It’s getting exciting here in literary fiction land: we are only a week away from the announcement of this year’s Miles Franklin award. What will win? Carrie Tiffany‘s Mateship with Birds which has already won two significant awards this year? Or Romy Ash’s Floundering, Michelle de Krester’s Questions of Travel, Annah Faulkner’s The Beloved, or Drusilla Modjeska‘s The Mountain. By the end of May, we had no AWW Challenge reviews for The Beloved or The Mountain – both set, coincidentally, in Papua New Guinea – but, hallelujah, Jessica posted her review for The Beloved in June. I/We must try to rectify the still outstanding book – one I have given to others, but not yet read myself!
Thirty-five book reviews were tagged as Classics and/or Literary in May – about the same number as the last two months. A pattern developing perhaps? I’d love to see more next month! As before, I did alter a couple of reviewer-applied categories to maintain consistency:
- The 35 reviews were posted by 30 reviewers: one reviewer, Jennifer Cameron-Smith posted 3 reviews at GoodReads, and three reviewers – Louise Allen, Michael Kitto (Literary Exploration) and Natasha Lester (While the Kids are Sleeping) – posted 2 each.
- 25 authors were reviewed with Courtney Collins (The Burial) and Hannah Kent (Burial Rites) each receiving three reviews. What was it about burials and May? Romy Ash, Kate Forsyth, Annabel Smith, Madeleine St John and Carrie Tiffany were each reviewed twice. Patterns are emerging: Forsyth, Smith and Tiffany were also multiply reviewed last month.
- 3 of this month’s books were identified as Young Adult, and 1 was by an indigenous Australian author.
- 32 of the reviews were classified as Fiction, and 3 as Non-fiction; 15 were tagged as Contemporary Fiction, 13 as Historical Fiction, 2 as Speculative Fiction, 3 as Classics.
According them the respect due to age, I’ll start, as usual, with the classics. A new (to AWW 2013) classic appeared this month. It’s the award-winning A house is built which was written by M. Barnard Eldershaw, a literary partnership created by Marjorie Barnard and Flora Eldershaw. John (Musings of a Literary Dilettante) enjoyed it, though with reservations:
A house is built is very much of its time. There’s a lot of ‘telling’ over ‘showing’ from our omniscient narrator. There are also moments where the narrator ‘breaks frame’. Modern readers might find these moments annoying. One such instance is where the narrator breaks out of describing part of Sydney’s ‘Domain’ as where the Art Gallery of New South Wales ‘now stands’.
Two books made their third appearance for the year. One is Ruth Park’s The Harp in the South. I think three reviews in five months for a book published in the 1940s rather confirms it as a classic, don’t you? Psych Babbler (Over a Cup of Coffee) would agree, given she described it as
a lovely book about life, love, family, and the ups and downs that come with it all.
The other is Joan Lindsay’s Picnic at Hanging Rock which was reviewed by Deborah Biancotti (at GoodReads). She was initially irritated by the book, finding its moralism heavy-handed and silly, but the ending turned her around. She wrote:
I was so saddened by these women’s lives and so damn impressed by what Lindsay had pulled off. She even made me feel compassion for a character I’d quickly despised at the very beginning of the book.
Miles Franklin contenders
Two of the five shortlisted books for the Miles Franklin award were reviewed this month – Carrie Tiffany’s Mateship with Birds was reviewed by Jennifer Cameron-Smith and me. We both liked it, Jennifer saying that “it’s quietly different and beautifully written” and nicely notes that “the natural world is both character and backdrop”. That captures it well. There is a quietness to Tiffany’s novels that belie, in fact, their fierceness. They are not gentle novels. As I wrote in my review, the theme has to do with:
the nature of life, with the nature of our relationships with animals, and with how we accommodate the animal versus the human within ourselves.
The other shortlisted book reviewed this month is Romy Ash’s Floundering. It was reviewed by Jennifer Cameron-Smith and Bernadette (Reactions to Reading). Bernadette, who admits to not much liking literary fiction, didn’t really like it. She says:
I know it marks me as a literary lightweight but I want something to happen in the books that I read. [...] To me it was just a handful of people doing a few not very interesting things for a while. And then they stopped.
Conversely, Jennifer writes:
At just over 200 pages, it is a quick but haunting read. I literally could not put it down … There is no neat ending to this story, and I was left wondering what would happen next …
One we’ll have to read for ourselves, methinks …
The past – that foreign country
There were significantly more reviews tagged for Historical Fiction this month, than last. Six of the 13 reviews were posted for just two novels, Courtney Collins’ The Burial (based on the life of Australian female bushranger, Jessie Hickman) and Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites (about an Icelandic woman executed for murder in 1829).
I’ve finished The Burial now, and it’s still lying on the sofa. The wrench of finishing a book that’s colonised my imagination makes me reluctant to relocate it to a new home. It may find its way to the shelves in the studio where I keep books I admire for their technical skill, that I will use in teaching aspects of craft, in the belief that the first step in acquiring writing skills is to recognise the best practice of them in others. But I’ve a feeling it will end up on a special shelf in the house …
Burial Rites is, like The Burial, a debut novel that’s garnered a lot of attention. I’ve heard it compared with Margaret Atwood’s Alias Grace, which I loved, so I’m interested to read this. Michael Kitto (Literary-Exploration) said it made him think of Crime and Punishment. Now, they’re big shoes. Michael loved the book, which is told from multiple perspectives, calling it “a great read” which “sucked me into its world”. Linda Funnell (Newtown Review of Books) says it “grips like a northern winter” and Bree (1 girl 2 many books) says it’s “clever and compelling” and was surprised “by just how invested” she became.
Other historical fiction reviewed in May included Mateship with Birds (discussed above) and Amanda Curtin’s (who reviewed The Burial, mentioned above) new novel Elemental, which Magdalena Ball (The Compulsive Reader) called “exquisite”.
This month’s non-fiction…
I cannot finish this round-up without mentioning literary non-fiction. Marilyn (Me, You and Books) reviewed Hazel Brown and Kim Scott’s Kayang and Me, calling it “a superb history and memoir” and “a must-read for all who care about inter-cultural understanding”. A good one to read in July for our NAIDOC Week promotion.
Jessica White reviewed Stephanie Radok’s An Opening: Twelve Love Stories about Art which has been short- or longlisted for a few awards, including the Stella Prize. White says:
This book is like digging into your grandma’s collection of old jewellery and coming up with fistfuls of sparkling beads, the odd random coin, and smooth feathers. It’s eclectic, but begins to make sense when you contemplate it, as you would a painting in a gallery. However, this does take time, and meditation.
I’m intrigued by this one.
Scarlett Harris (Early Bird Catches the Worm) reviewed Anna Krien’s Night Games: Sex, Power and Sport. She’s impressed by the skill with which Krien explores misogynistic “jock culture” in the “abnormal society” of football. I was too … as you will see next month.
I’ve featured only a few of the books reviewed this month but you can check all the reviews by clicking this link.
About Whispering Gums
I read, review and blog about (mostly) literary fiction. It was reading Jane Austen when I was 14 that turned me onto literary fiction/classics, which is why I am here today doing this round-up! Little did Jane know what she started!
My love of Aussie literature started with Banjo Paterson’s ballads and Ethel Turner’s Seven Little Australians in my childhood. But, I didn’t really discover Australian women’s writing until the 1980s when I “met” and fell in love with Elizabeth Jolley, Thea Astley, Olga Masters, Helen Garner and Kate Grenville. Ever since then I have made sure to include a good percentage of Australian (and other) women writers in my reading diet.