There is great excitement today with the announcement of the longlist for the inaugural Stella Prize. After receiving a huge number of entries, the Stella Prize judges—writer and critic Kerryn Goldsworthy, author Kate Grenville, actor and creator Claudia Karvan, bookseller Fiona Stager and ABC broadcaster Rafael Epstein—have selected twelve books for the inaugural Stella Prize longlist.
Chair of the Stella Prize judging panel, Kerryn Goldsworthy, says:
“Out of the almost 200 original entries, the judges have arrived at a varied and eclectic longlist that reflects the breadth of imagination, knowledge and skill in contemporary Australian women’s writing. The list includes a collection of short stories, a fantasy novel, a speculative-fiction verse novel, and three non-fiction books with very different subjects and styles. There are mixed-genre books involving biography, history, memoir and art; there are novels about real people, and nonfiction books using the beautiful writing techniques of fiction. There are stories from the past and from the future; stories of children at risk, of racial tension, of world travel, and of unimaginable danger and loss.”
Here are the longlisted titles:
Floundering by Romy Ash (Text Publishing)
Mazin Grace by Dylan Coleman (UQP)
The Burial by Courtney Collins (Allen & Unwin)
The People Smuggler by Robin de Crespigny (Penguin)
Questions of Travel by Michelle de Kretser (Allen & Unwin)
Sufficient Grace by Amy Espeseth (Scribe Publications)
The Sunlit Zone by Lisa Jacobson (5 Islands Press)
Like a House on Fire by Cate Kennedy (Scribe Publications)
Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan (Allen & Unwin)
The Mind of a Thief by Patti Miller (UQP)
An Opening by Stephanie Radok (Wakefield Press)
Mateship with Birds by Carrie Tiffany (Picador)
The judges will now decide on a shortlist that will be announced on Wednesday 20 March and the world’s first Stella Prize will be awarded in Melbourne on the evening of Tuesday 16 April.
You can read more about the longlisted titles and their authors here and, in this brief roundup, you will find a selection of reviews of some of the longlisted titles by AWW Challenge participants. Readers: there is still plenty to do as six out of the twelve longlisted titles have not yet been reviewed for the AWW Challenge. (I’ve already ransacked the online catalogue at my local library and have reserved a couple of titles.)
There were six reviews of Floundering by Romy Ash. Here’s what some of our reviewers had to say about this poweful novel about two brothers.
From Sue Luus: “This debut novel from Romy Ash packs a powerful punch, that winds you and leaves you gasping for air and water. Deeply disturbing because it all too possible and is the experience of life that some marginalised folk have, this book is a must read. I could not read it in one sitting it was too deeply disturbing. I did finish it after an Avid Reader Salon Event, where Romy Ash was interviewed for Radio National, in which she commented that she did not want any really bad characters in the novel and did not want readers to hate her characters. Knowing the author’s intention enabled me to read it through a softer lens.This book will challenge you and punch you in the guts.”
From Jon Page: “After finishing this amazing debut novel I felt as if someone had ripped my heart out, stomped on it and put it back in. It is a very emotional novel. It is very dark and reminded me in a lot of ways of Past the Shallows by Favel Parrett. The plight of Tom and Jordy will break your heart but you will stick by them until the end.”
Sian Campbell said: “Its sympathy alongside desperation and curiosity that keeps us flipping the pages. By the end of the book, a lot of my questions remained unanswered – but I was more satisfied for it. Floundering is nerve-wracking, physical and utterly Australian.”
Jessica White had mixed feelings:
“The prose is absolutely crystalline and the tension, up until about page 100, is superb. After that it wobbles a bit, but takes off again. The titular scene, in which the boys try to catch flounder in the sea with their mother by the light of a torch, stands as a perfect encapsulation of the story. With ripples of disquiet created by the boys’ interactions with their old neighbour in the caravan park, the hint of prostitution learned from the mother, and a car accident with kangaroos that reminded me of Wake in Fright, the novel was on the cusp of springing into something truly disturbing. Sadly, however, this didn’t happen, as it wrapped up in a somewhat pedestrian way and didn’t leave me with a huge amount to think about.”
The Burial by Courtney Collins was also reviewed by six readers.
Shelleyrae of Book’d Out said: “It is the dawn of the twentieth century in Australia and a woman has done an unspeakable thing. Twenty-two-year-old Jessie has served a two-year sentence for horse rustling. The Burial is a poetic, reimagined tribute to the extraordinary life of legendary Australian ‘lady bushranger’, Jessie Hickman. Set in the 1920′s, as Jessie flees the law after murdering her brutal husband, this is a brooding novel narrated by Jessie’s dead newborn child, whose spirit remains tethered to her mother. While The Burial is dark and melancholic, dwelling on loss and death, it also celebrates the triumph of survival against all odds. Gritty yet glorious, The Burial is an impressive debut. Collins has revealed an extraordinary voice sure to be embraced by the literati.”
Sophia Whitfield said: “The Burial is a richly atmospheric novel that harkens after the colonial past. It has award winner stamped all over it. The Burial is a beautifully written book set to the backdrop of the haunting Australian landscape.”
Cameron Hindrum recommended the book highly despite the fact that he felt it had some flaws and said: “I devoured this book, after the slightly awkward opening passages. I was soon swept along by Jessie’s story though, and Courtney Collins crafts a well-plotted, beautifully rendered tale of love and loss, justice in many forms, and the seeming inescapability of one’s fate.”
Melissa Phillips reviewed Robin de Crespigny’s The People Smuggler saying: “…de Crespigny addresses questions about authenticity and a person’s ownership of their own identity. Amidst much chatter of refugees and asylum-seekers as “illegals”, “boat people” and “economic migrants”, Ali al Jenabi’s story told in The People Smuggler makes the reader question what we are told is the “truth” about asylum seekers and displacement. Thanks to Robin de Crespigny we have a book I would highly recommend, to help us make up our own minds on what will likely be a key 2013 election issue.”
James Tierney reviewed Questions of Travel by Michelle de Krester saying:
“Technology crackles out from these pages in a way still remarkable for a literary novel. A digital camera begins a career, a laptop wheezes like a sick child, abandoned websites are collected beachcomber-like from their obscurity. Questions of Travel bubbles with memorable images and sharply turned phrases: a dog called Marmite yips the chorus of Cold, Cold Heart; laughter tumbles out of a character in lumps, like vomit; money is described as what grownups put in place of childish wishes. If fiction works to craft resonant questions, then Questions of Travel reads as if it knows its answers just a little too well.”
As Elizabeth Lhuede says in her review of Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan, “it has been extensively reviewed for the AWW challenge. …I know why: it’s one of the stand-out AWW reads for 2012.”
Linda Funnell from The Newtown Review of Books said of it: “…the novel raises unsettling questions about male desire – are beauty and compliance all men want? The men of Rollrock pay a high price in more ways than one for their wives, but willingly succumb to the enchantment. And why is a woman—the witch Misskaella—providing for them? Is the legend of the selkie a warning against miscegenation? An injunction to stick with your own kind? Or is it a broader warning against upsetting the natural order?
At its heart, this is a novel that questions the nature of love. Can it be love, if the beloved is forced to stay? In hiding the sea wives’ skins, the men are shackling the women to them as surely as if they had put them in irons. That the men see this, but do not stop it, should make us condemn them completely. That we don’t is a measure of Lanagan’s success in this finely wrought, disturbing novel.”
Kelly from Reader’s Haven said that along with Kate Forsyth, “it takes the cake as my 2012 Australian Women Writers Challenge “discovery” of the year. It is just so exciting to find two new authors, both female and both Australian, who rock my world. … Sea Hearts is salty and bewitching, and I absolutely loved it. Lanagan’s writing is so beautiful that I found myself re-reading particular sentences and paragraphs over and over again, wondering how she could evoke such vivid images and feelings with such simplicity. In a few words Lanagan can paint a character or a setting so clearly that every detail is sharp as a freshly pressed Polaroid. I swear that at times during the reading of this book, I could smell the sea.”
Mateship with Birds by Carrie Tiffany has been another popular title for review. At Booksaremyfavouriteandbest, it scored 5/5. “If writing style can be true to the Australian agricultural landscape, this is it — sparse, brittle, obvious. But look a little closer and you’ll find there’s much more to see. … Mateship with Birds is all about sex. But within context. It’s also about families and unions, the peaks and troughs in relationships and love versus lust. For me, the star of the book was Betty’s daughter, Little Hazel. She’s honest, beautifully naive and generous in spirit.”
Tony from Tony’s Reading List said: “Mateship with Birds is very different to the usual city-centric Australian fiction, but don’t imagine that life in the country is peaceful and pleasantly bucolic. The days are full of sex (mainly the people), violence (mainly the birds) and excrement (both), and Tiffany delights in describing it all for us in great detail. We’re treated to frequent mentions of shit, sweat, piss and slobber, both animal and human. It’s not always comfortable reading, but it does come across as the natural way of life out in the country…”
The following titles have not yet been reviewed by for the AWW Challenge:
Mazin Grace by Dylan Coleman
Sufficient Grace by Amy Espeseth
The Sunlit Zone by Lisa Jacobson
The Mind of a Thief by Patti Miller
An Opening by Stephanie Radok
Like a House on Fire by Cate Kennedy
To win either Like a House on Fire by Cate Kennedy or Sufficient Grace by Amy Espeseth, or other books by Scribe authors, see our AWW Scribe Giveaway for the best 2012 Literary/Classic or Nonfiction review.
I’m a freelance book reviewer, journalist and editor and have worked as a librarian for many years. I’m always feeling guilty about what I ‘should have’ or ‘should be reading.’ I signed up for the AWW challenge in 2012 and this year, as well as doing my own challenge where I’d like to focus on our long-lost women writers, I will be posting updates about Literary Awards and Classics. I blog over at Wordsville and you can find me on Twitter @PaulaGrunseit