Oh dear! July was a stellar month for reviews of books classified Classics and/or Literary, with over 40 reviews posted in one month, but since then we’ve fallen in a heap. Only 39 reviews have been posted for the combined August-September period! Still, I can’t criticise. I’ve been gallivanting overseas and have only posted one review for the period.
What the numbers say
Here, as I like to do, is some basic analysis of the period’s reviews
- 27 reviewers posted the 39 reviews: Marilyn (Me, You and Books) from Texas posted 5 reviews, closely followed by writereaderly with 4. Five contributors – AWW challenge team members Jessica White and Shelleyrae (Book’d out), Lyn (Goodreads), Lynette Washington, and author Poppy Gee - posted 2 each.
- 33 authors were reviewed: Hannah Kent’s debut novel Burial Rites topped the list with 4 reviews, making 8 reviews now for the last three months. I wouldn’t be surprised if this novel ends up being the top reviewed book in this category for 2013. Merlinda Bobis, Michelle de Kretser, and Henry Handel Richardson were each reviewed twice.
- 3 reviews were for indigenous authors, Dylan Coleman, Jeanine Leane and Alexis Wright.
- While Contemporary stories continue to dominate, with 20 reviews, this period saw an increase in the number of Classics reviewed, with 5 reviews.
- Books nominated for literary awards this year represent nearly 20% of the books reviewed this period.
This period’s classics are an interesting bunch: Mary Grant Bruce‘s children’s novel, Mates at Billabong, in her Billabong Books series; Eleanor Dark‘s Slow Dawning; Joan Lindsay’s Picnic at Hanging Rock; and two novels by Henry Handel Richardson, Maurice Guest and Volume 1 of The Fortunes of Richard Mahoney trilogy. Debbie Robson (Goodreads) felt that Eleanor Dark did herself a disservice when she disparaged her first novel, Slow Dawning. Debbie had to work hard to access this book, eventually reading a version she photocopied at the Mitchell Library in Sydney. She says of the book:
To me, as a reader in the 21st century the novel is not the melodrama that Dark and even her biographer, Barbara Brooks, claims it is. I found the book a wonderful barometer of the twenties. It gave me a real feel for Australia in the Twenties and it was ultimately an extremely readable book.
Maybe this is one that Text Classics should look at publishing.
Marilyn writes that Richardson’s Maurice Guest is:
An exceptional novel by an Australian woman, writing under a pseudonym, about the self-absorbed passions of men and women in the music community in Leipzig, Germany before World War I.
Having just this last month been in Leipzig, I really should move this book up in my TBR pile. Anyhow, Marilyn says that she was initially disconcerted by Richardson’s description of men’s demeaning treatment of women in the book, but:
Then I began to realize that Richardson was not condoning their words or actions. I slowly realized that, at one level, the novel was about problems of gender definitions that demanded that women be submissive and dependent on men who were tyrannical.
Not many children’s books find their way into the Classics and Literary category, but this month we have Mary Grant Bruce’s Mates at Billabong. Like me, reviewer Leonie was introduced to the Billabong Books by her mother. She was concerned they might be dated now, particularly in terms of their portrayal of race and gender, and so tackled this particular issue in her review. Here is what she says:
There are several characters of different races portrayed in the novel, but Mary Grant Bruce has characterised them as real human beings, even if some of the comments in the story sound “wrong” to a twenty-first century reader, and would actually be considered offensive by today’s standards. If you consider the cultural thinking of the time, then the author was probably quite brave to write as she did. I actually enjoyed reading her descriptions and I did wonder if she had ended up in any trouble as a result of them.
She makes an important point about reading books in terms of “the cultural thinking of the[ir] time”. Leonie says she will seek out more of the series so she can “wander down memory lane and listen for the sounds and smells of the bush, and for a few hours be transported back to my childhood”.
I wrote about Hannah Kent, author of Burial Rites, last month, but with four more reviews posted this period, making 13 in less than 6 months, I believe it warrants another mention. Surely it will appear on some literary award shortlists next year. Even Bernadette, who doesn’t much like literary fiction as a rule, liked this book – and not just because Hannah Kent is, for her, “a local girl”. She says:
In some ways the things I liked most about BURIAL RITES were the things that weren’t there. It didn’t provide easy answers, its ending didn’t include lurid details (though Kent doesn’t gloss over the undoubted horror of a public beheading) and there were no implausible scenes better suited to the modern day.
The other reviewers, Kate (“this incredible book”), Louise (“the prose is stunning”) and Brenda (“the writing … absolutely beautiful”), concur, all commenting on both the quality of the writing and the book’s emotional impact.
All four non-fiction reviews this month were for biographies: Jill Roe’s award-winning Stella Miles Franklin (writereaderly), Helen Ennis’ long essay Olive Cotton at Spring Forest (Susan Steggall), Kate Holden’s In My Skin (Erin Golding), and Kristina Olsson’s Boy, Lost (Jessica White). Steggall’s review of Ennis’ essay is, really, an essay itself as she tackles the form and meaning of “biography”. She commences by analysing the current state and status of biographical writing, before specifically discussing the essay on Cotton. I liked her observation on the biographer’s challenge:
If I have one criticism of Ennis’s thoughtful essay, it is that the academic-biographer is perhaps seeking too much direction in Olive Cotton’s life. Life is messy, often seemingly without purpose, acted out in response to external influences. Surely there is only so much one can demand in the way of order … in an actual, lived, life with all the social, financial and physical factors that swirl around it. Ennis has set out to write the story of Olive’s life; Olive Cotton was simply living it.
NOTE: 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.