In February the literary year really got going with the announcement of the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award winners and the longlist for our favourite award here, the Stella Prize. For details on these see the end of this post. Meanwhile, on with the show…

February Figures

Eleanor Limprecht, The passengersWe had a goodly number of reviews again this month – 51 – which is similar to last month’s stats and also to last February’s. Here are some highlights:

  • Our most reviewed author was Eleanor Limprecht (with five reviews for her new novel The passengers), followed by last month’s most reviewed author, Kali Napier (with four more reviews for her debut novel, The secrets at ocean’s edge).
  • Our top reviewers were Ashleigh Meikle (The Book Muse), and Claire Holderness (GoodReads), each with five reviews.
  • Only three of this month’s reviews were for books published before 2000, and in fact all but four were published after 2010. We love seeing new books being supported, but keeping the past alive helps, I think, to keep our literary culture strong.

The Classics

Fortunately, some did explore our literary heritage this month, reviewing, in chronological order of publication, Miles Franklin’s My brilliant career (1901), Thea Astley’s It’s raining in Mango (1987), and Madeleine St John’s The women in black (1993). All have featured here before, but are worth featuring again.

My brilliant career was reviewed by Emma our new participant from France. She enjoyed it with some reservations, but I’ll share, as I did last month, her comments as a French person reading an Australian text:

I read it in English. There were a lot of unfamiliar words to describe the land and some like Kookaburras or jackeroo had a funny ring to them. Like I would be later with The Three Miss Kings, I was surprised by Franklin’s freedom of speech. Sybylla’s ideas on marriage, religion, men and life in general are unconventional. Women seemed to have more space to express themselves, probably because the country was so young and made of daring people (I think you had to have guts to leave safe and mild Europe to travel so far and settle in a brand new land).

Thea Astley, It's raining in mangoDebut author Kali Napier reviewed the other two classics, so I’ll just share her review of Thea Astley’s It’s raining in Mango. I love that part of her response was through the eyes of a practising writer:

There is a lot of fecundity, overgrown weeds, rain, and, of course, flooding, in this slim novel by Thea Astley. In fact, I found myself taking notes at how she was able to cover such ground and expanses of time in so few pages.

Author reviewers

The Secrets at Oceans Edge Kali NapierOver the years I’ve noted how great it is to have authors contributing reviews to the challenge – and in fact one such author, Kali Napier, appears under Classics above. As a little thank you to their generosity, I thought I’d share two who have, themselves, been reviewed this month, starting with Napier.

Napier’s debut novel The secrets at ocean’s edge was reviewed four times in February. One of those reviewers, Helen Sibbritt, hasn’t been featured here before. She enjoyed the book, which is set in Western Australia during the depression, writing:

I did find it a bit hard to like Lily at the beginning but wow by the end I had nothing but praise for her and what she went through.

Another reviewer, Jenn McLeod defers to Cass Moriarty’s review but adds

Historically significant and eloquently told, this novel is a tour de force that will find its place among Australia’s best.

Kelly blue mile novelAnother author who has reviewed books this year is Kim Kelly. Her book The blue mile was reviewed this month by Claire Holderness. A work of historical fiction about the building of the Sydney Harbour Bridge, it captured Claire who wrote:

The characters around the main characters were also wonderfully portrayed. The history of the building of Sydney harbour bridge and the politics at that time were very interesting … I love learning about the history of our country and getting an insight into how people got by.

Awards news

Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards

These awards were announced on 1 February, and two of the winners interest us here in my corner of the Challenge:

  • Victorian Prize for Literature, and the Prize for Non-Fiction: The Trauma Cleaner: One Woman’s Extraordinary Life in Death, Decay & Disaster, by Sarah Krasnostein (Text)
  • Prize for Fiction: Australia Day by Melanie Cheng (Text)

Firstly, it’s great seeing Text Publishing continuing to support Australian writers – and particularly Australian women writers. Secondly, I’m pleased that both these books have been reviewed for the challenge.

Kate (booksaremyfavouriteandbest) reviewed Melanie Cheng’s Australia day. She writes:

Cheng manages to deliver some powerful blows that caught me unaware. I stress the ‘caught unaware’ bit because that’s what happens with casual racism, isn’t it? You’re having a perfectly ordinary conversation with someone and they slip in something that is absolutely not right, and it catches you unaware. You’re thinking ‘Hang on…’, and you turn the comment over and over in your mind, ‘to be sure’, but from every angle it’s racist. And the conversation has moved on but you’re left with a bad taste and you wish you’d said something in the moment. And that’s how casual racism stays alive.

Sounds like a powerful read – and how good to see a collection of short stories win the fiction prize.

Stella Prize Longlist 2018

The shortlist has now been announced – in March – but here I’m sharing the longlist which was announced in February. The news may be old but it’s relevant to record it here and to see how well the Challenge has been tracking the books. The asterisked titles have NOT been reviewed for the challenge yet:

  • *The enlightenment of the Greengage Tree, by Shokoofeh Azar (novel; Wild Dingo Press)
  • A writing life: Helen Garner and her work, by Bernadette Brennan (literary portrait; Text)
  • Anaesthesia: The gift of oblivion and the mystery of consciousness, by Kate Cole-Adams (general non-fiction; Text)
  • Terra nullius, by Claire G Coleman (novel; Hachette Australia)
  • The life to come, by Michelle de Kretser (novel; Allen & Unwin)
  • *This water: Five tales, by Beverley Farmer (short stories/novellas; Giramondo)
  • The green bell: A memoir of love, madness and poetry, by Paula Keogh (memoir; Affirm Press)
  • An uncertain grace, by Krissy Kneen (novel; Text)
  • The choke, by Sofie Laguna (novel; Allen & Unwin)
  • Martin Sharp: His life and times, by Joyce Morgan (biography; Allen & Unwin)
  • The fish girl, by Miranda Riwoe (novella; Seizure)
  • Tracker, by Alexis Wright (memoir/biography; Giramondo)

Not bad eh? Of the twelve longlisted books, we have reviewed all but two of them. While only one of these, Azar’s book, has gone on to be shortlisted, it would be great to see both of these added to our database. Anyone?

Kate Cole-Adams, AnaesthesiaAs always for the Stella, which prides itself for being so, the list contains a variety of forms and genres, including five non-fiction works and one collection of short stories. It also includes a diversity of viewpoints, including two indigenous authors (Coleman and Wright) and an Iranian born one (Azar).

Kate Cole-Adams’ Anaesthesia and Claire G Coleman’s Terra nullius were both reviewed in February, but as I’ve covered Terra nullius before, I’m choosing Cole-Adams to represent the longlist in this round-up. Reviewer Anna Greenwood was impressed by the “detailed, well-presented research into different elements of anaesthesia” though found some of the personal digressions involving “dreams and dabbling in hypnosis” less engaging. Overall, though, she found it a worthwhile read.

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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 fell in love with Elizabeth Jolley, Thea Astley, Olga Masters, Helen Garner and Kate Grenville. Ever since then I have been included a good percentage of Australian (and other) women writers in my reading diet.

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