran Nib Literary Award shortlist

Once again I am using my Monday Musings post to make an awards announcement, though I prefer not to. However, I am breaking my rule-of-thumb so soon again for a few reasons: I spent too much time on yesterday’s Living under Covid-19 post leaving less time for today’s post; I have a zoom Tai Chi class this evening; and, the Mark and Evette Moran Nib Literary Award shortlist was announced today. I hope this doesn’t disappoint those of you who enjoy my more usual MM posts (however you define that), but it’s the best I have for you today! It has inspired a future MM post, but you’ll have to wait to see what that is.

Now, you may remember that the longlist for this year’s Nib award was a very long one – 18 titles. I wondered how they were going to whittle it down, and to how many. Before I share their decision, I’ll remind you that this award celebrates “excellence in research and writing”. It is not limited by genre, though given the research focus, nonfiction always features heavily.

Wonderfully, all shortlisted authors automatically win the Alex Buzo Shortlist Prize, of $1000, each. So, a big congratulations to them. And now …

The shortlist

Book cover
  • Gabrielle Carey‘s Only happiness here: In search of Elizabeth von Arnim (biography/memoir) (on my wishlist) (Brona’s review)
  • Kate Holden’s The winter road: A story of legacy, land and a killing at Croppa Creek (nonfiction/environment)
  • Ramona Koval’s A letter to Layla: Travels to our deep past and near future (nonfiction)
  • Sarah Krasnostein’s The believer: Encounters with love, death & faith (nonfiction/religion) (on my TBR)
  • Tim Olsen’s Son of the brush (nonfiction/memoir)
  • Luke Stegemann’s Amnesia Road, landscape, violence and memory (nonfiction/history) (Janine’s review)

Unfortunately, only one of the five books from the longlist that I had on my TBR – I identified four in my longlist post, and bought another since – made it through. However, that one l will definitely read this year, whether it wins or not.

Head judge Jamie Grant said that

This year’s Nib shortlist has been chosen from the largest and most diverse field that the prize has yet known. There are biographies, true crime stories, philosophical meditations, and personal memoirs among the shortlisted books, a variety the judges hope will include as many different readers as possible.

It certainly was diverse in terms of content, and in terms of author gender, but it could be more diverse regarding author background. I wonder if the lack of diversity in this aspect is due to authors not being aware of this prize. Hopefully, posts like this will help improve its visibility.

The judges for the 2021 award are Katerina Cosgrove (author), Jamie Grant (poet and editor), and Lee Kofman (author and editor).

Finally, I should add that there is a People’s Choice prize, which is now open for voting. It is worth $2,500, and all who vote will go into a draw to win a Nib Award prize pack containing all six of this year’s shortlisted books and $100 voucher from Nib Award community partners, Gertrude & Alice Bookstore Cafe. You can Cast Your Vote here!

The overall Winner ($20,000) and the People’s Choice Prize will be announced on 24 November.

Many of you commented on the longlist … any further thoughts now?

Monday musings on Australian literature: 2021 Mark and Evette Moran Nib Literary Award longlist

I only occasionally use my Monday Musings post to make awards announcements. Today is one of those occasions, because the Nib Literary Awards longlist was announced today and I did want to share it, as it’s one of Australia’s quieter but yet interesting awards.

I have written about it before and in that post you can read about about its origins and intentions but, in a nutshell, it celebrates “excellence in research and writing”. It is not limited by genre, though given the research focus, nonfiction always features heavily.

The Nib, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, is managed by Sydney’s Waverley Council. It is, according to the email announcement I received, the “only major literary award of its kind presented by a local council”. Whether you like awards or not, this represents an impressive and meaningful commitment to Australia’s literary culture, wouldn’t you say?

Anyhow, the judges for the 2021 award are Katerina Cosgrove (author), Jamie Grant (poet and editor), and Lee Kofman (author and editor). They worked their way through 150 nominations, with their judging criteria being “high literary merit, readability and value to the community”.

The longlist

Book cover
  • Bill Birtles‘ The truth about China: Propaganda, patriotism and the search for answers (nonfiction/political)
  • Tanya Bretherton’s The husband poisoner: Suburban women who killed in post-World War II Sydney (nonfiction/true crime) (Kim’s review)
  • Gabrielle Carey‘s Only happiness here: In search of Elizabeth von Arnim (biography/memoir) (on my wishlist) (Brona’s review)
  • Alison Croggon’s Monsters: A reckoning (nonfiction/memoir) (on my TBR)
  • Sarah Dingle’s Brave new humans: The dirty reality of donor conception (nonfiction/science)
  • Richard Fidler’s The golden maze (nonfiction/history)
  • Tim Flannery’s The climate cure: Solving the climate emergency in the era of COVID-19 (nonfiction/environment) (on my TBR)
  • Anthony Ham’s The last lions of Africa: Stories from the frontline in the battle to save a species (nonfiction/environment)
  • Kate Holden’s The winter road: A story of legacy, land and a killing at Croppa Creek (nonfiction/environment)
  • Zoe Holman’s Where the water ends: Seeking refuge in Fortress Europe (nonfiction/refugees) (Lisa’s review)
  • Ramona Koval’s A letter to Layla: Travels to our deep past and near future (nonfiction)
  • Sarah Krasnostein’s The believer: Encounters with love, death & faith (nonfiction/religion) (on my TBR)
  • Bri Lee’s Who gets to be smart: Privilege, power and knowledge (nonfiction/sociopolitics)
  • Mark McKenna’s Return to Uluru (nonfiction/racial politics) (on my TBR) (Janine’s review)
  • Tim Olsen’s Son of the brush (nonfiction/memoir)
  • Dymphna Stella Rees’ A paper inheritance (nonfiction/biography)
  • Rebecca Starford’s The imitator (fiction)
  • Luke Stegemann’s Amnesia Road, landscape, violence and memory (nonfiction/history) (Janine’s review)

At 18 titles, this is a long longlist. Eleven of the 18 are by women, but beyond that it’s not a particularly diverse list in terms of authors. It would be great to see that change. However, thinking of “value to the community”, it does encompass several of our important contemporary political issues including the environment (climate change and species extinction), refugees, racial politics and difficult histories. Four books fall into the life-writing category. There is only one work of fiction, which is probably why very few of these books have been reviewed by the bloggers I follow. We are mostly a fiction-focused lot!

The shortlist will be announced in late September, with the overall Winner ($20,000) and the People’s Choice Prize being announced in November.

Do you have any thoughts on this list?

Miles Franklin Award 2021 winner announced

Nothwithstanding this week’s Monday Musings posts on literary awards, I still like the Miles Franklin – partly because of its significance in the Australian literary firmament – and so I am sharing today’s announcement of this year’s winner which I watched via You Tube.

You may remember that this years shortlist was:

  • Aravind Adiga’s Amnesty (Lisa’s review)
  • Robbie Arnott’s The rain heron
  • Daniel Davis Wood’s At the edge of the solid world
  • Amanda Lohrey’s The Labyrinth (Lisa’s review)
  • Andrew Pippos’ Lucky’s
  • Madeleine Watts’ The inland sea
Book cover

And the winner is: Amanda Lohrey’s Labyrinth

(Lisa will be pleased!)

Just to recap, from my shortlist post: Each of the shortlisted writers received $5000 from the Copyright Agency’s Cultural Fund, with the winner receiving $60,000 prize. This year’s judges comprised, as always, continuing judges and new ones, providing I think a good mix of experience and fresh ideas: Richard Neville (State Library of NSW), author and activist Sisonke Msimang, and critics Melinda Harvey, Bernadette Brennan and James Ley.

So, more on the winner …

This is Lohrey’s second listing for the Miles Franklin award, but her first win. The panel described the novel as a “profound mediation” on loss, with judging panel chair, Richard Neville commanding the “clarity” of her prose in exploring “loss at so many levels”. (Notably, Neville also mentioned the increasing cultural diversity appearing in the awards, by which I assume he meant, in the books submitted. Ninety-six titles were submitted.)

Amanda Lohrey spoke briefly, thanking various people – including family, publisher, editor, of course. She praised her publisher, the wonderful Text Publishing, for supporting “literary values” and she talked of the award’s benefactor, Miles Franklin, as “the great Australian nonconformist”. She also thanked the readers whom she described as an “indestructible tribe” in a world of Netflix (etc). She characterised the relationship between writer and readers as “an extraordinary exchange among strangers.” I like that.

Book cover

The presentation also included last year’s winner Tara June Winch congratulating Amanda Lohrey. She said that what she gained, in particular, from the award, was “a readership”. Isn’t that great to hear, because that – and the “gift of time” – is what we hope awards like this offer books and their writers.

And, finally, just for fun. Today The Sydney Morning Herald published an article on How to win the Miles Franklin: Analysing 64 years of data, by Pallavi Singhal. It looks at the usual issues like gender, origin (birth location, ethnicity), age, but also other points you may not have considered like length (“write about 400 pages”, it says), title style (“Begin your book title with ‘the’ and keep it short”) and publisher (Allen & Unwin is ahead at the moment)!

Do you have any thoughts on this year’s winner?

Miles Franklin Award 2021 shortlist

I haven’t posted on the Miles Franklin Award since 2019, and I didn’t post this year’s longlist when it came out last month, but, despite my woeful record – I’ve yet to read any on the longlist – I felt it was about time I returned to Australia’s best known literary award.

Unfortunately, I was driving in the back blocks of northeast Victoria when the announcement was made, with no Internet connection in our room overnight. We have landed in civilisation – hmmm – depending on you definition, and are once more connected! I thought I’d start by sharing the longlist:

The longlist

Book cover
  • Aravind Adiga’s Amnesty (Lisa’s review)
  • Robbie Arnott’s The rain heron
  • Daniel Davis Wood’s At the edge of the solid world
  • Gail Jones’ Our shadows
  • Sofie Laguna’s Infinite Splendours (on my TBR and will definitely be read this year)
  • Amanda Lohrey’s The Labyrinth (Lisa’s review)
  • Laura Jean Mckay’s The animals in that country (my, I wish I’d read this already, given its popularity on awards lists)
  • Andrew Pippos’ Lucky’s
  • Mirandi Riwoe’s Stone sky, gold mountain (on my TBR)
  • Philip Salom’s The fifth season (on my TBR) (Lisa’s review)
  • Nardi Simpson’s Song of the crocodile ((on my TBR and will definitely be read this year)
  • Madeleine Watts’ The inland sea

The judges describe the spread as “‘a rich mix of well-established, early career and debut novelists whose work ranges from historical fiction to fabulism and psychologism”.

And now, the shortlist:

  • Aravind Adiga’s Amnesty
  • Robbie Arnott’s The rain heron
  • Daniel Davis Wood’s At the edge of the solid world
  • Amanda Lohrey’s The Labyrinth
  • Andrew Pippos’ Lucky’s
  • Madeleine Watts’ The inland sea

Some random observations:

  • Two of the authors – Adiga and Wood – are not Australian-born or based, but meet the award’s criteria because their subject matter is Australian (that is, they present ‘Australian life in any of its phases’). Adiga won the Booker Prize in 2008 with The white tiger, and Wood is apparently the founder and publisher of Splice, a small UK-based press.
  • None of these books are on my TBR pile – wah – though I have been wanting to read Lohrey so this might be the impetus I need.
  • There appears to be less diversity in terms of author background, though Adiga is Indian.
  • There are four women and two men, which is fine, particularly given the award has rebalanced the gender representation well over recent years.
  • None of these authors have won the Award before, but two, Arnott and Lohrey, have been listed before.
  • Two – Pippos and Watts – are debut novelists.
  • Lisa (ANZLitLovers) will be happy as she was mightily impressed with Lohrey’s Labyrinth (see her review above).

Each of the shortlisted writers will receive $5000 from the Copyright Agency’s Cultural Fund, with the winner receiving $60,000 prize.

The chair of the judging panel, Richard Neville, said

‘In various ways each of this year’s shortlisted books investigate destructive loss: of loved ones, freedom, self and the environment … There is, of course, beauty and joy to be found, and decency and hope, largely through the embrace of community but, as the shortlist reminds us, often community is no match for more powerful forces.’

This year’s judges comprise, as always, continuing judges and new ones, providing I think a good mix of experience and fresh ideas: Richard Neville (State Library of NSW), author and activist Sisonke Msimang, and critics Melinda Harvey, Bernadette Brennan and James Ley.

The winner will be announced on 15 July.

And, for a bit of fun, we saw this on a school notice board as we drove by today:

I always knock on the fridge door just in case salad’s dressing. (Eltham Primary School) 

What do you think – of the shortlist, I mean!?