Monday musings on Australian literature: Literary series

Series and literary fiction are not, I’d say, common bedfellows, not the way, for example, that series and crime, or series and fantasy, or, even, series and children’s/YA books are. However, there are significant literary fiction series, of which I’ve reviewed some of here – Willa Cather’s Great Plains trilogy, Marilynne Robinson’s Gilead trilogy, and Hilary Mantel’s Cromwell series. The first two Cromwell books – Wolf Hall (my review) and Bring up the bodies (my review) – won Booker Prizes, and the final one is scheduled (at last) for publication this year.

This week, I expect to post a review of a book in an Australian literary fiction series, and it’s this which inspired me to write today’s post. As I do with these sorts of posts, I’m just going to present my selection (as this by no means comprehensive) in list-form – in chronological order of the publication date for the first book in the series.

  • Miles Franklin’s My brilliant career series: Unlike the rest of the series below, there are just two books in Franklin’s series, My brilliant career (1901) and My career goes bung (1946). This latter she wrote soon after the first but it wasn’t published until much later. However, like others below, the first has become a much-loved and studied classic.
  • Eleanor Dark’s The timeless land trilogy: This is an historical fiction series dealing with the early history of European settlement in Australia. The first book, The timeless land (1941), is an Australian classic and has been taught in schools. It is significant, particularly given its time, for telling the story from both European and Aboriginal Australian points of view. The subsequent books are Storm of time (1948) and No barrier (1953). 
    Book cover
  • Ruth Park’s The harp in the south trilogy: The first book in this series, The harp in the south, was published in 1948, and is now an Australian classic which is regularly taught in schools. I wrote a little about it in my recent review of Park and husband Niland’s memoir, The drums go bang. The other two books in the series are Poor man’s orange (1948), and the prequel in terms of story chronology but the last written, Missus (1985) (my review). The series, an example of Australian social realism, tells the story of the Darcy family of Surry Hills, Sydney. The harp in the south won The Sydney Morning Herald’s competition for an unpublished novel, in 1946.
  • Book coverGeorge Johnston’s My brother Jack series: George Johnston’s My brother Jack (1964) is also now an Australian classic. Both it and its sequel, Clean straw for nothing (1969), won the Miles Franklin Award, and both are regularly taught in schools and/or universities. The third book is A cartload of clay (1971). The series is semi-autobiographical, about Johnston’s own life, starting in the between-the-war years.
  • Rodney Hall’s The Yandilli Trilogy (also known as A Dream More Luminous Than Love): This series comprises Captivity captive (1988), The second bridgeroom (1991), and The grisly wife (1993). All three have been shortlisted and/or won significant literary awards, including, for The grisly wife, the Miles Franklin.
  • Steven Carroll’s Glenroy series: This six book series comprises The art of the engine driver (2001), The gift of speed (2004), The time we have taken (2007), Spirit of progress (2011), Forever young (2015), and The year of the beast (2019). Like Johnston’s series above, it is based on his own family and their life in the Melbourne suburb of Glenroy. As in Park’s series, the final novel is a prequel, so the first, chronologically, and is set in the country rather than the city/suburb where the rest are set. Four of the titles have been shortlisted for significant literary awards, with The time we have taken winning the Miles Franklin Award.
  • Kate Grenville’s The secret river series which started with a controversial bang with The secret river (2005), when Grenville locked horns with historian Inga Clendinnen over novelists writing history. Anyhow, this series is a little different from some because The lieutenant (2008) (my review) deals with early settlement but is based on an historical figure, not Grenville’s fictional Thornhills, while the third book, Sarah Thornhill (2011), is a more traditional  sequel to The secret river. The secret river was shortlisted for several awards and won the NSW Premier’s Literary Award for fiction.
  • Audiobook coverSteven Carroll’s Eliot Quartet: Carroll must love writing series, because he also has a series inspired by TS Eliot’s Four Quartets. Three of the four have been written, to date: The lost life (2009), A world of other people (2013), and A New England affair (2017). A world of other people was a joint winner of the Prime Minister’s Literary Award (Fiction).

While I don’t naturally gravitate to series, I have read and enjoyed some. It’s interesting that so many of the above have won awards and/or have been (or still are) standard literature texts. It suggests that authors can and do sustain both literary quality and readers’ interest in a continuing subject. Many of the above have also been adapted to other art forms, including plays and television miniseries.

Lisa (ANZLitLovers) has reviewed many of these, which you can find by searching her blog.

Do you have favourite literary fiction series (and yes, you can include The lord of the rings if you must!)?