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.

Miles Franklin Literary Award 2014 Longlist Announced/Reviews roundup


The longlist for this year’s Miles Franklin Literary Award has been announced and includes seven titles by women, four by men. two debut novelists, and two past winners. It’s great to see some crossover with several Stella Prize-listed titles.

Speaking on behalf of the judging panel, State Library of NSW Mitchell Librarian, Richard Neville, said the strength and diversity of this year’s entrants is testament to the depth and breadth of Australian literary talent.

“With 53 submissions received, the 2014 Miles Franklin Literary Award has once again cemented itself as a pre-eminent award within the national arts community. Whittling the entries down to 11 for the longlist was both rewarding and challenging due to the high calibre of submissions.

“From acclaimed former Miles Franklin winners to exciting new voices, this year’s longlist reflects the great strength, variety and richness of current Australian fiction,” he said.

The longlisted titles are:

  • The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt (Tracy Farr, Fremantle Press)
  • The Narrow Road to the Deep North (Richard Flanagan, Vintage)
  • The Railwayman’s Wife (Ashley Hay, A&U)
  • Mullumbimby (Melissa Lucashenko, UQP)
  • The Night Guest (Fiona McFarlane, Hamish Hamilton)
  • Belomor (Nicolas Rothwell, Text)
  • Game (Trevor Shearston, A&U)
  • My Beautiful Enemy (Cory Taylor, Text)
  • Eyrie (Tim Winton, Hamish Hamilton)
  • The Swan Book (Alexis Wright, Giramondo)
  • All the Birds, Singing (Evie Wyld, Vintage).

The Miles Franklin Award is regarded as Australia’s most prestigious literature prize, having been established through the will of My Brilliant Career author, Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin. First awarded in 1957, the Award is presented each year to the novel which is of the highest literary merit and presents Australian life in any of its phases.

Richard Neville is joined on the judging panel by The Australian journalist and columnist, Murray Waldren, Sydney-based bookseller, Anna Low, biographer, book historian, publishing editor, and Queensland Writers Centre founding chair Craig Munro and Emeritus Professor, Susan Sheridan.

Last year’s award was presented to Michelle de Kretser for Questions of Travel (A&U).

The Miles Franklin 2014 shortlist will be announced at a public event at the State Library of New South Wales on Thursday 15 May 2014, with the winner to be announced on Thursday 26 June 2014.

Reviews Roundup


So far, there has been only one (very short) AWW Challenge review of The Life and Times of Lena Gaunt. We’d love to hear more from readers about this novel about music and the life of Lena Gaunt, “theremin player of legend.” I’ve always loved the eerie, twangy sound of the theremin and am intrigued to find out more about Lena’s life in Singapore and Western Australia.


I adored The Railway Man’s Wife and predicted it would or at least should be on awards lists so am thrilled to see it here on the longlist. It has been reviewed many times by AWW Challenge participants including Michelle McLaren who wrote: “An elegiac tale of love, loss and letting go, Ashley Hay’s second novel, The Railwayman’s Wife, shimmers with grace. It’s an unhurried, lyrical novel; sad and sweet at the same time. Hay’s pace is deliberately languid as she drifts smoothly between events in the present and the past, as gradually we learn, in alternating chapters, how Mac and Annika met and fell in love – first with each other, and then with Thirroul. The Railwayman’s Wife is an elegant novel, rendered with consummate skill. It’s charged with emotion – after all, how could a novel about grief be anything else? – but Hay never lets herself stray into melodrama or mawkish sentiment.”


I raided a couple of my local public libraries for this year’s Stella Prize titles and am looking forward to grabbing this one from my TBR pile. Mullumbimby has been reviewed by many Challenge participants including Katie Keys, Sue over at Discombobula, and AWW’s Jessica White. Katie Keys writies: “It is a book of love, grief and discovery, of the small daily fights that make up the one big one, and of a new quality of conversation that Australia is having with itself.” Sue loved the book saying: “As a whitey, reading a novel set in Queensland, a few thousand k’s away from me both geographically and otherwise, I feel a rather keen sense of jealousy, running alongside a feeling of kinship, alongside a conscious need to check my romanticism….This book is about dualities. About the ways language is used as a tool, as a proof of identity.  About barbed wire spaced throughout land once stolen, fences which keep out or keep in.  It is about misconceptions, on both sides of the black and white divide, and about generosity.  It is about a familiar Australia and a foreign one.”

McFarlane, The night guest

Sonja reviewed The Night Guest saying: “McFarlane has approached this story of love, ageing loneliness, and deceit in impeccable style. The writing is subtle and sensitive, the pace slow and meandering in some parts, chaotic and in others, until the underlying tension accelerates to reach a sinister crescendo.” Lisa Walker writes: “The Night Guest was a standout read for me. Something of a psychological thriller, it also covers a wide emotional territory. Ruth’s memories of her first love Richard and her life with her husband interweave with her increasingly bizarre daily life. The story raises themes about aging, trust and dependence. McFarlane tells this story in simple but evocative prose. Inspired, she says, by both her grandmothers having dementia, it is a finely wrought picture of a mind coming undone. This is a hard book to review without spoilers so I’m going to have to leave it there. Eerie, suspenseful and thought-provoking, I suspect that The Night Guest will be one of my top reads for this year.”


Cory Taylor’s My Beautiful Enemy has not yet been reviewed for the AWW Challenge — looking forward to reading your reviews. The synopsis tells us that “Arthur Wheeler is haunted by his infatuation with a Japanese youth he encountered in the enemy alien camp where he worked as a guard during WW2. Abandoning his wife and baby son, Arthur sets out on a doomed mission to rescue his lover from forced deportation back to Japan, a country in ruins. Thus begins the secret history of a soldier at war with his own sexuality and dangerously at odds with the racism that underpins the crumbling British Empire.”


The Swan Book has been reviewed many times by AWW Challenge paritcipants including Chris White who found it “beautiful, tragic and breathtaking saying of it: Buy this book. It is brilliant. It made me feel almost deliriously happy, thanks to the beautiful combinations of brilliant prose and of the teasing, twisting poetry. It made me feel guilty, as a white Australian, of the Intervention and of our treatment of Aboriginals in general. It is powerful, on the topic of Aboriginal rights and their mistreatment, on the subject of boat-people and refugees and their mistreatment, on the feelings of a little girl, abused and forgotten. The mingling of Aboriginal songlines and the descriptions of birds in particular are poetically gorgeous. It also reminds me (in the best possible way) of Kafka and Borges —I cannot recommend The Swan Book any more than I do.”

All the Birds Singing

I loved All the Birds, Singing and reviewed it for the Newtown Review of Books saying: “This is a novel written from and for the senses. It is full of sounds, strong emotions and smells  bush smells, food smells, the smell of blood and fear. It is also a novel about the rhythm of life on the land, about loss, grief, and friendship, about lonely people trying to reach out and connect with one another. Part thriller, part coming-of-age story, All the Birds, Singing is probably not for those who don’t like to read about the darker side of human experience. As for me, I couldn’t stop reading and the novel came with me into my dreams the night I finished it …” Sue of Whispering Gums wrote of it: “Wyld’s writing is marvellous. The imagery is strong but not heavy-handed because it blends into the story. The rhythm changes to suit the mood. The plot contains parallels that you gradually realise are pointing the way. There’s humour and irony. I love the fact that our Jake, on the run from whatever it is, smokes “Holiday” brand cigarettes. There’s a bleakness to the novel, but it’s not unremitting. Jake, always the outsider, is tough and resourceful. She sleeps with a hammer under her pillow, but she has a soft side that is revealed mostly through her tenderness towards her animals….All the Birds, Singing is about how the past cannot “be left alone”. “We’ve all got pasts”, the shearers’ boss tells Jake early in the novel, but for some people the past must be dealt with before they can move on. The novel is also about redemption. It’s not the first novel about the subject, and neither will it be the last, but it is a finely told version that catches you in its grips and makes you feel you are reading it for the first time.”

Please keep reading and sending in your reviews, all of which can be accessed here.

About Me

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





Stella Prize 2014 Shortlist Announced


Three works of fiction and three of non-fiction have been selected from an initial longlist of twelve (from a total of 160 entries), to form The Stella Prize shortlist for 2014.

Congratulations to all the nominees.

The 2014 Stella shortlist is:

  • Burial Rites by Hannah Kent (Picador)
  • The Night Guest by Fiona McFarlane (Penguin)
  • The Swan Book by Alexis Wright (Giramondo)
  • Boy, Lost by Kristina Olsson (UQP)
  • Night Games by Anna Krien (Black Inc)
  • The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka by Clare Wright (Text)

Hannah Kent, Burial RitesMcFarlane, The night guesttheswanbook-wright

boy-lost-olssonnight-games-krienWright Forgotten Rebels Eureka

You can read an extract from each of the shortlisted books in the 2014 Stella Prize Shortlist Sampler.

When I posted a Stella Prize longlist reviews roundup, all of the longlisted titles except Gabrielle Carey’s Moving Among Strangers: Randolph Stow and my family had already been reviewed for the Australian Women Writers Challenge. In the meantime, although not on the shortlist, it has been reviewed over at Adventures of a Subversive Reader who says she “devoured” it.

Moving among strangers

She describes it as “immensely readable”, the story of “a literary pilgrimage”, “a wonderful, moving, whimsical and real story of Stow and his connection to the Carey family. The reviewer says she was inspired to read it by her own childhood reading memories and after finding out that it was on the Stella longlist and writes:

Midnite by Randolph Stow was one of the favourite books of my Year 6 teacher, and he read it aloud to our class, as he had read it aloud to my sister’s class the year before. When I became a teacher, I tracked Midnite down at the Lifeline Book Fest and made it part of my classroom library – it was always exciting when a new student discovered this excellent book about a very bad bushranger. … This isn’t an easy book to summarise, there’s no neat and easy way to explain it. … It’s a glimpse into the life of a prolific Australian author who has sadly been forgotten by a lot of Australia and a wonderful, rich family story at the same time. … I thoroughly recommend this book and hope it gets a big boost with readers thanks to the Stella Prize recognition.”

The Stella Prize judges for 2014 are critic and writer Kerryn Goldsworthy (chair); journalist and broadcaster Annabel Crabb; author and academic Brenda Walker; bookseller Fiona Stager; and writer and lecturer Tony Birch. The 2014 Stella Prize will be awarded in Sydney on the evening of Tuesday 29 April. The winner will receive $50,000. Additionally, and for the first time, the other five shortlisted authors will also receive prize money of $2000, courtesy of the Nelson Meers Foundation. This carries forward the generosity shown by Carrie Tiffany, inaugural Stella Prize winner, who last year shared $10,000 of her prize money with her fellow shortlisted authors.

Let us know what you think of the shortlist and keep sending us your reviews of Stella Prize nominated books, either from the longlist or the shortlist. And as always, the full AWW Challenge Review Listings are accessible here.

About Me

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

February 2014 Roundup: Classics and Literary

The post title for this month’s round-up is a bit of a misnomer because – oh dear, and I blame myself as much as any of us – not one review of an Aussie woman’s classic was posted in February. I have a couple on my Kindle that I hope to get to in April but … if anyone out there is interested in improving their knowledge of our great classics, now’s your chance. If you do decide to read one, you’re very likely to get a mention in a round-up! Is that a bribe, or what?

Now, before I get to the real stuff, I thought I’d explain something about my reporting area – Classics and Literary – regarding our classification system and its implications for our round-ups. Classics has been defined as a Genre. That means this round-up is the main place where Classics are officially reported each month. However, Literary is a sub-category (defined by us as a sub-genre, form, or special interest area). That means that books categorised by their reviewers as being Literary must also be categorised as a Genre, which in turn means that all Literary-categorised books are eligible for other round-ups. They won’t all be mentioned of course as we can’t mention every book reviewed in our round-ups, but theoretically some could be mentioned in multiple round-ups. A novel like Alexis Wright’s The swan book, for example, could appear in a General Fiction round-up, a Diversity round-up, and a Classics and Literary round-up. Make sense? I hope so.

February’s progress, numerically speaking

There were 29 reviews posted this month, 6 more than last month, and these covered 28 authors. In other words, unusually for this round-up, only one author was reviewed more than once - Amanda Curtin and her book Elemental. Topping last month also with three reviews, Curtin is gaining some attention which is great to see.

As last month, I’ve chosen a couple of “facts” to highlight from this month’s stats:

  • University presses accounted for 8 of the 29 books reviewed this month: UQP (5) and UWA (3). Don’t you love the fact that these presses are able and willing to support literary publishing?
  • Five bloggers posted two reviews each this month, some being new names to me: Bookgirl76, Carpe Librum (great name, eh), Jane Rawson, Julie Proudfoot, and yours truly, Whispering Gums. Welcome particularly to Bookgirl76 and Carpe Librum who, I believe, have joined the challenge for the first time this year.

The Classics

Oh but wait, there are none for this month. I think I’ll retain this heading, anyhow, as a (not so) subtle reminder to us all.

Stella Prize longlist

McFarlane, The night guestSeven of the 12 books longlisted for the 2014 Stella Prize were reviewed this month (at least in this category):

  • Moving among strangers, by Gabrielle Carey (mentioned below)
  • Burial rites, by Hannah Kent (reviewed by Carpe Librum)
  • Mullumbimby, by Melissa Lucashenko (reviewed by Sue Stevenson)
  • The night guest, by Fiona McFarlane (mentioned below)
  • Boy, lost, by Kristina Olsson (reviewed by Paula Grunseit)
  • The swan book, by Alexis Wright (reviewed by Annette Hughes)
  • All the birds, singing, by Evie Wyld (reviewed by moi)

The only one of these I know nothing about is Fiona McFarlane’s The night guest, so that seems like a good one to highlight in this round-up, says she self-centredly! It’s about “an elderly widow living alone in a beach house on the sand dunes of a NSW coastal town” – until, that is, Frida, “a carer claiming to be ‘sent by the government’” turns up. I wonder what’s behind that word “claiming” in Sonja Porter’s review? I guess we’ll have to read it to find out! Meanwhile, I can tell you that it’s a debut novel, and it sounds like McFarlane has produced a clever, moving story about ageing, trust and fear.

We’ll talk more about the Stella Prize next month …

Non-fiction …

As I’ve explained before, “literary” can be applied to any work reviewed for the challenge, not just fiction. This month I thought I’d highlight some of the non-fiction works deemed literary by their reviewers. There were five such books, three categorised as “History, Memoir or Biography” and two as “Nonfiction – other”. Three of them deal with literary subjects so let’s look at them.

The-Poets-Wife-Mandy-SayerKylie Mason reviewed Australian author Mandy Sayer’s memoir, The Poet’s Wife, about her marriage to Pulitzer-Prize-winning poet Yusef Komunyakaa, an African-American who was nearly 20 years older than she. It was a destructive relationship, something that Sayer, in love with her husband, took some time to realise. Mason describes the book thus:

It is a compelling account of the kind of abusive relationship that leaves little physical evidence, but it is also a beacon of hope that shows escape and recovery is possible.

This book attracted my attention because of its literary subject matter, but it sounds like a book that would appeal to any who are interested in relationship dynamics.

Gabrielle Carey, Moving among strangersSubversive Reader reviewed Gabrielle Carey’s (she of Puberty Blues fame) Moving among strangers which is about her family’s relationship with the late Australian writer, Randolph Stow. Longlisted for the Stella Prize, this was on my priority list. Subversive Reader has just firmed my resolve. She liked it, describing it as immensely readable, “a wonderful, moving, whimsical and real story of Stow and his connection to the Carey family”.

The third book is Ramona Koval’s cleverly titled Speaking volumes: Conversations with remarkable writers. It was reviewed by Carpe Librum. The writers interviewed come from around the English-speaking world, and include such luminaries as Les Murray, Martin Amis, and Toni Morrison. While Carpe (to be familiar!) was disappointed that some of the interviews are 10 years or so old, she still found it a good read, and recommends it

to readers looking to discover new authors, book-lovers who enjoy author interviews or the aspiring writer looking for pearls of wisdom or the inspiration behind some great authors.

These are only a few of the works reviewed for the challenge this month. If you want to see the lot, perhaps look for something to read, check out full list here


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.

Guest Post by Yvette Walker

As part of our focus on queer and lesbian women writers this month, some wonderful authors are writing guest posts for us.  Last week, Michelle Dicinoski, author of the memoir Ghost Wifewrote on identity and shadows, while this week’s writer is Yvette Walker.  Yvette is the author of the exquisite  Letters to the End of Love, a novel of letters between three couples whose histories brush lightly against one another.  Last year it was reviewed for the AWW Challenge by Elimy, Amanda Curtin, Annabel Smith, Jennifer Cameron-Smith, and myself.

Yvette WalkerIn her post, Yvette notes how ‘Queer people align themselves with the magical, the mysterious, the fey and the glamorous because we are conjurors at heart, vaudeville magicians’, and such transmutation has been necessary for their survival.  She also muses on the importance of literary mentors who pave a path for queer and lesbian writers to walk upon, while adding their own flagstones as they go.

We also have a book giveaway of Michelle’s Ghost Wife and Yvette’s Letters to the End of Love for those who read and review a book by a lesbian/queer women writer this month.  Simply link your review as you would normally do, and I’ll go through our spreadsheet and write a wrap up of these reviews on the 1st March, then pick two names from a hat!  If you need ideas for authors to read, check out our list of Lesbian and Queer Women Writers.

One Art: Elizabeth Bishop and E.M.Forster

As a writer you sit in a room for three to five, even eight to ten years, and you wrestle with words. You are always alone, always reworking, revising, revisiting the same places over and over again until the words sound, not so much exactly right, perhaps its more that you get them to the point where they aren’t plain wrong. In the end, you learn to live down the street from perfection. Except if you happen to be Elizabeth Bishop. Bishop’s reputation as one of the twentieth century’s greatest poets rests on perhaps seventy poems, yet she is mentioned in the same breath as Eliot, Yeats, Auden and Wallace Stevens. [1] John Ashbery called her “the writer’s writer’s writer.” [2]

LettersToTheEndOfLoveWalkerI have read Bishop all my adult life and I will never finish reading her. I have been to the waiting room in Worcester, Massachusetts, I have visited the dirty Filling Station, I have seen the moose of the New Brunswick woods, I have disembarked at Santos, in the state of São Paulo, Brazil, I have caught a fish and let a fish go. Her poems exhibit a perfect concordance between the ordinary objects of the world and their inherent beauty. I don’t remember when I found out that she was queer. This fact is not obvious in her work, which I suppose is both characteristic of her personality and the times in which she lived. She did not mine her own life for her art – I believe that idea would have been an anathema to her. She was, I gather from the brief biographies I have read, a difficult woman – an alcoholic, a binge drinker – unfaithful to her lovers; but also extremely charismatic.

The great love of her life was the architect Lota Costallat de Macedo Soares. The two women spent fifteen years together in Brazil, living in a house which Lota designed, “a glass and steel modernist house on top of a distant, isolated hill with a beetling granite cliff at its back.” [3] It was during these years that Bishop wrote many of her greatest poems. It’s impossible not to romanticise the scene – a great love affair, two brilliant artists, one reclusive and shy, the other dynamic and arrogant. Bishop had a happiness with Lota that was hard won, but in the end it did not last. I now refer you, like all undergraduate teachers of Bishop would do, to her poem entitled One Art – read it and you’ll understand what I mean [4].

Geography IIIBishop has steered my course all these years, both as a human being and as a writer, and somewhere, in my heart of hearts, I am a little bit pleased that she is queer like me, in fact if I am brutally honest I am elated, as meetings such as these are difficult to come by. There is great difficulty in being a queer writer – it’s hard to explain, but I will try. It has to do with closets, I think, and halls of mirrors, and invisibility. Queer people align themselves with the magical, the mysterious, the fey and the glamorous because we are conjurors at heart, vaudeville magicians – we have had to be in order to survive the numerous and varied punishments metered out to us over the centuries. We appear. We disappear. We are in. We are out. Our history (such as it is) has mostly been made on the run, written in code, whispered from one generation to another. So how to write about being queer? What to do? Well, you seek out who and what you can. You ask, who am I, and somewhere, someone will answer you back. For me, that person was Elizabeth Bishop, when I was young and being queer was difficult, almost impossible. Later, much later, when I was casting about and writing Letters to the End of Love, I rediscovered E.M. Forster. Not the Merchant Ivory Forster, but the queer Edwardian, the observant outsider, the gentleman rebel who had to wait until after his death to come out.

MauriceForster’s novel Maurice was written in 1914 but not published until 1971. It is considered to be the first modern gay novel. Inspired by the life of the socialist philosopher Edward Carpenter and his lover George Merrill, and a model for D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover, Maurice is not only a celebration of homosexual desire, but it is perhaps the first (and one of the most beautiful) articulations of gay marriage. To quote Forster: “I was determined that in fiction anyway two men should fall in love and remain in it for the ever and ever that fiction allows….”[5] I read Maurice late one night at Varuna, Australia’s National Writer’s Centre, the former home of the writer Eleanor Dark. I had borrowed the house library’s copy of Maurice, the signature ‘E. Dark’ there on the flyleaf. I read the book in one sitting and when I finished, it was as if a door had been flung open. Here was a novel that spoke of the spirituality of homosexuality, its mystical and romantic elements, here was a writer who believed in the idea of a lasting monogamous gay love. Here was a writer who had written great love stories, both straight and gay, whose empathy stretched across boundaries of class, race, sexuality and gender. Empathy for the outsider is a major theme of all of Forster’s books; from his first novel Where Angels Fear to Tread, to his final work, A Passage to India. The couples which roam about in Forster’s novels – Helen Schlegel and Leonard Bast, Lucy Honeychurch and George Emerson, Maurice Hall and Alec Scudder – they are all odd couples, strange couples, all queer in their own way. If Elizabeth Bishop showed me how discipline can uncover great beauty in the most ordinary things, Forster showed me how people relate, how they love, how they grieve, how they lose and find themselves. Letters to the End of Love is influenced by the work of many writers but I keep Bishop and Forster very, very close to my heart, and even closer to my writing desk. Their writing remains a map towards my own.


[1] “Must We Dream Our Dreams?” William Boyd on Elizabeth Bishop in Brazil. Guardian. Saturday 11th September 2010.

[2] Ibid.

[3] Ibid.

[4] “One Art”. Geography III.  London : Chatto & Windus, 1977.

[5] Leavitt, David. Introduction. (2005) Maurice. By E.M. Forster. London: Penguin, 1971. xi-xxxvi.

January 2014 Roundup: Diversity

Welcome back to the monthly wrap-ups for reviews of books that showcase diversity!  2014 is shaping up to be an exciting year, with a focus on Australian queer women writers in March and on women writers with a disability in September, while in July we’ll bring you an interview with an Indigenous women writer.

We strive to draw attention to such diverse authors all throughout the year however, and over January the challenge kicked off with six great reviews.

theswanbook-wrightChris White reviewed Alexis Wright’s The Swan Book, which is about a girl, Oblivia, surviving in a world altered by climate change.  The book inspired a variety of emotion, leaving Chris ‘deliriously happy, thanks to the beautiful combinations of brilliant prose and of the teasing, twisting poetry. It made me feel guilty, as a white Australian, of the Intervention and of our treatment of Aboriginals in general’.  Chris’ final recommendation – ‘If I didn’t feel like giving The Swan Book six stars was cheating I’d give it seven’ – should persuade anyone to pick up this novel!

channelling mannalargenna marksSue of Whispering Gums mused on an essay by English author Kathy Marks which won the Indigenous Affairs award at the Walkley Awards.  Titled ‘Chanelling Mannalargenna’, it discusses the ‘thorny issue regarding the definition of indigeneity in Tasmania.’  The essay reminded Sue of Anita Heiss’ Am I Black Enough For You? in that it, as Heiss writes in her book, pointed to the ‘complexities around individual and collective Aboriginal identity’.  The essay is available online through Griffith Review’s website and is part of their bestselling issue on Tasmania, and it’s well worth a read.

Old-school-196-300There’s been much excitement about the release of PM Newton’s second novel, Beams Falling, a sequel to her tightly-bound, plotted and paced The Old School.  Bree of All the Books I Can Read reviewed the latter, and ‘was engrossed … from the very first page and couldn’t wait for each twist to unfold and each new bit of information to present itself.’  The story revolves around Ned, a detective whose Dad was Irish-Australian and Mum was Vietnamese and who, as Bree writes, ‘seems to face judgement and preconceptions about her appearance every day with few people understanding that she identifies as Australian with no real connection or ties to her Vietnamese heritage’. The book was such a good read for Bree that she’s been persuaded to ‘read more crime’.  As an admirer, too, of The Old School, I’m also really looking forward to the sequel.

beloved-faulknerIt was great to see another review of Annah Faulkner’s The Beloved.  As reviewer Maureen writes, the protagonist Bertie’s encounter with polio leaves her ‘with a disability which means she must eventually wear a boot to correct her gait. Her deformed foot impacts on her perception of herself and how she chooses to dress, as well as forces her to compensate in many areas of her life.’  Despite her disability, Bertie is determined to practice her art, an impulse which is at odds with her mother’s desire that she become a doctor.  The conflict is a plot device, as Maureen notes, and ‘the battle between mother and daughter draws the story along at a page-turning pace, ensuring an easy read.’

caleb-200-300Australian women writers such as Geraldine Brooks have  focussed on the encounters and histories of Indigenous people in other countries.  In Caleb’s Crossing, as Marilyn of Me, You and Books writes, Brooks’ depiction of a friendship between Bethia, a girl from a Puritan family, and Caleb, a Native American, contributes to the dismantling of the ‘widespread assumptions that all Indians were like those involved in the wars with settlers in the late 1800s.’  For Australian readers, Marilyn continues, it also ‘provides a comparison with their own nation’s initial settlement a century and a half later. And the book excels as simply an enjoyable novel.’

gil-scott-heron-parole-clarkeDiversity was also showcased in poetry this month, with poet Katie Keys penning a review of Gil Scott Heron is on Parole by poet Maxine Beneba Clarke, an Australian poet of Afro-Caribbean descent (also mentioned by Marisa in the poetry/short stories roundup).  In this work, as Katie writes, ‘Clarke highlights and re-writes stories from the convenient myths of colonialists, oppressors and misogynists to white-faced fairytales and out-dated definitions. The collection is at moments harsh and angry, sometimes shocking. But change isn’t always polite and the revolution will not be televised.  Overall, it is powerful, persuasive and justified’.

On the topic of things poetic, on Tuesday we will have the first of our guest writers for our spotlight on queer women writers, Michelle Dicinoski.  Michelle is also a poet – her first collection is the stunning Electricity for Beginners – and author of the memoir Ghost Wifeabout her journey to Canada to marry her wife Heather. Stay posted for further details!


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.


January 2014 Roundup: Classics and Literary

And so we start the third year of our challenge, and the second year of this blog. Welcome back to all our loyal readers and contributors – and, if this is your first time visiting our blog, welcome to you too. We hope you enjoy what we have to offer and decide to join in.

How are we tracking?

Here at the challenge we like to think we are making a difference, that is, that more people are reading and reviewing Australian women’s writing. Team member Yvonne recently published an analysis of last year’s reviews which showed that our overall number of reviews increased 20% on the previous year. Let’s hope we can continue that this year.

The Literary and Classic area started off pretty well with 23 reviews posted. This is four less than were posted in January last year, but it’s early days eh? Last year I did a little stats roundup each month, but I don’t plan to do it the same way this year. I will though choose a “fact” or two to highlight. This month’s are:

  • Amanda Curtin (3) and Kirsten Krauth (2) were the most reviewed authors in January.
  • UWA (University of Western Australia) Publishing was the most reviewed publisher, which is not surprising as they published Curtin and Krauth.

Congratulations to UWA, Amanda and Kirsten!

The Classics

Elizabeth Harrower's The Watch Tower

I always like to highlight the classics that are reviewed for the challenge because, while we want to read and support contemporary writers, it’s also important to know our literary tradition. Two classics were reviewed this month, Elizabeth Harrower’s chilling novel, The Watch Tower, and the third novel in Henry Handel Richardson’s Richard Mahoney trilogy, Ultima Thule.

Jane Rawson wrote a brief but heartfelt review of The Watch Tower on Goodreads:

Painful and disturbing, and not just because Felix reminded me of someone I know. In no way fun to read, but very accurately told. Read it if you want to be grateful for how much easier it has gotten for women to extricate themselves from abusive marriages, and to understand why it’s still so hard.
Our loyal American reviewer, Marilyn, introduced her review of Ultima Thule with:
The first two volumes of the trilogy, The Fortunes of Richard Mahoney, were enjoyable and beautifully written, but I was still amazed at the power and drama of the final book of the trilogy.
That’s a pretty powerful recommendation, and one that I feel I should heed. How about you?

Amanda Curtin and Kirsten Krauth

ElementalCurtinThe three reviews of Amanda Curtin’s books encompassed two of her novels, The sinkings (1) and Elemental (2). One of her reviewers, Angela Savage, wrote of Elemental that it is ultimately:

a book to savour and reflect on. Curtin poses big questions about remembering and the repression of memory, about fear, courage, love and forgiveness. These themes and the characters who bring them to life will stay with me for a long time to come.

Amanda is not only one of “our” authors, but she also reviews for the challenge. As I’ve said before, I love that our authors are here supporting each other.

Kirsten Krauth’s debut novel just-a-girl was reviewed twice. Published last year, it was reviewed 6 times for us then, and has clearly started off well this year. A coming-of-age novel about a 14-year-old girl, it confronts teenage sexuality in the digital age. It’s a book that has got people talking. Reviewer Kate (booksaremyfavouriteandbest) says that

This book will stay in my mind for all that it says about growing up negotiating the digital world.

It made her think about “digital identities”. She believes that they will not be as big a problem in the future as conservatives are forecasting because everyone will have on-line accounts. This is surely the joy of fiction, the way it can stimulate us to think about our values, our lives, our ideas.

The poets …

Regular readers of this round-up know that we don’t only cover novels in this category, but any works that reviewers classify as “literary”. This means we include poetry, short stories and non-fiction. This month three poetry collections, two short story collections, and one memoir were reviewed. The three poetry reviews came from two of our male reviewers, Jonathan Shaw and Sean the Bookonaut.

Jonathan reviewed Jordie Albiston’s XIII poems. He divides the poems into “public” ones,  those dealing with public events or issues like Gallipoli or the Kinglake fire, and the “intensely private”, such as three love sonnets. On the writing, he says:

The poems are also wonderfully varied formally. Some of them rhyme, and Albiston’s way with rhyme, both at line ends and internally, is truly wondrous. So is her extraordinary way of playing poetic form off against speech rhythms.

Ghostly SubjectsSean reviewed Sarah Holland-Batt’s Aria and Maria Takolander’s Ghostly subjects. As I have a book of short stories by Takolander in my TBR pile, I’ve decided to report on Sean’s review of Ghostly subjects. He found it a challenging collection, which is not necessarily a surprise with poetry. He found some sections – the poems are grouped under headings – easier to comprehend than others, and concludes:

I liked the collection.  I wasn’t blown away, but I suspect that the deficiency is mine.  If you have the time to sit and give individual poems attention it would be well worth it.  And that’s perhaps the pleasure of poetry, revelations that can be nutted out over multiple readings.

I like his honesty – and I totally agree. That is the pleasure (and sometimes the frustration) of poetry.

These are only a few of the works reviewed for the challenge this month. If you want to see the lot, perhaps look for something to read, check out full list here.


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.

2013 AWW Challenge: Poetry and Short Stories

liquid-nitrogenJennifer Maiden’s win of the overall prize for the Victorian Premier’s Prize for her poetry collection Liquid Nitrogen is a boon for Australia’s women poets.  As Paula notes in her roundup of these awards, author Magdalena Ball reviewed this collection, contemplating its themes of waking and politics, and its technique of layering:

Though Maiden’s poetic description of the Carina Nebula alone is worth the price of the book, this building up of smaller things into something larger, powerful, and transformative, is exactly what Liquid Nitrogen does, taking the many cultural, political and literary characters and references, in order to create a complex theory of everything, woven together on a Maiden’s “spinning jenny.” 

Like-a-house-on-fire-kennedyShort stories also garnered recognition in the prize stakes.  Cate Kennedy’s Like a House on Fire was shortlisted for the 2013 Stella Prize and won the 2013 Steele Rudd award for short story collections offered by the Queensland Literary Awards.  It was reviewed by 6 readers for the AWW challenge – If Not, Read, Kathy, Janine, Denise, myself and Belinda - making it our our most-reviewed collection of stories.

This shows that, although winning brings literary recognition, readers are most the most important prize of all.  Happily, there were 33 reviews of poetry collections last year, eclipsing 2012’s count of 7 reviews, and 89 reviews of short stories or short story collections, up from 76 last year – an amazing effort!  Below are some highlights from the year.


Elizabeth Hodgson, Skin paintingPhillip Ellis and Jonathon Shaw blitzed the reviews, with 10 and 8 penned respectively.  Philip paid care and attention to collections by Indigenous authors, including Oodgeroo Noonuccal’s The Dawn is at Hand, Anita Heiss’ I’m Not Racist, But … and Elizabeth Hodgson’s Skin Painting.  The latter, winner of the 2007 David Unaipon award for Indigenous writers, has ‘a level of candour running throughout the whole’, perhaps because it is, as Philip explains, ‘nonfiction poetry, poetry arising out of and engaging with the poet’s lived experience of the world and her life’.

domestic-archaeology-pilgrim-byrneLesbian relationships featured in Limen, reviewed by Sue of Whispering Gums, and Marilyn of Me, You and Books, while Phillip Ellis reviewed Domestic Archaeology, about poet Kelly Pilgrim-Byrne’s conception of a child with her partner.  Dorothy Porter’s lesbian thriller classic The Monkey’s Mask was reviewed by If Not, Read and WriteReaderly, who sums it up nicely: ‘The plotting is smart, the affair is sexy, Sydney is gritty and real, the poems are bitey and sharp – a damned fab book.’

Lilliey-realiaIn terms of other contemporary works, Jon Shaw penned an entertaining review of Kate Lilley’s Realia (in tandem with John Tranter’s Ten Sonnets) in which, piqued by Lilley’s poem “GG” on the sale of auctions from the estate of Greta Garbo, he consulted the list of said items on the web to check her source, and uncovered an image of a collection of irons.  ‘Some liberty taken as befits a poet,’ he concludes, ‘but an honest steal.’

What I enjoyed about Jon’s review is his articulation that poetry isn’t necessarily easy, as he writes, ‘Neither of these books appealed to me much on first contact, but when I came to write about them, even so spottily, I warmed to them both.’  Even if a poem seems difficult on a first reading, persistence with it pays off.  The poem opens up as you get to know it, and might even become a friend.  I look forward to reading your reviews on making the acquaintance of works by Australia’s women poets over 2014.

If you’d like to read the reviews in full, and also look at others that I haven’t had space to mention here, you had head to our Weebly pages:

January – June 2013

July — December 2013


Short Stories

When I look at the pages for our short story reviews, I’m always blown out of the water by the diversity of genres.  They cover speculative fiction, classics and literature, nonfiction, romance, contemporary fiction and historical fiction.  I’ve penned a snapshot of reviews from these genres below.

Caution contains small parts mcdermottReaders of spec fic/fantasy/horror/sci fi were our biggest contributors, with 34 reviews.  As Tsana mentions in her wrap-up of speculative fiction, Margo Lanagan’s collections Cracklescape (reviewed by Mel and Dave) and Yellow Cake (reviewed by Heidi, in her admirably titled Salute Your Shorts feature) were popular with readers, as was Kirstyn McDermott’s Caution: Contains Small Parts (reviewed by Stephanie, Mark and Narelle), while Thoraiya Dyer’s Asymmetry proved the most popular work after Kennedy’s Like a House on Fire, with 4 reviews (from Tsana, Alexandra, Mark and Dave).

letters-george-clooney-adelaideIn contemporary fiction, which includes literary fiction, there were 28 reviews.  It’s hard to go past the title of Debra Adelaide’s Letter to George Clooney, reviewed by Kylie in the Newtown Review of Books.  Although she found it an engaging read, she was disappointed that some of the stories were so similar, especially as ‘one of the attractions of the short story to both writers and readers is the opportunities the form allows for experimentation with structure, voice and narrative’.

great unknown meyerAngela Myer, editor of The Great Unknown, pulled together a selection of stories from some of Australia’s finest writers to unsettle her readers.  Also reviewed by Kylie, it sounds like the book is a corker, with novelist Krissy Kneen opening the proceedings with ‘a genuinely spooky tale about a sleepwalking woman and her watchful husband’.

It was also good to see women of diverse heritage being reviewed, with WriteReaderly commenting on Merlinda Bobis’ White Turtle.  She found it ‘competent enough’, but wasn’t enamoured, and recommended that readers pick up Bobis’ Fish Hair Woman for a more satisfying read.

dear ruth parryRomance stories also featured strongly, with 22 works reviewed.  Many of these were single stories, such as Bronwyn Parry’s ‘Dear Ruth’ (reviewed by Brenda, one of our prolific reviewers, and Jess) and Robin Thomas’ ‘Bonjour Cherie’ (reviewed by Lauren).

There were also two reviews of classics by Sue of Whispering Gums, who pays detailed attention to the use of language and its unsettling effects in Barbara Baynton’s ‘Scrammy ‘and’ and ‘A Dreamer’.  Historical fiction featured twice, in ‘The Convict’s Bounty Bride‘ and ‘The Last Gladiatrix‘, both reviewed by Lauren.  Finally, there was one book of nonfiction, Bush Nurses, reviewed by Marcia.

In all, it seems like reading short stories are an excellent way to sample the diversity of talent in Australia’s women writers.  If you’re pressed for time (as so many of us are!), reading stories is a great way to participate in the AWW Challenge in 2014.

As with poetry, if you’d like to see these reviews in their entirety, please head to the Weebly pages listed below.

January – June 2013
July — December 2013


About Me

JessI’m Jessica White, a writer and researcher.  I have a PhD from the University of London and have published two novels with Penguin, A Curious Intimacy (2007) and Entitlement (2012). My short stories and poetry have been published in OverlandSoutherlyIsland and the Review of Australian Fiction.  You can find more information about these at my website.  I’m also on Twitter @ladyredjess.

2013 AWW Challenge Wrap-up: Diversity

In her essay “Literature as Pleasure, Pleasure as Literature” (Antaeus, 1987), Joyce Carol Oates wrote, ‘Reading is the sole means by which we slip, involuntarily, often helplessly, into another’s skin, another’s voice, another’s soul’.  This is why reading stories is one of the most accessible and enjoyable ways of learning about the lives of other people.  There are many voices that make up Australia, and it’s been great to see so many AWW Challenge participants listening to and reflecting upon them throughout 2013.

Indigenous Authors

Paris Dreaming by Anita HeissOver 2013, there were 45 reviews of works by Indigenous women writers.  Dr Anita Heiss was the most reviewed, with 6 reviewers penning their thoughts on her works.  These included Paris Dreaming (reviewed by Sue), Am I Black Enough for You (reviewed by Marilyn, Sue and Kevin) and I’m Not Racist, But… (reviewed by Phillip and Shannon).

mullumbimbyMelissa Lucashenko’s Mullumbimby was also popular, with reviews by James, Lisamyself and Writereaderly, who delightfully describes it as ‘such a pleasure to read this place [Mullumbimby] rendered with such smart-arsey love. The multifaceted examination of indigenous rights is smart-thinking and smartly plotted, the narrative trips along, the characters are human, the language vernacular and gritty, and the book an accessible, informed, good-timer.’

Sue from Whispering Gums reviewed two of Melissa’s essays, ‘How Green Is My Valley’ and her Walkley-award winning ‘Sinking Below Sight: Down and Out in Brisbane and Logan’ published in Griffith Review.  In the latter essay, Melissa poses the question, ‘what dreams are possible for the Brisbane underclass in 2013?’ and follows the lives of three women living in poverty.  As Sue notes, Melissa’s essay ‘may not be statistically significant from an academic perspective, but anyone who reads contemporary social commentary knows that what she writes rings true’.

heaven-I-swallowed-hennessyOver July we held a focus on Indigenous women writers to celebrate NAIDOC week, and encouraged our readers to pick up a work by an Indigenous woman writer.  Among the books reviewed was Rachel Hennessy’s The Heaven I Swallowed, a story inspired by the author’s grandmother, who was one of the Stolen Generations.  The book was appreciated by both Sue and Shelleyrae.

theswanbook-wrightAnother standout novel was Alexis Wright’s The Swan Book, a speculative fiction novel set in a near future devastated by climate change.  Marilyn Brady, who runs the Global Women of Colour Challenge, named it as one of the best ten novels that she read and reviewed over 2013 not least because, as she writes in her review of the novel, Wright is one of the few Indigenous authors she has read who ‘are using their unique history and culture creatively and experimentally to address universal themes’.

Such an innovative approach can also be seen in Lynette Russell’s Roving Mariners: Australian Aboriginal Whalers and Sealers in the Southern Ocean 1790-1870, reviewed by Janine.  This history, about the South Australian sealing industry, was prompted by Russell’s desire ‘to create a more complex and less linear narrative than has been previously produced for southern Australia’ which required  attention to the particularly unstable boundaries of who was Indigenous and who was not.

The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf by Ambelin KwaymullinaIn other genres, there were reviews of speculative fiction novel The Interrogation of Ashala Wolf (by Mark, Heidi and myself), children’s books such as The Burrumbi Kids (reviewed by Narelle), Oodgeroo Noonuccal’s poems The Dawn is at Hand (reviewed by Philip) and young adult novels such as Melissa Lucashenko’s Too Flash (reviewed by My Book Corner).  This is by no means a comprehensive list, and you can find more works under the heading of Indigenous Writing on our Listings Page.

Authors writing on Indigenous Issues

Red Dirt TalkingA number of readers also commented on works that revolved around Indigenous people, characters or issues, but were not necessarily penned by Indigenous authors.  Marilyn reviewed Jacqueline Wright’s Red Dirt Talking, winner of the Western Australian TAG Hungerford award and longlisted for the Miles Franklin and Dobbie awards, describing it as ‘A complex and entertaining Australian novel about a white woman who comes to an Indigenous community looking for information, only to find herself changed and involved in the concerns of the community.’

Patti Miller’s The Mind of a Thief, about Miller’s exploration of the history of the Wiradjuri people, original custodians of the place where she was raised, was longlisted for the Stella Prize, and was reviewed by Deborah, Melissa and Anna.

Paisley lone protestorThe Lone Protestor, Fiona Paisley’s marvellous history of Anthony Martin Fernando, Indigenous activist in Europe in the first half of the 20th Century, was also reviewed by Jenny and Yvonne.  ‘Creative, intelligent and audacious are some of the words that came to my mind when reading about A M Fernando’, Yvonne writes, for he was a remarkable man whom Paisley brings to life despite, as Yvonne continues, ‘only tiny scraps [of information] hidden in vast archives’.


beloved-faulknerIt was positive to see a novel about disability reaching the limelight.  Annah Faulkner’s The Beloved, about Roberta Lightfoot, who suffers from polio and its ramifications, won the Kibble award and was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin award in 2013, and previously won the 2011 Queensland Premier’s Award (when the awards were still hosted by the premier) for an emerging author.  I was impressed with Roberta’s tough personality and the lush Port Moresby setting, while Maree describes it as ‘a well-written novel with a great heart’.

Other works about disability included Kate Richards’ Madness: a memoir, about the author’s mental illness.  This was thoughtfully reviewed by Stephanie and Christine, who describes the work as ‘not just a plea for understanding but also for the recognition of the complexity of mental illness  that increased expenditure and thought in the mental health field might address’. 

Queer Writing

LettersToTheEndOfLoveWalkerQueer writers, characters and subjects appeared in a wide range of genres, including romance (Anna Cowan’s Untamed, reviewed by Kat), history (Suzanne Falkiner’s Eugenia: A Man, reviewed by Janine), literary fiction (Yvette Walker’s Letters to the End of Love, reviewed by Amanda, Annabel, Jennifer, Emily and myself), poetry (Susan Hawthorne’s Limen, reviewed by Sue and Marilyn), young adult fiction (F2M: the Boy Within by Hazel Edwards and Ryan Kennedy, reviewed by Stevie) and an anthology (Car Maintenance, Explosives and Love, and Other Contemporary Lesbian Writings, reviewed by writereaderly).

We don’t yet have a list of queer women writers on our Reading for Diversity page, but I’m hoping to redress this by holding a spotlight on queer writing in March.  Stay tuned for details! 

Diverse Heritage

unpolished-gemOver October, we held a spotlight on Australian Women Writers of Diverse Heritage, with guest posts from Tseen Khoo, Alice Pung, Malla Nunn and Merlinda Bobis.  Tseen, a researcher and writer on Asian-Australian issues, outlined her frustration with the limited readings of texts by Asian Australian women, such as those by Hsu Ming Teo’s Love and VertigoAlice Pung, author of Unpolished Gem and Her Father’s Daughter, discussed the theme of class and ostracism in relation to Ruth Park’s novels.  Malla Nunn reflected on how her move to Australia gave her the opportunity to write about her childhood in Swaziland, while Merlinda Bobis, author of Fish-Hair Woman, for which she was awarded the Most Underrated Book Award, wrote a post about the influence of her Filipino culture on her writing.  Next year we’ll be holding similar spotlights on lesbian writers (as mentioned above) and women writers with disabilities.

AWW no borderI have loved working with the AWW team this year, and am proud to be part of an initiative that contributes to the fair representation of women writers in Australia’s literary culture.  In addition, even though I’m deaf, by reading I listen to much, much more than I ever could in real life, and I’m indebted to AWW’s readers – your reviews have allowed me to slip into so many skins, voices and souls.

If you’d like to continue the challenge in 2014 (and I do hope you will!), you can sign up here.  For further suggestions as to what to read from a diverse range of Australian women writers, please visit our Reading for Diversity page.  Those who are also interested in Australia’s fantastic women Indigenous authors can head to the Indigenous and Indigenous Issues lists on our Review Listings page.  Do venture forth and explore!

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), about botany and lesbianism, and Entitlement (2012), about Native Title and grief.  You can find more information about me at my website.  I’m also on Twitter @ladyredjess.

2013 AWW Challenge Wrap-up: Classics and Literary

And so our challenge comes to the end of its second year. I have enjoyed my involvement this year and would like to thank the AWW Team Members for their support and, of course, all you reviewers who have supported the challenge so well this year. The women writers of Australia thank you, I’m sure.

As you know, the Literary and Classic category is a slippery one, there being no tried-and-true definitions for either. Consequently, the AWW Challenge has relied mostly on each reviewer’s decision regarding categorisation. I have tweaked this occasionally, such as where most reviewers have categorised a book as Literary but one or two haven’t. As “Literary” is a sub-category, some reviewers I suspect forget to apply it. Given all this, by my reckoning, nearly 400 reviews were posted in this category in 2013.

Most reviewed Literary/Classic books in 2013

Hannah Kent, Burial RitesThose of you who have been reading my monthly round-ups will not be surprised to read that Hannah Kent’s debut novel, Burial Rites, was the most reviewed book for the year. I expect it will appear in some of the 2014 literary awards shortlists, but time will tell! My predictions aren’t always correct.

Here are the most reviewed books:

  • Hannah Kent, Burial Rites (21)
  • Kate Forsyth, The Wild Girl (11)
  • Ashley Hay, The Railwayman’s Wife (11)
  • Poppy Gee, Bay of Fires (9)
  • Michelle de Kretser, Questions of travel; ML Stedman, The Light Between Oceans; and Carrie Tiffany, Mateship with Birds (8 each)

What is exciting about this list is its diversity. These are Australian writers but their settings range from 19th century Iceland to post World War 2 Thirroul, from 19th century Germany to post World War 1 Western Australia. Interestingly only two of these most reviewed books – de Kretser’s and Gee’s – are set in contemporary times. Also interesting is the fact that three of them (Kent’s, Gee’s and Stedman’s) are debut novels, which augurs well for the future, don’t you think?

Most reviewed Literary/Classic authors in 2013

whisky-charlie-foxtrotNot surprisingly, the authors most reviewed closely equates with the books most reviewed, but not completely. This is encouraging  because it suggests that people are also reading backlists. Other authors well reviewed, in addition to those listed above were:

  • Annabel Smith (9) for Whisky Charlie Foxtrot and A New Map of the Universe (9)
  • Toni Jordan (8) for Addition and Nine Days

Also, Kate Forsyth’s Bitter Greens was reviewed twice, in addition to her 11 reviews for The Wild Girl.

Most reviewed Classics

my-brilliant-careerSome 30 reviews were posted in the Classic category over the year which seems a little low. I had hoped that the push given to Australian classics by publishers such as Text Publishing might have resulted in a higher number. It is nonetheless good to see older books being read, albeit mostly the tried and true. I’d love to see more reviews for some of the lesser known books and authors. We hope to promote this with a couple of special posts during the year.

For 2013, however, the most reviewed classics were Joan Lindsay’s Picnic at Hanging Rock (6), and Miles Franklin’s My Brilliant Career and Ruth Park’s Harp in the South, each with four reviews. The most reviewed authors of classics were Miles Franklin and Ruth Park again, and Henry Handel Richardson, with five reviews each.

Other observations

Jacobson, The sunlit zoneBecause “Literary” is a subcategory, many of the works so categorised are also covered by other round-ups, so I’m just going to make a few additional random comments. The first concerns verse novels. Three were reviewed this year. This is a form that scares some people but, if you haven’t tried one, you may be surprised. Susan Hawthorne’s Limen, Lisa Jacobson’s The sunlit zone (which was shortlisted for some awards this year) and Lesley Lebkowicz’s Petrov Poems are good places to start.

Short stories – singly and in collections – featured well, with Cate Kennedy, one of Autralia’s best-regarded contemporary short story writers, topping the list of reviewed short story writers. Her collection, Like a House on Fire, which was shortlisted for the Stella Prize and won the Steele Rudd prize at the Queensland Literary Awards, received 5 reviews by challenge participants.

mullumbimbyFinally, several indigenous authors were read and reviewed, with Larissa Behrendt, Dylan Coleman, Rachel Hennessy, Jeanine Leane, Melissa Lucashenko, and Alexis Wright each receiving at least two reviews. Melissa Lucashenko’s Mullumbimby was, in fact, reviewed four times. More, I believe, were reviewed elsewhere in the challenge, as I expect we’ll see in a Diversity round-up.

Aims for 2014

We don’t need to have specific aims, really, beyond reading and reviewing more Aussie women writers, but it’s always pleasing to see growth, particularly when the cause is worthy! And so, for my own enjoyment if no-one else’s, I’d love to see more reviews for:

  • classic novels by Aussie women, particularly from the nineteenth and very early twentieth centuries
  • writing (of all kinds) by indigenous women writers

Increases in these two areas will help us promote just how broad and deep Aussie literary culture is.

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 in childhood with Banjo Paterson’s ballads and Ethel Turner’s Seven Little Australians. 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.

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