November 2014 Roundup: Classics and Literary

After a very slow month for reviews in October, things picked up considerably in November. Thanks everyone!

This will be the last of our monthly roundups for Classics and Literary in 2014, as the next round-up will be an annual report. I’m looking forward to seeing what pops up out of my analysis. It’s been an interesting year for books by women writers – in my area anyhow – but more on that next month.

Numerical November

Thirty-two reviews were posted this month, three more than for November last year.  Here are some highlights:

  • Helen Garner’s book This house of grief continues to bring in reviews since its publication a couple of months ago, garnering four this month. Michelle de Kretser received three reviews across two books, as did Annabel Smith.
  • A quarter of the reviews this month were for non-fiction works, helped along by Helen Garner’s book of course!
  • This month’s most prolific reviewer was one of our small band of male reviewers, Jonathan Shaw (Me fail? I fly), with five reviews. He was closely followed by Angie Holst (Projected Happiness) who posted four.

The Classics

Reviews for classics keep coming in, with two posted this month. Both were for lesser known works by well-known authors. We could question whether lesser known works qualify as “classics” but my policy is to keep the categories broad and flexible. Anyhow, where else would they go?

Eleanor Dark, Return to CoolamiThe first classic is Eleanor Dark’s Return to Coolami (1936), reviewed by Angie Holst. A lot has been made over the last couple of years of Text Publishing’s promotion of Australian classics through their Text Classics series, but other publishers have been quietly going about the same business. Return to Coolami, for example, comes from Allen and Unwin’s House of Books series. Holst likens this book, which explores three marriages, to Harrower’s In certain circles:

Like Harrower, there is a confidence with Dark’s writing, and an intelligent understanding of the inner workings of both women and men. I thought this a very modern feeling novel, which is high praise given its 1930s release. Some of the issues raised in the portrayal of Susan are strongly feminist although of course, this period was a time of monumental change for women.

TurnerParthenonJuveniliaThe other “classic” is a little more ambiguous in categorisation. It was reviewed by me, and is a collection of juvenilia by Ethel Turner, author of one of Australia’s best-loved children’s classics, Seven little Australians. Titled Tales from the “Parthenon”, it contains a selection of works from the journal published by Turner and her sister Lilian immediately post-school. Written over more than 40 years before Dark’s work, Turner’s pieces also address gender issues and make clear their author’s belief that women have a right to independence and intellectually equality.

Literary non-fiction

Eight of the reviews posted this month were for non-fiction works. To appear in this round-up, they need to be identified as belonging to what is generally recognised as literary or narrative non-fiction, that is, non-fiction which uses some of the techniques of fiction, such as characterisation, evocative language, and/or dialogue. Helen Garner’s This house of grief uses all of these. Jonathan Shaw, for example, describes Garner as dramatising her personal responses, and Kate (Books are My Favourite and Best) writes that:

there are bits of herself – her knitting, her grandchildren, her friend’s recent divorce – and there’s her sharp focus on the players involved, as opposed to the evidence .

Memoirs are, perhaps, a little more difficult to define as “literary” since they naturally deal with “character”. I have assumed that the reviewers who defined as literary the memoirs they read in November have done so on the basis of the quality of the writing and of the reflections. Kylie Mason reviewed Kristy Chambers’ memoir It’s not you, Geography, it’s me in the Newton Review of Books, and liked her “appealing narrative voice”. There is, she writes, a

certain charm to her willingness to showcase with directness and wit the very worst of her travel experiences, and she does not shy away from the harder aspects of travelling with a mental illness.

Kate Belle (The Ecstasy Files) writes about another travel-related memoir, Sinning across Spain by Ailsa Piper, saying that Piper shares “deeply personal and intimate revelations of her experience”.

Janine Rizzetti (Resident Judge of Port Phillip) reviewed Maggie Mackellar’s When it rains, which falls into the “grief memoir” sub-genre. Rizzetti makes it very clear why she defined this book as “literary”. Mackellar, she says,

has left strict chronological order behind and instead spirals around her story. The book is written as a series of short chapters, mostly in the present tense, that read a bit like newspaper columns in that each one seems self-contained with apparent closure in the final paragraph of each one.  But you turn the page, and still it goes on – just as she must.  As one chapter follows another chapter, she is still circling warily around her pain but gradually stepping away from it as well.

These aren’t all the reviews posted this month for “literary” non-fiction, but they represent some of the variety we find in this loose grouping.

Most Underrated Book Award for 2014 (MUBA)

Jane Rawson, A wrong turn at the office of unmade listsPaula Grunseit, our coordinator for awards, has already posted this month on MUBA, but I wanted to mention it here for two reasons. For those of you who didn’t read her post and haven’t heard, this year’s MUBA was won by Jane Rawson for her novel, A wrong turn at the office of unmade lists. Rawson is one of our generous band of authors who regularly post reviews of other writers’ books for the challenge. So far this year, in this category, she has posted 23 reviews. That’s more than two a month! Well done Jane, and thanks.

The other reason is that her book has received a few reviews this year, including one this month by Angie Holst who liked it. Holst said she could see why it won the award. She concludes her review of this “indefinable” novel with the following assessment:

Rawson is ambitious in her structure and voice, whilst maintaining coherence and pace. I did think the earlier sections in future Melbourne were more confident, less dialogue driven and more purposeful. However, the latter sections no doubt were what captured the attention of the MUBA judges: their scope and imagination make this an unusual and worthy read.

I’ve mentioned only a few of the books reviewed this month. To see all of the Literary/Classic books reviewed this year to date, please check this Weebly page.


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.

June 2014 Roundup: Diversity

June’s roundup already! Has anyone else felt like they’ve been on a freight train, and unceremoniously tossed out at the station in the middle of the year?  Either way, our readers have certainly been keeping up to speed, as we’ve had some 20 reviews of books that contain themes of diversity, or which are written by writers with diverse backgrounds.

AnguliMaAGothicTaleChiVuThe largest such genre this month was that of books by migrant writers.  Jane of GoodReads reviewed Chi Vu’s creepy but compelling novella, Anguli Ma, a Gothic Tale, and commented it was her favourite book this year, making her look at her neighbourbood and Australia ‘in a whole other way.’ She also rightly points out that ‘There aren’t enough stories about the non-Anglo experience of living in Australia; particularly not enough stories that aren’t memoirs of growing up non-Anglo here.’

present darkness nunnIt was also exciting to see that Malla Nunn has released the fourth novel in her Detective Emmanuel Cooper series, Present DarknessShelleyrae of Book’d Out wrote that ‘the cultural framework of the novel is what really sets this series apart from other crime fiction I have read.  Apartheid affects every facet of life for South Africans, and Nunn doesn’t shy away from exposing the appalling inequities of the period.’  This observation was echoed by Yvonne at GoodReads in her review of Nunn’s first book in this series, A Beautiful Place to Die.  ‘The goal of this book is more than ‘who dunnit’,’ Yvonne writes. ‘ It demonstrates how a society becomes wrong on many levels when it is based on a person’s appearance and not their true character.’

We were privileged to have Malla write a guest post for the AWW Challenge as part of our focus on Australian women writers of diverse heritage last year, which you can read here.

TheOldSchoolPMNewtonThere were two reviews of P.M. Newton’s crime novels, which have an Australian/Vietnamese protagonist, Detective Nhu Kelly.  The Old School was reviewed by Carolyn of GoodReads, who thought that Newton ‘nail[ed] the time and place of her novel brilliantly. Several social issues of the 70s and 90s are raised – Australia’s role in the Vietnam war and its aftermath, Aboriginal activism and police corruption.’ Newton’s sequel, Beams Falling, was reviewed by Rowena, who describes how Nhu discovers that ‘Cabramatta is a community thick with desperate immigrants and those willing to exploit them, none of whom will talk to cops, that corruption isn’t just on the streets, and that a word in the wrong ear can have devastating consequences.’ She also notes that ‘Those familiar with traditional crime novels, with a clue in almost every scene, may find the pace a little slow,’ although there is enough to keep the reader interested until Nhu makes a breakthrough.

toyo2The Asian/Australian experience is also referenced in Paula Grunseit’s interview with 2013 Dobbie award winner, Lily Chan, for her memoir Toyo.  Posted on the eve of the shortlist announcement for the 2014 Dobbie and Kibble awards (subsequently won by Kris Olsson for Boy, Lost and Kate Richards for Madness: A Memoir), the interview looks at Chan’s research and writing processes, the work’s form, and the migrant experience.

MyBeautifulEnemyThis experience is also the subject matter of Cory Taylor’s My Beautiful Enemy, reviewed by Marilyn of Me, You and Books.  Marilyn describes this story of a gay Australian man who falls for an interned Japanese youth during World War Two as ‘a narrative of war and how it distorts people’s lives.’  Stanley, being ‘a sustaining dream in Arthur’s rather dull life’, is ‘unattainable but … capable of bringing Arthur bittersweet joy,’ a means of escaping his grey existence.

Jennifer of GoodReads also reviewed this novel, which reminded her ‘how much store we can place on memories and how it can be possible to be trapped in the past, longing for an ideal. How much more complicated this can become when love is caught up in struggles between nations, as well as struggles with sexuality and expectations.’

LettersToTheEndOfLoveWalkerAlso on the subject of same-sex desire, Marilyn reviewed Yvette Walker’s Letters to the End of Love.  The characters in this novel are, she notes, ‘estranged and are writing letters as part of the process of reuniting.’  Through these letters, Marilyn writes, ‘Walker pushes us to expand what we consider as love,’ as well as proclaiming love’s lasting power.  Yvette also wrote a guest post for the AWW Challenge in our focus on lesbian and queer women writers earlier this year.

The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf by Ambelin KwaymullinaThis month, in conjunction with NAIDOC week, we have encouraged our readers to pick up a book by an Indigenous woman writer. There are a few days left if you’d like to post a review!  Ameblin Kwaymullina, author of The Tribe speculative fiction series, also wrote some wonderful and thought-provoking responses about her culture and writing practice in an interview.

Meanwhile, in June, there were four reviews of books by Indigenous women writers.  Anita Heiss’ Am I Black Enough For You? was reviewed by Tarla, who found that the book encouraged her to reflect on how racism has manifested in her own life.  Jenny of GoodReads read Anita’s latest novel, Tiddas, and felt ‘a bit cheated’ for ‘the point of view didn’t stay long enough with one particular character for me to feel it was “their” story and to emotionally invest in them and see the world of the novel their way. And then I realised: that was the point. The Tiddas, the sisterhood circle, is the protagonist; not the individual women.’ This was also Jenny’s first review for the AWW Challenge this year – proof that it’s never too late to start reviewing!

Under the Wintamarra TreeThere were also two reviews from Jennifer of GoodReads of works by Indigenous women writers, Alexis Wright’s complex and marvellous The Swan Book, which made her ‘work hard in order to try to understand it, and will continue to occupy space in [her] consciousness’ – always the sign of a good book – and Doris Pilkington’s Under the Wintamarra Tree, an autobiographical work by the daughter of Molly, who trekked along the Rabbit Proof Fence.  Jennifer writes, ‘I found it unbearably sad to read Doris’s very personal account of separation from her parents. And, while ‘Under the Wintamarra Tree’ is too disjointed a narrative to hold the reader’s attention in the same way as ‘Rabbit-Proof Fence’, I will read (and re-read) it as a reminder of the consequences of depriving children of their language and culture, of their sense of belonging.’ It sounds like this book, too, left its mark.

Invisible - jim c hinesMeanwhile, if you’re after a work which contains a whole swag of themes about diversity, pick up Invisible, an anthology of short pieces which focus upon giving a voice to marginalised groups and individuals in fiction, and which contains a piece by Aussie writer Nalini Haynes.  Reviewed on the Dark Matter Zine website by Evie, the collection ‘addresses the absence or stereotyping of certain groups, exposing a tradition of racism, sexism, homophobia, transphobia and ableism in popular culture. Each contribution uses personal experience to give the reader an insight into other perspectives on how humans can and should live their lives, rejecting narrow definitions of acceptable expressions of fundamental human experiences.’  Evie’s review of four of the stories from the collection showcases its wide-ranging subject matter.

I look forward to reading and discussing more of your reviews next month, in particular those by Indigenous women writers. Until then, I’m staying on this platform to get my breath back with a book!


About Me

JessI’m Jessica White, a novelist and researcher, and I’ve been deaf since age 4 when I lost most of my hearing from meningitis.  I have a PhD from the University of London and have published two novels with Penguin, A Curious Intimacy (2007) and Entitlement (2012).  I’ve recently received funding from the Australia Council’s new Artists With Disability program to write my third novel, The Sea Creatures.  You can find more information about me at my website.  I’m also on Twitter @ladyredjess.

Interview with ‘Animal People’ Author Charlotte Wood

CWCharlotte Wood has been described as “one of the most intelligent and compassionate novelists in Australia” (The Age), and “one of our finest and most chameleonic writers” (The Australian).

Her latest work is a book of essays on cooking, Love & Hunger: Thoughts on the Gift of Food. Her last novel, Animal People, won the People’s Choice medal in the 2013 NSW Premier’s Literary Awards, was shortlisted for the 2013 Christina Stead Prize for Fiction and longlisted for the 2012 Miles Franklin Literary Award. Her earlier novels were also shortlisted for various prizes, including the Miles Franklin Award and regional Commonwealth Writers’ Prize.

She is editor of The Writer’s Room Interviews magazine and is on the advisory board for Writers in Conversation, an international open access literary journal based at Flinders University.

Charlotte writes an occasional blog at, lives in Sydney with her husband and is working on her fifth novel.

Did you grow up in a bookish house? What was your early relationship with books?

Yes, our house was full of books. My father was an obsessive sci-fi and how-things-work non-fiction fan. I remember shelves of dusky Isaac Asimov spines alongside those blue and green Penguin paperbacks with titles like ‘Plastics in the Service of Man’, or ‘The Etruscans’. My mother was a more literary reader, alternating quite highbrow stuff with what I suppose you might call popular literary fiction. Doris Lessing or Thomas Keneally, say, or Updike. And books like The Bridge of San Luis Rey and Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. I’m just calling these up from memory now as I write. My own childish and early adolescent tastes were very mainstream and quite juvenile – Enid Blyton, Nancy Drewe mysteries and those world-weary adolescent Paul Zindel books where the kid was always hating his parents and drinking Harvey Wallbangers, dotted with the occasional foray into grownup novels I found lying about the house. I remember being deeply affected by a strange book by Richard Adams (Watership Down man) called The Plague Dogs. Then high school English dictated my reading. I loved reading in that deliberate, thoughtful way, and loved writing essays on books.

When did you begin writing in a serious way, and what motivated that?

After my mother died, when I was twenty-nine. My father had died ten years before that. I had begun writing little snippets of ‘creative’ things at university where I’d gone as a mature age student at 23, but only once my mother had died did life separate, very potently, into ‘important’ and ‘unimportant’ categories. Writing suddenly became something very urgent for me to commit to and take seriously. I think my parents’ deaths on some level became, without my understanding or knowing it, the ‘deep and always hidden wound’ that Flaubert said was the wellspring of fiction. 

Pieces of a GirlHow did your debut novel Pieces of a Girl come to be published?

Bizarrely easily. I had spent a few years writing it in little patches, though with great seriousness of intent. I had a couple of fellowships at Varuna the Writers’ House, including, at the last, with the editor Judith Lukin-Amundsen. She declared the book finished during the week we worked together and sent it on my behalf to Picador, who made an offer within days. It was only with my second novel, The Submerged Cathedral, that my naively blithe attitude to publishing took a giant knock; it was rejected by Picador and I was devastated. Happily for me, Jane Palfreyman, then of Random House, now Allen & Unwin, loved it and has been my staunch supporter ever since. Thank god.  

Animal PeopleWhat was the inspiration behind your latest novel Animal People?

Hmm, I don’t know that there was any ‘inspiration’ – I think at the beginning it arose more from a kind of spirit of technical experimentalism for myself. I wanted to write a book that was funny and that was set in a single day. It was a reaction against my previous novel The Children which I’d found very wearing to write. As it turns out Animal People is probably much sadder than it is funny, but I still enjoyed flexing my humour muscles. 

Love & HungerHow did your non-fiction book Love and Hunger come to be written?

I had had several friends who’d been very sick, and I wanted to put together a short practical guide to cooking for sick people. I had been blogging about cooking for a few years by then, and wrote a proposal for my publisher of this practical guide. The proposal included a quite personal introduction – which the publisher asked for more of. So it morphed from a practical guide into a sort-of-memoir, with recipes. It was fun to take a complete break from fiction for a little while, though I still feel that fiction is my natural home. 

Have you had any surprising or unusual reader responses to your books? 

Not that I can recall … I am always so gratified when readers get in touch with their responses about the books if they’ve meant something to them. Mostly they are lovely. Occasionally I’ve had a reaction in a book club or festival setting that sets me back on my heels a bit – like the time a man told me Animal People was a book about hating men because I cast all Australian men as failures. Or another time I was castigated for using the present tense in a novel … often the tone of these passionately negative responses seem to say more about the asker than the book. But doubtless there are loads more people who hate my work but are not so impolite as to get in touch and tell me about it. Bless them. 

What are your writing habits? 

My writing habits are like surges rather than a steady flow. I seem to have bursts of intense and difficult activity, as well as long periods of regular, though trickling, output. I am slow and very rarely feel a sense of abundance. I have an overactive, relentlessly self-critical faculty that I am learning to change – it doesn’t make the work any better, especially in the early generative first-draft phase, and can simply make life quite miserable. A typical good day is any where I make progress – in the first draft this is sticking to a 1000-words-a-day output, regardless of its quality. In the second draft, where I am now, it’s a lower output as much of it involves cutting as much as adding. I find writing exceptionally difficult and often very discouraging, but I need to do it to make sense of the world in which I live, to feel that I am a productive human being, and most of all, I simply find enormous satisfaction in ‘making’. It makes me feel good to have created something from nothing, even if the process of doing it is, most of the time, basically beyond my capacity. 

What do you do when you feel creatively stuck?

Keep going. I try to weigh up the balance of ‘waiting’ – accepting that much of what is best in my work comes mysteriously and without being forced – with the other essential approach to the writing life – sheer, dogged, bloody-minded perseverance. If I am really stuck – as I was yesterday – I might slightly alter my working setup, like moving from working at the desk to the bed, or take a break by going for a walk, or reading something dreamy. But then I go back to it. I hate the feeling that it’s beaten me, even for a day. Yesterday I got over a difficult hump by sheer rage at the book for making me feel like shit. I needed to retaliate, in a quite savage way. I thought, fuck you – how dare you make me feel so bad. I needed to sort of bear down on it, dominate it. Weird, obviously – and exhausting – but it worked. I think I might need to use that sense of retaliation more often. Basically I do whatever I can clutch at in the moment to get me through. It’s strange how often – after publishing five books – one is at a complete loss as to how to proceed. But I now accept that this is just what it’s like. 

What are you working on now?

A very dark, strange, not-very-realistic novel about a bunch of girls in a prison in the middle of the Australian nowhere. It is freaking me out a fair bit and I am keen to be done with it. It’s not a nice book. 

What’s your favourite book by an Australian female author?

I can’t answer these questions; my favourites change all the time. An enduring one of recent years is Joan London’s The Good Parents … London has a new book out soon and I am very excited about its arrival. 

Reviews of Charlotte’s Books:

Love and Hunger reviewed by Books Are My Favourite and Best

 Animal People reviewed by Book to the Future

The Children reviewed by Julie Proudfoot

Want More?

Interview with Courtney Collins, author of The Burial.

Family Secrets: An Interview with Christina Olsson 

Mystery & Mirth-Making: An Interview with Marianne dePierres

About Me

Annabel-smith2Annabel Smith is the author of Whisky Charlie Foxtrot, and A New Map of the Universe, which was shortlisted for the WA Premier’s Book Awards. She has had short fiction and commentary published in Westerly and Southerly and holds a PhD in Writing from Edith Cowan University. Her forthcoming interactive digital novel/app The Ark will be published in September 2014.

June 2014 Roundup: Classics and Literary

June is probably the most important month on Australia’s literary calendar – because, of course, it’s the month when our main literary award is announced. The winner, as most of you probably already know and as our awards co-ordinator Paula Grunseit has already reported, was Evie Wyld’s All the birds, singing.

All three books by women that were shortlisted for the Miles Franklin award were reviewed this month: Fiona McFarlane’s The Night Guest was reviewed by Jane Rawson, Cory Taylor’s My Beautiful Enemy by Jennifer Cameron-Smith and Marilyn Brady (our American participant), and Evie Wyld’s All the Birds, Singing by Angie Holst and Julia Tulloch.

Jolly June

June was jolly here in Lit-Classic land because we had a stellar month, numbers wise, with 39 reviews posted. Well done, everyone.

TheSwanBookAlexisWrightThe highlights are:

  • Three books are now tying for most reviewed book (to date) with all garnering 7 reviews: Kirsten Krauth’s just_a_girl, Amanda Curtin’s Elemental, and Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites. One review behind these is Evie Wyld’s All the Birds, Singing, with two indigenous writers one behind that, Alexis Wright’s The Swan Book, and Melissa Lucashenko’s Mullumbimby. With July being NAIDOC Week, I hope that next month I will be reporting on more reviews of indigenous writers.
  • One author was reviewed 5 (yes, FIVE) times this month: Kate Forsyth, with four reviews for her latest novel Dancing on Knives, and one for Bitter Greens.
  • We love seeing authors receive multiple reviews, but we also want to see a good spread, as our aim is to promote the breadth of women’s writing in Australia, past and present. This month, 5 authors received their first reviews for 2014: Sarah Armstrong, Marion Halligan, Stephanie Campisi, Elizabeth Jolley and Julie Proudfoot.
  • Our most prolific reviewer for June was Jane Rawson who posted 5 reviews on GoodReads.

The Classics

in certain circles - elizabeth harrowerReviews for two classics were posted this month. One was mine for “Bush church” in Barbara Baynton’s collection, Bush Studies. The other was Orange Pekoe’s review of Elizabeth Jolley’s The Well. This was Orange Pekoe’s second reading of the novel and, unfortunately for her, she didn’t like it any better the second time. I applaud her for giving it another go. She felt that:

the box ticking (the inclusion of ‘otherness’ for feminist, post-modern, post-colonial and, very tenuously in my opinion, racial interpretations) was to the detriment of what could have been a good gothic horror story.

While not classified by its reviewer as a classic – and rightly so because it was first published in 2014 – Elizabeth Harrower’s In certain circles, written in 1971, would have qualified had not Harrower withdrawn it from publication at, apparently, the last minute. Sonja, who reviewed it for the challenge, is clearly glad that Text Publishing decided to publish it now because, she says, it “stands the test of time”. She describes it as an emotional read in which “psychological tension … propels the narrative forward”.

Kate Forsyth

BitterGreensForsythGiven Forsyth was our most reviewed author this month, I figured she deserved a little focus. If you are a Radio National listener, you may have heard Forsyth on Life Matters because in May they commenced a new monthly series with Forsyth looking at “how fairytales can still teach us lessons in the 21st century”. Forsyth, whose writing has been inspired by fairy tales, is currently writing her doctorate on them. The first program looked at Sleeping Beauty.

Bitter Greens, which is one of the books reviewed this month, re-tells “Rapunzel”. Karen who reviewed it for the challenge tells us that the book starts with Charlotte Rose who first told the story, which was later adapted by the Grimm Brothers. Karen writes:

Kate Forsyth has let down Rapunzel’s hair for us; we all get to climb into the tower to have a good look at what’s up there and to see what it’s like to be there, to feel the longing, the despair, the thrill of escape …

Forsyth’s The wild girl, which has been reviewed several times for the challenge, albeit not this month, tells the story of Wilhelm Grimm’s romance with Dortchen Wild, the young woman who had told him many of the stories he and his brother became famous for.

dancing on knives - kate forsythThe Opal Octopus (sounds like a book title itself, doesn’t it?) who produced one of this month’s reviews for Forsyth’s latest novel, Dancing on Knives, says:

I’m a huge sucker for books where food plays an important part! I’m also a big fan of books with a powerful sense of place. This book has both, along with family dysfunction, a murder mystery, and fairytale echoes.

I haven’t read any of Octopus’ reviews before, this being her first for the literary category, but I like how she expresses herself. Here she is again:

Others have critiqued it for its gently moseying pace. Sure, it’s not a driving thriller, but you don’t read a Forsyth for the page-turniness. It is less a speedboat ride and more a paddle-steamer meander through a sublime, dark forest. With Spanish food.

Deborah also enjoyed the book, but notes that it departs from what she understands to be Forsyth’s main genre, speculative/fantasy fiction. Perhaps so, but from what Sam says, those influences aren’t far away in what she describes as its Gothic elements, and dark suspense.

Speaking of categorisation

Applying categories to the arts – to fiction, music, and so on – is a fraught business. Categorisation has its uses. It can help us make sense of the world. But it can also confine us. We here at the Challenge had some interesting conversations when establishing our categories. We wanted broad categories that would both encompass wide ranges of books and be easy to apply. But even broad categories are not fool-proof, and some authors create big challenges for our reviewers when they link their reviews.

Kate Forsyth is one such author. The four reviews to date for Dancing on Knives have been placed in three different categories: Mixed/Don’t know/Prefer not to say (1), Crime fiction (1), and General fiction (2). A similar thing has happened with the five reviews posted this year for Alexis Wright’s The Swan Book: Mixed/Don’t know/Prefer not to say (1), Speculative fiction (2), and General fiction (2).

There is no right answer, but it does affect where and how these books appear in our various round-ups. Just saying …

I have of course mentioned only a few of the books reviewed this month. To see all of the Literary/Classic books reviewed this year to date, please check this Weebly page.


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.

May 2014 Roundup: Classics and Literary

May has been an exciting month for awards. We saw the announcement of the shortlist for two women-only literary prizes, the Dobbie and the Nita Kibble Literary Awards. Our awards co-ordinator Paula Grunseit wrote these up in a dedicated post at the time. The Miles Franklin Award shortlist was also announced, with four women featuring in the list of six books. Finally, the winners of the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards were announced at the Sydney Writers’ Festival, with the Christina Stead Fiction award and the UTS Glenda Adams New Writing award both going to books by women, Michelle de Kretser’s Questions of travel and Fiona McFarlane’s The night guest, respectively. Are we seeing, do you think, another flowering of women’s writing in Australia, as we saw in the 1980s and back in the 1930s? Anyhow, on with the report.

Mighty May

just-a-girl-krauthHmm … perhaps all this awards excitement went to our heads and impinged on our reading time, because we had only 25 reviews posted during the month. They covered 22 authors. Three books received two reviews: Kate Belle’s Being Jade, Melissa Lucashenko’s Mullumbimby, and Kristina Olsson’s Boy, Lost.

Highlights for this month are:

  • Kirsten Krauth’s clever debut novel, just_a_girl, edged ahead of the field to be our most reviewed book for the year, to date (7). Close behind with 6 reviews are Amanda Curtin’s Elemental and last year’s winner, Hannah Kent’s Burial rites. One review behind these is indigenous writer Melissa Lucashenko’s Mullumbimby.
  • One third of the reviews were for books published by university presses – UQP (5) and UWA (3).

The Classics

Just one classic was reviewed this month – though it’s an unusual one. Reviewed by yours truly, Mary Grant Bruce’s The early tales comprises two pieces of juvenilia published by the delightful Juvenilia Press, which is based at the University of New South Wales. Older readers here are probably aware of Bruce’s Billabong series of children’s books, but they may not be so aware of her writing for adults, of which these two stories are representative. Both stories are about the harsh, isolated and often dangerous life faced by rural families at the turn of the twentieth century. Both were published in Christmas supplements, but Bruce doesn’t let her readers off lightly. As I wrote in my review, these are “well-told stories that have an emotional punch alongside their historical interest”.

Now, how about some more classics for next month. They are just the thing for a cold night in front of the fire!

Literary Award winners and contenders

MullumbimbyMelissaLucashenkoMost of the books shortlisted (or that have won awards to date this year) have been reviewed by our participants. All three short-listed for the Nita Kibble award have been reviewed, with two – Melissa Lucashenko’s Mullumbimby and Kristina Olsson’s Boy, lost – being reviewed this month. Maree Kimberley, who reviews on GoodReads, wrote of Mullumbimby:

I loved the descriptions of the bush and her farm, and the all too realistic depictions of rain (and the mould that always follows it). The characters were all well-drawn, and I adored Jo, the main fabulous character, in all her flawed glory.

Kristina Olsson’s memoir Boy, lost was reviewed by our two historian reviewers this month, Janine Rizzetti and Yvonne Perkins. As historians, they often bring a different perspective to the books they review. Interestingly though, Janine wrote that she first thought she was reading a novel until “some facts seemed so concrete and so banal that I started to wonder if it was non-fiction instead”. Concrete and banal they might have been, but Janine enjoyed the book nonetheless. Boy, lost, for those of you who haven’t caught up with it is about the “stealing” of Olsson’s older brother from her mother by his father (but not hers). Her mother doesn’t see this son for again for 40 years. It is a measure of the book’s success that Janine:

very much enjoyed this book, even though it utilizes two of the stylistic techniques that I usually dislike: very short chapters and use of the present tense.

boy-lost-olssonIn her review, Yvonne discusses the challenge of writing such a story from incomplete evidence. Olsson, she says, admitted that she had to “imagine” some of the story. Yvonne comments that this can be a challenge ethically but argues that it succeeds here because:

The reimagination is used with discipline to convey the emotional truth of the situation facing Yvonne. [Yvonne also being the name of Olsson’s mother!]

She also discusses that other ethical mine-field of memoirs, the reliance on memory of family members. Again, Yvonne feels that Olsson has succeeded, that she:

demonstrates that imperfect memories and the desire to conceal painful episodes means that writing history can never be an exact task and requires what Kristina Olsson has given it in this book – empathy, fairness and a commitment to truth.

Short story collections

inheritedThree short story collections were reviewed this month – Amanda Curtin’s Inherited, Amanda Lohrey’s Reading Madame Bovary, and Deborah Sheldon’s 300 degree days and other stories. I’m choosing to highlight Karen M’s review of Curtin’s collection – for two reasons. I’d like to encourage Karen M who seems to be fairly new to the challenge (welcome, Karen), and, given the popularity of Curtin’s Elemental this year, I thought it would be good to show she has more strings to her bow!

So, to the collection. It has 19 stories, and Karen writes

I read them one per night, so that each could be savoured, considered and felt. And lordy, did I do some feeling!

The collection, she says, is

arranged into seven sections, titled Keeping, Wanting, Surviving, Remembering, Breaking, Leaving and Returning – this should give you some idea of the arc of what is explored in these stories.

Karen is effusive in her praise for Curtin’s wordsmithing. If you like short stories, this sounds like a good one to get your teeth into.

I have of course mentioned only a few of the books reviewed this month. To see all of the Literary/Classic books reviewed this year to date, please check this Weebly page.


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.

Kibble and Dobbie Literary Awards – 2014 Shortlists

The shortlists for the 2014 Kibble and Dobbie Literary Awards have just been announced.

These awards honour the legacy of the State Library of New South Wales’ first female librarian, Nita B Kibble (1879-1962) who held the position of Principal Research Librarian from 1919 until her retirement in 1943. Nita Kibble was a founding member of the Australian Institute of Librarians. Established 21 years ago, the Nita B Kibble Literary Awards are open to Australian female writers who have published fiction or non-fiction classified as life writing.

The titles shortlisted for the $30,000 Kibble Literary Award, which recognises the work of an established Australian female writer, are:

  • Letter to George Clooney (Debra Adelaide, Picador)
  • Mullumbimby (Melissa Lucashemko, UQP)
  • Boy, Lost: A Family Memoir (Kristina Olsson, UQP).








The titles shortlisted for the $5000 Dobbie Literary Award, which recognises the work of a first-time published Australian female writer, are:

  • The Night Guest (Fiona McFarlane, Hamish Hamilton)
  • Madness: A Memoir (Kate Richards, Penguin)
  • High Sobriety: My Year without Booze (Jill Stark, Scribe).

McFarlane, The night guest

high-sobriety madnessamemoir





Judge and Humanities Australia Editor, Emeritus Professor Elizabeth Webby AM, said the shortlist represents a group of strong and talented women whose work fulfils the aims of Nita B Kibble’s legacy: to encourage female authors to improve and advance Australian literature for the benefit of the community.

“For my fellow judges and I, the joy of reading and assessing work of this calibre is a privilege. The six shortlisted books, while very different in theme and topic, all deal with significant contemporary issues and evoke a powerful and authentic reaction from the reader. These six books are beautifully written and each tells a compelling story with honesty and integrity,” Professor Webby said.

The judging panel also includes State Library of New South Wales Research and Discovery Manager, Maggie Patton, and internationally published novelist, Dr Rosie Scott.

Which shortlisted titles have you read/reviewed? We’d love to know.

You can read the longlist roundup here and all reviews can be accessed here.

In 2013, the Kibble Literary Award was presented to Annah Faulkner for The Beloved (Picador) and the Dobbie Literary Award was presented to Lily Chan for Toyo: A Memoir (Black Inc.). You can read my interview with Lily Chan here.

Congratulations to all shortlisted and longlisted authors.

The winners of the awards will be announced on 23 July.

About Me

I’m a freelance book reviewer, journalist, writer and editor. I blog over at Wordsville and can be found on Twitter @PaulaGrunseit

April 2014 Roundup: Diversity

These balmy (at least in Brisbane!) autumn evenings kept our readers out of doors over April, as numbers were down in the diversity department.  Yours truly is also to blame, as I’ve been chained to my desk with writing deadlines.  However soon I’ll unshackle myself and start reviewing the books that I’ve been reading.

MullumbimbySome of our reviewing stalwarts penned great pieces this month.  Marilyn of Me, You and Books reviewed Indigenous author Melissa Lucashenko’s Mullumbimby.  Through the protagonist Jo Breen, Marilyn writes, Lucashenko ‘challenges the assumed normality of whiteness … Her views and Lukashenko’s do not romanticize Indigenous life or view it as uniformly tragic.  They simply do not take European institutions and world views as the norm.’  Lucashensko’s use of language contributes to the creation of this world view, as the work is peppered with Bunjalung words.  Marilyn sometimes found herself stumbling over these phrases, but she didn’t mind that, for it helped her ‘move away from the English I assume is universal and into a world where I am the outsider.’

TiddasA few of AWW’s regular bloggers reviewed Anita Heiss’ Tiddas, about five Indigenous women in Brisbane who get together once a month for book club.  Michael, in the Newtown Review of Books describes it as a strong and meaningful ‘fictional account of the strong Koori connections to ancestors and land’ to which she gave voice in Am I Black Enough for You?  Lauren of The Australian Bookshelf admired the Indigenous women’s ‘strength, their connection with their Aboriginal heritage and their determination to be good role models and advocate for those who are underprivileged.’  WriteNoteReviews writes that ‘Readers will relate to the issues and challenges the five women experience, such as fertility, career, family and relationships, and sex – each of us can relate to one or all of them,’ and adds that Heiss takes these ‘issues further, using her strong ensemble cast to add social commentary on Aboriginal culture, identity and politics.’

TheSwanBookAlexisWrightIt was also good to see a review of Alexis Wright’s complex and multi-layered The Swan Book from Stephanie at Goodreads, who warns that ‘if you want your story told in a straightforward manner, then you should look elsewhere.’ The prose, she notes, ‘is often poetic, slipping into colloquialisms and stream-of-consciousness and back again, often within the span of one sentence.’ It isn’t a straightforward book, but that makes it refreshing, and the reader is rewarded with something new each time they return to it.

SafeHarbourHeleneYoungIn her Classics and Literary roundup for April, Sue commented on works with Indigenous content or characters by white writers, a theme on which she sometimes meditates in her blog Whispering Gums.  To Sue’s worthy mentions I’ll add Kat of Book Thingo’s review of Helene Young’s new work, Safe Harbour, which features an Indigenous character who is important to the protagonist’s back story.  Kat writes that ‘I’ve long felt that Aboriginal characters are severely underrepresented in this genre—at least, where rural fiction intersects with romance—so I hope this is something that we’ll see more of.’

AnguliMaAGothicTaleChiVuThere were also reviews from writers of diverse backgrounds. Nalini of DarkMatterZine wrote on Vietnamese-born Chi Vu’s Anguli Ma: A Gothic Tale, set in Melbourne in the 1980s, when the flight of refugees from Vietname to Australia was at its height.  ‘Neither supernatural nor excessively bloody,’ she writes, ‘this tale has the potential to shock while illuminating the very real ramifications of disclocation suffered by refugees fleeing devastation.’ It sounds like a fascinating novella, and I’ve ordered a copy to my local library.


Angie, of Projected Happiness, reviewed Malla Nunn’s popular crime novel A Beautiful Place to Die, set in 1950s South Africa.  Nunn’s work, she writes ‘is an education in race relations and culture mores, wrapped around an engaging whodunit.  Her language is to the point, while addressing the “jigsaw of people” who make up the nation.’

Foreign-soil-clarkeSean from Adventures of a Bookonaut reviewed Maxine Beneba Clark’s short stories, Foreign Soil, in which the majority of characters ‘are people of colour and the settings range from the West Indies, to England and Australia.’  Sean was hugely impressed with the collection, and commented that Clarke ‘has that knack of taking characters who you share nothing in common with (at least on the surface) and making you care desperately about them.’ That’s the sign of a good writer!  I’m looking forward to uncovering more of them next month.


About Me

JessI’m Jessica White, a novelist and researcher, and I’ve been deaf since age 4 when I lost most of my hearing from meningitis.  I have a PhD from the University of London and have published two novels with Penguin, A Curious Intimacy (2007) and Entitlement (2012).  I’m currently writing a book of creative non-fiction on Queensland novelist Rosa Praed and her deaf daughter Maud.  You can find more information about me at my website.  I’m also on Twitter @ladyredjess.

April 2014 Roundup: Classics and Literary

The biggest news for April was the announcement of the second Stella Prize. While last year’s prize went to a work of literary fiction, Carrie Tiffany’s Mateship with Birds, this year’s, confirming the Prize’s commitment to a diverse eligibility, is a work of history, Clare Wright’s The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka. The win has been written up on this blog by our awards coordinator, Paula Grunseit. In the next couple of months we expect to see the Miles Franklin shortlist (May 15) and then the winner (June 26) announced.

April’s account

Thirty reviews were posted this month, somewhat fewer than last month, but not embarrassingly so! They covered 26 authors. The most reviewed book was last year’s most reviewed book, Hannah Kent’s Burial rites, with three reviews. Two books received two reviews each, Cicada by Moira McKinnon and Mr Wigg by Inga Simpson, and two different books by Kate Grenville were reviewed.

Highlights for this month are:

  • Indigenous authors and works including indigenous issues continue to be reviewed regularly, with four reviews being so categorised this month.
  • Three bloggers posted three reviews this month: Emily Paull (The Incredible Rambling Elimy [sic]), Louise Allen, and moi (Whispering Gums). Thanks Emily and Louise.

The Classics

the-idea-of-perfection-grenvilleAfter last month’s record, no reviews were classified as being for Classics this month. Wah! However, there were two reviews for novels published in the 20th century so perhaps they’ll suffice.

The oldest book reviewed was my own review of Jessica Anderson’s One of the Wattle Birds, published in 1994. It was Anderson’s last novel and tells the story of Cec whose mother has recently died but who left her some money that she can only access if she marries. It explores common Anderson themes to do with money and power, and family relationships. The other book is Kate Grenville’s The Idea of Perfection (1999), which won her the Orange Prize (now the Bailey’s Women Prize). Reviewer Natalia Clare enjoyed it, describing it as “an engaging, poignant and funny novel”. It has apparently convinced her to read more Grenville. She could do worse!

Literary non-fiction

joe-cinques-consolation-helen-garnerNot all reviews for non-fiction appear in my list, but those do where the book uses literary techniques and styles to discuss factual matter. Such books are variously categorised as “literary non-fiction” or “creative nonfiction” or “narrative nonfiction”. One of Australia’s first proponents of this style was Helen Garner, and her work Joe Cinque’s Consolation was reviewed this month. This book explores the devastating but complex case of Joe Cinque who was murdered in Canberra by his girlfriend Anu Singh. Reviewer Nalini Haynes liked the book and says that Garner:

has boldly gone where others fear to tread. This time Helen Garner explores murder, grief and the judiciary system.

The other book reviewed this month is Anna Krien’s Night Games, which is her second venture into this genre. Night Games explores football culture, through the story of a specific rape court case. Janine (or the Resident Judge) doesn’t feel that Krien is as successful as Garner, suggesting that Krien is

dodging what she expects to be brickbats from feminists and football supporters, by raising questions and admitting uncertainty as a pre-emptive defence.

But she recognises that Krien is describing something that is chillingly real.

Indigenous writers and issues …

TheSwanBookAlexisWrightThe challenge has two form/subgenre/special interest area categories relating to indigenous people, one being “indigenous issues” and the other “indigenous author”. Two of the reviews this month were for novels by indigenous authors (Melissa Lucashenko’s Mullumbimby and Alexis Wright’s The Swan Book) and two were for books which include discussion of indigenous issues (Kate Grenville’s Sara Thornhill and Moira McKinnon’s Cicada). 

Both Lucashenko and Wright have been longlisted for this year’s Miles Franklin Award, and both have received a handful of reviews to date in the challenge. American blogger, Marilyn, reviewed Lucashenko’s Mullumbimby, and compared it with Wright’s book which she reviewed in a previous month. She writes:

I loved and learned from both books, but they are very different. Wright’s new novel is a mythic, universal call for people to recognize what it means to be displaced as the Australian Indigenous people have been. Lucashenko writes a sharply realistic novel about a particular person and place. Her book will probably be more widely read and discussed in the Indigenous community while Wright’s will appeal more to the international literary community. Both are deeply needed and both need to be widely read.

She describes Mullumbimby as being “how people retain their identity and values on the edges of a dominant culture”.

Stephanie Gunn would agree with Marilyn that The swan book needs to be widely read. She commences her review with:

Every once in a while you pick up a book that you immediately want to buy copies of for half (or all) of your friends. This is one of those books.

She recognises that its poetic style may not suit everyone but enjoyed the way Wright creates a world in which “myth walks beside reality”.

More challenging for writers and reviewers are those books by non-indigenous writers which deal with indigenous subject matter. It’s a controversial issue, with some indigenous writers believing that only they can write on indigenous subjects. Melissa Lucashenko has expressed such an opinion, arguing against further white appropriation of indigenous culture, but there is also a recognition that literature that ignores indigenous people is not accurately representing Australian society. It’s a sensitive issue.

CicadaMoiraMckinnonSophie Shanahan’s review of Kate Grenville’s Sarah Thornhill addresses, in a way, the very issue of indigenous presence when she says that the novel provides evidence that Stanner’s “great Australian silence” is already descending. Moira McKinnon’s Cicada is set in the Kimberleys and reviewer Louise Allan loved it for several reasons, but particularly for its insight into Aboriginal culture and knowledge. She writes that:

I’d describe this story as a tribute to the Kimberley. It is also a tribute to indigenous culture and highlights how little we, as a predominantly white society, have understood the depth of indigenous knowledge and skill.

Allen doesn’t specifically address the issue of a white woman writing about indigenous culture, but Moira McKinnon is a doctor who has worked in outback Australia, including with Fred Hollows on his eye program. From Allen’s point of view, the novel makes a contribution to the issue of non-indigenous ignorance of indigenous culture. I wonder what indigenous writers think about it?


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.

February/March 2014 Roundup: Diversity

Over February and March there were close to forty reviews of books by authors who have a diverse background, or who feature such characters in their works, which is simply stellar!

BeamsFallingPMNewtonMany of the reviews were of recently released novels.  P.M. Newton’s Falling Beams, the sequel to The Old School, led the charge, with her protagonist Detective Nhu ‘Ned’ Kelly keeping six readers glued to their books.  Nhu is an Australian, of Irish and Vietnamese heritage.  Angela Savage notes how Newton, ‘gently in the course of the story with evocative images and without preaching’ explores trauma, both Nhu’s and that of the Vietnamese who migrated to Australia.  Yvonne penned a review at GoodReads, detailing ‘the difficult moral tightrope the police are working on at the time’, the destructiveness of war (particularly the Vietnam war, felt particularly in Cabramatta), the ‘dark recesses of post traumatic stress disorder and the insidious tentacles of police corruption’.  This book, she continues, is ‘grimy’ and not for bedtime reading.  Now I am kind of desperate for all my writing deadlines to be done so I can sit down (in daylight) with a copy of the book.  For the other reviews of this work, you can check out our AWW Review Crime Listings page.

Deserving-death-howellKatherine Howell’s Deserving Death kept four people awake at night, including Bernadette at Fair Dinkum Crime, who also mentioned Howell in her a post on Sleuthing and Sexuality for our spotlight on lesbian/queer women writers last month.  Bernadette found that the story delivered more than a great plot, being ‘particularly struck by variety of topical human relationship issues the book explored. We see, for example, the complex mix of emotions experienced by Carly and her girlfriend, one of whom is fearful of her family’s reaction to the news she is gay while the other tries to cope with the fact that her part in her girlfriend’s life is a secret.’  Brenda at GoodReads loved the fast pace and action, but lamented that ‘I’ll have to wait another 12 months for the next episode of Detective Ella Marconi and her paramedic friends’.  We recommend more doses of Aussie women’s crime fiction in the interim!

If you’re interested, AWW contributing editor Marisa also interviewed Howell about her writing and lesbian characters.

TiddasThree people made themselves comfy on a couch with Indigenous author Anita Heiss’ new novel, Tiddas, about five tiddas (an Indigenous word meaning friends who are as close as sisters) in Brisbane on the cusp of 40.  Lisa Walker writes that ‘On one level this is a study of issues relevant to all woman of this age — sex, fertility, career and relationships. But the book also gives an insight, through the tiddas, into Aboriginal culture and politics.’ Bree of All the Books I Can Read loved the format of exploring issues through friends, and thought it ‘a great way to get an issue out there to a reader because it really lessens the feeling of being preached to’.  Shelleyrae of Book’d Out by contrast found ‘Heiss’s socio-political agenda’ a little overwhelming,but still ‘enjoyed spending time with the Tiddas, just as I do with my own friends.’

The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf by Ambelin KwaymullinaThere were also 2 reviews of Indigenous author Ambelin Kwaymullina’s speculative fiction novel, The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf.  Jason of Vampires in the Sunburnt Country described it as ‘a story of community, of mutual care and understanding, as well as a plea to respect the planet and the beliefs that have formed it.’  Stephanie of GoodReads also liked the book and found Ashala a ‘fascinating character’, but would have liked more worldbuilding and backstory.

MullumbimbyMullumbimby, by Indigenous author Melissa Lucashenko, gave poet Katie Keys ‘hope for the quiet revolution, the one that I have to believe is still ticking along beneath all the noise of Federal politics and policy backpedalling: a piecemeal reconciliation after a shared national shame as we all start working the way back to ourselves.’  The novel also compelled Sue of Discombobula to think about her own emotions about and connections to Australia.

TheSwanBookAlexisWrightThere was also a plethora of reviews of other interesting works, such Alexis Wright’s The Swan Book (reviewed by Annette for the Newtown Review of Books, who opens with ‘What a ride!’), Love Like Water by Meme McDonald (reviewed by Marilyn of Me, You and Books, who describes it as ‘a wise and sensitive story about young people searching for their places in the world and falling in love, a love complicated by their racial difference), and Ina’s Story (a memoir by Catherine Titasey about Torres Strait Islander Ina Mills, reviewed by Marion of Historians are Past Caring).

thefirstweek_merrileesMeanwhile, Margaret Merrilees’ The First Week was reviewed by Sue of Whispering Gums, who also meditated on the politics of white authors writing on Indigenous subjects.

Unfortunately I haven’t the space to include every review of the books that have showcased diversity over the past two months, but it’s great to see our readers responding so intelligently to them.  Keep up the wonderful work!

About Me

JessI’m Jessica White, a novelist and researcher, and I’ve been deaf since age 4 when I lost most of my hearing from meningitis.  I have a PhD from the University of London and have published two novels with Penguin, A Curious Intimacy (2007) and Entitlement (2012).  I’m currently writing a book of creative non-fiction on Queensland novelist Rosa Praed and her deaf daughter Maud.  You can find more information about me at my website.  I’m also on Twitter @ladyredjess.

March 2014 Roundup: Classics and Literary

Well, last month’s bribe seems to have worked! We’ve gone from no Classics reviewed in February to four in March. I shall be true to my word and mention each one under the Classics heading below.

March was also significant for the announcement of the Miles Franklin Literary Award long list. Seven of the 11 books shortlisted are by women. Read more about it in Paula Grunseit’s excellent post.

March musings, statistically speaking

Thirty-nine reviews were posted this month, 10 more than last month. They covered 31 authors, meaning several books/authors were reviewed more than once. Amanda Curtin’s Elemental continues its march (pun intended) this month with another two reviews. Linda Jaivin’s Quarterly Essay Found in translation, Hannah Kent’s Burial rites, Kirsten Krauth’s just_a_girl, Carrie Tiffany’s Mateship with birds, and Evie Wyld’s All the birds singing also received two reviews each. Hazel Rowley was reviewed twice, by Peter Corris, for  Franklin and Eleanor and Tête-à-Tête, her biography of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir.

My highlights for this month are:

  • Our most reviewed author for the first quarter is Amanda Curtin, with six reviews for Elemental and one for Sinkings. Congratulations Amanda.
  • Super-blogger for the month was Jane Rawson who posted 4 reviews. She was closely followed by Mindy with 3. Jane has a website but posts her reviews at Goodreads. Mindy contributes to a wonderfully titled collaborative blog Hoyden About Town.

The Classics

Thea Astley, A boatload of home folkFour classics! I think that’s pretty much a record for the Challenge.

Debbie Robson reviewed Thea Astley’s A Boatload of Home Folk, and wasn’t overly keen, writing:

A Boat Load of Home Folk are sad, pathetic, very flawed and with virtually no redeeming features. I also had a lot of trouble with Astley’s very unusual style.

Astley does have an idiosyncratic style. Debbie says she’s prepared to try one of Astley’s later works so she wasn’t completely deterred. Conversely, Jane Rawson loved The getting of wisdom, calling it “hilarious and subversive”. Richardson is probably our most reviewed Classics author in the challenge to date, and with good reason. I found Barbara Baynton’s use of the vernacular challenging in the short story “Billy Skywonkie”, but see it as a significant work for its questioning of the era’s romantic notions of the bush and bushmen.

The great gatsbyThe fourth Classic, Nicki Greenberg’s graphic novel adaptation of The Great Gatsby, is a little trickier to categorise. Is a modern Australian woman’s adaptation of an American classic still a classic? I’m not sure, but why not? Sean, the Bookonaut, writes this:

Greenberg has a reputation for drawing interesting non-human  depictions of characters and this is evident in the creation of a host of different creatures for the main characters in the book.  Nick Carraway is an unassuming slug, Daisy is a puff headed fluff ball, Gatsby a seahorse, Tom Buchannan a brutish ogre and Jordan Baker a squid, to name a few.  It’s interesting to map these depictions to certain character traits. […] Clever and slightly bizarre, it fits the period well and was a pleasure to read.

If you are looking for something different, this could be the book for you.

Miles Franklin Literary Award

Of the seven books by women writers longlisted for the award, three were reviewed in March: Melissa Lucashenko’s Mullumbimby (1), Fiona McFarlane’s The night guest (1) and Evie Wyld’s All the birds, singing (2). 

Katie Keyes notes the autobiographical element of Mullumbimby, and describes it as

a quiet and effective advocate – a compelling tale that leaves me with a better sense of Australian Aboriginal experience than anything else I’ve read recently.

McFarlane, The night guestSonja Porter describes The night guest as “a well-crafted story” about love, ageing, loneliness and deceit. Belinda Hopper enjoyed All the birds, singing, even though, or perhaps because, she wasn’t sure of its conclusion. Orange Pekoe Reviews also enjoyed Wyld’s novel, calling it “a short, almost perfect novel” though she wasn’t sure she needed all the metaphorical references to birds “as it was the story itself that hooked me”.

As Paula wrote in her report (linked above), we have only one review so far of Tracey Farr’s The life and loves of Lena Gaunt, and have none yet for Cory Taylor’s My beautiful enemy. Let’s hope we see some next month – you’ll be sure to get a mention if you are one of those!

Short stories …

Holiday in CambodiaFor my final section this month I thought I’d do a little plug for short stories. I know many readers don’t like them, but fortunately we do have some enthusiasts among our participants. Three reviews were posted in the literary sub-category last month.

Kathryn Goldie loved last year’s MUBA (Most Underrated Book Award) shortlisted book, Two steps forward by Irma Gold. It was a book she noticed on the shelves at Readings bookshop and she’s glad she did. She says that “Each story is told in a different voice, without smacking of the experimental, uneven tone of some short story collections” and found the varied characters “deftly drawn and believable”.

Something rather different is Laura Jean McKay’s collection, Holiday in Cambodia, which was reviewed by Anna Sparga-Ryan. This collection, too, sounds highly varied despite all having the same setting. The stories cover “war, famine, torture, sex slavery” and exhibit an empathy for the country. Sparga-Ryan found the characterisation excellent, and said the writing is “sparse, concise and unlaboured”. 

Angie Holst read Cate Kennedy’s Like a house on fire, and called it “a glorious collection”. She also gives a plug in general for reading short stories – which seems a suitable point on which to end this month’s round-up:

I’m really enjoying reading these short stories anthologies as a departure from novel reading, with the dipping in and out much like the watching of television episodes as opposed to films. I like the quick and constant variation in genre, narrative voices and setting. Kennedy has proven herself adept at this constant variation, and she has a tremendous eye for the minutea of domestic life.

If you are uncertain about short stories, you might like to think again!


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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