I have the honour of making the first post for 2013 on this, the Australian Women Writers blog, with the aim to provide an overview of the 500 + contemporary fiction titles reviewed by challenge participants in 2012. Broadly, the label of contemporary fiction applies to any novel set in the time period from the mid 1900’s to the present. However, in terms of this summary of the challenge, we have assigned the label of contemporary fiction to apply to those works, set between the mid 1900’s and the present, which do not fit neatly into any single genre category, like crime, literary or romance.
Novels that contain a number of elements from several genres in equal measure, are often referred to as genre-benders. Of Wendy James popular 2012 release, The Mistake, an utterly engrossing exploration of what happens to an Australian family, seemingly just like any other, when a long-buried secret surfaces and a mother’s dirty laundry is aired in front of the entire nation, Angela Savage writes ” James has written a compelling, gut-wrenching novel that is not easily categorised. Part family drama, part psychological thriller, it pushes the boundaries of the crime genre…”, hence the novel is a perfect example of contemporary fiction in that exceeds the expectations of a single genre. Similarly Lauren of The Australian Bookshelf feels The Road Home by Fiona Palmer is more than than a romance featuring “from farming dilemmas to family conflict and then the personal struggles of each of the characters in the story“, and what stays with both Monique of Write Note Reviews and Kevin of Red Bluff Review is not the love story, but the realistic and horrific portrayal of warfare in Denise Leith’s, What Remains.
The contemporary genre also encompasses those titles publishers and booksellers categorise as women’s fiction, a marketing label many women writers and readers find distasteful. Author Paddy O’Reilly wrote a guest post earlier in the year for the AWW blog titled, “WTF is ‘women’s fiction'”, after her latest release, The Fine Colour of Rust, was given the label, objecting to the term as ‘dismissive’. The issue created quite a spirited debate across twitter and Bernadette of Reactions to Reading recently posted a rant entitled “I hate Women’s Fiction‘ calling for publishers and booksellers to “stop labelling and marketing… fiction as women’s fiction.” I had a chance to chat with Liane Moriarty, whose books The Hypnotists’ Love Story and What Alice Forgot have been well reviewed and she also felt the tag of women’s fiction was limiting. The Mother’s Group, a 2012 debut novel by Fiona Higgins, is another example of a novel that trancends the marginalising label of women’s fiction awarded by publishers, Philip of Travels in Prose offers it as “proof that women’s lives are a matter of interest for all sexes, not just for women”.
And women don’t just write from their own perspective, Sweet Old World by Deborah Robertson has a male as the central character, Whispering Gums writes “David [is] an interesting and psychologically-comprehensible character, and [the author] has given real voice to men who long for children”. M.L. Steadman’s The Light Between Oceans is told in large part through the perspective of Tom, a WW2 veteran serving as a lighthouse keeper on a small isolated island which Stephanie at Read in a Single Sitting believes is “intelligently and warmly written.”
The first book I reviewed for the 2012 AWW Challenge was Stella Makes Good by Lisa Heidke, which proved to be a popular read amongst participants. Paula at My Bookshelf felt she could relate to the everyday issues faced by women coping with family, friendships and career in suburban Australia. I found it heartening to discover a number of the contemporary titles reviewed featured heroine’s from their early 30’s and beyond including The House of Sticks by Peggy Frew which Danielle thought “beautifully captured the malaise of a woman unhappy with what her life is becoming” to Indelible Ink by Fiona McGregor which features a woman escaping her conventional milieu says Lucy at Lines Between Reads to There Should be More Dancing by Rosalie Ham whose protagonist is in her mid 60’s and which The Newtown Review of Books calls ‘edgy and ambitious’.
Rachael Johns ‘cracked up’ at the humour in Stella Makes Good and Sister Pact by Ali Ahearn and Ros Baxter, Campaign Ruby by Jessica Rudd and Liar Bird by Lisa Walker provided laughs for reviewers. In The Boy Who Fell To Earth, Kathy Lette’s humour masked the exploration of a serious topic, Autism – “In amongst the hilarious one-liners and slap-stick skits are poignant statements such as “…Mothering a child on the autism spectrum is as easy as skewering banana custard to a mid-air boomerang…” said in jest but striking deep in the heart.” writes Sally of Books and Musings from DownUnder.
Some contemporary titles explored serious personal and social issues. The Boy Under The Table by Nicole Trope is a confronting read, relating a horrific reality for two lost children, one abducted, another discarded. After The Fall by Kylie Ladd explores the fall out from an affair, reviewed here by Kate of Books are my Favourite and Best and If I Should Lose You by Natasha Lester explores organ donation, which for Annabel exposed “the myriad issues surrounding the entire process of organ donation”.
Rural – lit (aka farm lit & chook-lit) emerged as a distinct contemporary sub genre during 2012 with an explosion of novels featuring women living and working in the regional areas of Australia. While the making and breaking of romantic relationships are an element of these stories, novels like Bella’s Run by Margareta Osborn and The Girl in the Steel Capped Boots by Loretta Hill offer far more than a formulaic romance. Of Bella’s Run, Lara of This Charming Mum felt “the distinctive characterisations and authentic descriptions of rural life lift [Bella's Run] above its more run-of-the-mill contemporaries” and for Bree of All the Books I Can Read, “Bella’s Run is more than just a story about a young girl who heads off on an adventure – it’s a story of love, amazing friendship and a deep passion for the land.” The Girl in the Steel Capped Boots garnered effusive praise for it’s unique setting, the Pilbara region of Western Australia from Danielle at Alpha Reader while Jet Silver declared it her favourite book of the year.
The diversity of contemporary fiction in Australian literature is evidenced by the wide range of titles read by the challenge participants. I have been able to showcase only a few in this post, and recommend you browse the list of contemporary reviews listed in our database, there will surely be something you are tempted to add to your reading list for the 2013 challenge and each month through the year you can expect I will return to showcase more fabulous contemporary titles.
My name is Shelleyrae Cusbert I am a mother of four children, aged 6 to 16, living in the mid north coast of NSW. I am an obsessive reader and publish my thoughts about what I read at my book blog, Book’d Out. In 2012 I read and reviewed a total of 109 books for the AWW Challenge (see obsessive!) and featured more than 35 Australian women writers. I juggle caring for my family with a part time job and volunteer at both the town’s local library and her children’s school library. While I have a degree in Education, I hope to gain a diploma in librarian studies in the near future.