Wow, there must have been something special in the water in January because the number of reviews for books tagged as Literary and Classic has gone through the roof, more than doubling last January’s number, in fact. Is it due to our new Facebook Page? Whatever, I do hope it continues.

Jolly (hot!) January

Hannah Kent, The good peopleAnd now, in case you’re wondering, I’ll divulge the number: 62. Here are some highlights:

  • Our most reviewed author this month was Hannah Kent with 4 reviews (for her two novels) followed closely by Georgia Blain, Emily Maguire and Charlotte Wood with 3 reviews each, which means January’s reviews overall were nicely spread across many authors.
  • The most prolific reviewer award goes to writer Kali Napier who posted 8 reviews, closely followed by GoodReads reviewer calzean with 7 reviews. Hmm, this might explain some our big numbers this month (and some of the lower ones last year) because most of their reviews were written in 2016 it seems. They must have been doing a January clean-up of their records, which is perfectly fine because we want the reviews here!
  • While the General category (books set post mid-twentieth century) was, as usual, the most reviewed category, 16 (or 25%) were for Historical Fiction. We are not, it seems, losing our interest in this genre!

The Classics

English critic John Ruskin said that ““All books are divisible into two classes: the books of the hours, and the books of all Time.” In this section of my post, I’m talking about the latter, those books that have withstood time’s passing to still say something today. Some may have been forgotten at times, but the fact that we do pick them up again to read is good enough for me to call them a classic.

Jean Curlewis. Dawn ManMostly I discuss every classic reviewed, because there are usually only a couple, but this month we had SEVEN – yes, SEVEN – classics reviewed. Authors reviewed included Thea Astley, Ruth Park and Amy Witting, but here I’ll share two lesser-known authors, Jean Curlewis and Louise Mack. First, Curlewis.

Debbie Robson has made a great contribution to our challenge by introducing, and reviewing, Jean Curlewis, who was Ethel Turner’s daughter. Curlewis died young, due to tuberculosis, and consequently only published 4 novels. Debbie has now reviewed all of these, the last being the thriller, The dawn man. Debbie loved her books saying:

I love the details that mark this and Curlewis’s other novels as of the 1920s. The cars, the conversation, mention of a blue cab which set me off on a train of research and later in this novel a scene where the heroine driving a car, chases the train that Anthony is on. You definitely can’t do that anymore.

But more than anything what I value now, looking back on all four novels (wishing she hadn’t died so young) is the way Curlewis evokes place.

Louise Mack, The world is roundYou can still find these books, says Debbie, at AbeBooks and Amazon. Jean Curlewis lived from 1898 to 1930, and was thus contemporaneous with the other author I’d like to feature, Louise Mack (1870-1935). The world is round, first published in 1896, was Mack’s first novel. It’s a tragicomedy about a young woman and the two men who loved her – an older man-of-the-world and a shy young teacher. I wrote in my review:

It is a fun read, still today. It has a light touch, never wallowing in the issues it raises, and not weighed down with long explication or too many adjectives that you sometimes find in debut novelists. There are moments of sadness or pathos – obviously at least one of the would-be lovers is going to be disappointed, for a start – but Mack never becomes sentimental.

If you are looking for an enjoyable accessible classic for this year’s Bingo, you couldn’t go wrong with this one.

Small presses and literary awards

On my blog recently (apologies for the self-promotion this month), I wrote a post about the costs of entering books for literary awards, and the fact that at least one publisher has decided to no longer enter its authors’ books. In the ensuing discussion, we decided that one thing we can do to help small publishers and their authors is to talk about them more, so I’m going to do just that in this post.

Ariella van Luyn, Treading WaterSeveral small presses feature in January’s reviews, including:

  • Affirm Press represented by Emily Bitto’s 2015 Stella Prize winning The strays (reviewed by Tien on Tien’s Blurb), Melissa Ashley’s The birdman’s wife (reviewed by Elise McCune and Kali Napier), and Ariella van Luyn’s Treading air (reviewed by Kali Napier).
  • Black Inc represented by Amanda Lohrey’s A short history of Richard Kline (reviewed by Pearl Maya) and Kate Mildenhall’s Skylarking (reviewed by Anna Greenwood and Kali Napier).
  • Margaret River Press represented by Portland Jones’ Seeing the elephant (reviewed by Christine Sun)
  • Georgia Blain, Between a wolf and a dogScribe represented by last year’s Queensland Literary Award winner Georgia Blain’s Between a wolf and a dog (reviewed by Jools, Justine Hyde on Hub & Spoke and Rosalie Knox).
  • Spinifex Press represented by last year’s NSW Premier’s Literary Award winner Melinda Bobis’ Locust girl (reviewed by calzean).

So, they might be small presses, but they publish books that make a mark, including some that are shortlisted for and/or win awards.

New releases

Rebekah Clarkson, Barking DogsWe now have a page on the site displaying new releases, by the month of release. It’s not complete of course, because it only lists what we’ve been able to glean or what authors themselves have told us, but it’s a start.

The February is fairly extensive, but I’ll just highlight here the two described as “literary fiction”. One is Rebekah Clarkson’s Barking Dogs (from Affirm Press) which I have in my TBR pile, and the other is Kathryn Heyman’s “literary thriller” Storm and Grace (from Allen & Unwin).

To see what else is coming out, check out the page. You may like to bookmark it, because we will keep adding to it.

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About Me

I am Whispering Gums and I read, review and blog about (mostly) literary fiction. It was reading Jane Austen when I was 14 years old that turned me on to reading 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 been making sure to include a good percentage of Australian (and other) women writers in my reading diet.

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