April is an exciting month for Australian women writers because it is when the winner of the Stella Prize is announced. The shortlist for the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards was also announced. I’ll discuss both of these under Awards below. I will not, however, be discussing the Dobbie and Kibble awards as I did last April, because these awards, as of last year, are now being awarded biennially – for financial reasons, it seems.
April was another stellar month for reviews. Seventy-eight reviews were posted, just over double the number for last April. This is wonderful for the challenge, and for raising the profile of Australian women writers. Thanks all. Some highlights are:
- Our most reviewed author for the month was Sarah Schmidt with five reviews for See what I have done, followed by Georgia Blain, Kate Mildenhall, Katharine Susannah Prichard with three reviews each.
- Top-reviewers for the month were calzean (10 reviews), Theresa Petray (9 reviews), Cass Moriarty (8 reviews)
- 14% of the reviews posted were for books originally published before 2000
Once upon a time I would mention every classic reviewed in a month because there were so few of them. However, this month 10 classics were reviewed – by 6 different reviewers – so I’ll have to select just a couple to highlight.
I’ll start with Katharine Susannah Prichard. Calzean reviewed three of her books – The pioneers, Coonardoo, and her autobiography, Child of the hurricane – but only classified the two novels as classic. Prichard’s first novel was The pioneers, published in 1915. Calzean’s review is short but sweet. She starts by commenting that this book, set in pioneering 1850s Victoria, is not well-known:
I need to read more from KSP. Maybe her being the co-founder of the Australian Communist Party made her a black sheep and hence her books are not as widely read as they should be.
Whatever the reason, Calzean is right. Prichard is worth reading. Calzean continues her praise of Prichard when she writes about Coonardoo. Published in 1929, it jointly won the 1928 Bulletin Novel Competition with M. Barnard Eldershaw’s A House is Built. Calzean writes:
I wish this book was studied as part of my High School education. It covered so much and my admiration for KSP grows knowing she wrote this in 1929.
She then describes some of the themes including relationships between indigenous and non-indigenous people, and the struggle faced by pioneers in such hard land.
The last book I’ll do is Elyne Mitchell’s novel,The man from Snowy River. Emily (A Keyboard and an Open Mind) thoroughly enjoyed the story, which she experienced via audiobook. She opens her review with:
I want to start by just saying how much fun I had with this book! It evoked the Australian bush landscape in such a way that made me feel nostalgic for home, even though I have no intention of ever moving back to my tiny rural home town. The characters were all vibrant and both the love story and the adventure story held my interested the whole way through.
It’s been some months since I highlighted a publisher, so this month I’m briefly profiling one of Australia’s successful small, independent publishers, Transit Lounge. This month they featured in four reviews, two for the Stella-shortlisted memoir, Poum and Alexandre, by Catherine de Saint Phalle and the genre-bending novel, From the wreck, by Jane Rawson.
Transit Lounge specialises in “exciting new fiction and non-fiction” or, more precisely, in “travel literature, memoir and literary fiction” (from their About page). Their titles can be on the “edgy” side. The Age, as quoted (on their About page) praises them for combining “a winning roster of eclectic travel writers and top notch and original fiction”. In other words, if you are looking for something a bit different, Transit Lounge’s authors, women and men, can be a good place to start.
Many of Transit Lounge’s women authors, such as Tracy Ryan, Nike Sulway, Sonya Voumard and Dominique Wilson, have been reviewed for our Challenge, but here I’ll share those reviewed this month. Catherine de Saint Phalle’s Poum and Alexandre was reviewed by Theresa Petray and Kate (booksaremyfavouriteandbest). Kate found it a fascinating read, both for its writing and its story. She concludes:
Although it was easy to be swept along by the lovely writing, Saint Phalle reveals that troubled, obsessive Poum, and brave, charismatic Alexandre have secrets. Rather than becoming the crux of the story, these secrets simply provide context for Poum and Alexandre’s eccentricities. What remains is an intense, memorable ode to parents who were clearly adored.
Jane Rawson, author of A wrong turn at the Office of Unmade Lists and Formaldehyde, is known for writing that surprises, that breaks boundaries. Her latest book, From the wreck, was reviewed this month by Justine Hyde and Ashleigh Meikle (The Book Muse). Justine explains what I mean by Rawson’s writing:
Rawson challenges the boundaries of historical fiction with a shape-shifting alien character. She takes us on a journey from dusty and dry 19th century Adelaide, drags us down into the deepest oceans, flings us out past the stars and into space and then reels us back to earth again.
She loved the book, calling it “wild and magical”. Ashleigh has a go at explaining how Rawson does it:
Jane Rawson’s use of history and her own family history to tell the story with an injection of fantasy allowed the story to flow nicely, and gave it a good grounding, intrigue and rich characters, and positioned it within a historical time and place through the use of words no longer in use today commonly, attitudes towards others and the unknown, and how people dealt with tragedy, and family dynamics that evolved over time.
Around the awards
The Stella Award was announced in mid-April but if you missed it, the winner was Heather Rose’s The museum of modern love. It was a popular winner, and we had two reviews for it this month, one from Justin Hyde and the other by Kim Forrester (Reading Matters). Kim describes the book succinctly:
In this highly original novel, Rose takes a real life event and peoples it with interesting fictional characters who interact with a particular work of art, are changed by it and come away from it having learned something of themselves and of others.
She calls it “a hugely engaging novel, written in an effortless, free-flowing style.”
- Christine Stead Award. As last year, four of the six shortlisted works are by women: Heather Rose’s The Museum of Modern Love, Gretchen Shirm’s Where the Light Falls, Tara June Winch’s After the Carnage, and Charlotte Wood’s The Natural Way of Things
- UTS Glenda Adams Award for New Writing. Five of the six shortlisted works are by women: Katherine Brabon’s The Memory Artist, Michelle Cahill’s Letter to Pessoa, Jennifer Down’s Our Magic Hour, Julie Koh’s Portable Curiosities, and Rose Mulready’s The Bonobo’s Dream
The books by Brabon and Mulready have not been reviewed for the challenge.
Can you help out with either of these?
I read, review and blog about literary fiction (mostly) on Whispering Gums. 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.