What follows is a brief roundup of titles (not including those from the Nick Enright Prize, the Betty Roland Prize, The NSW Premier’s Translation Prize ) which have already been reviewed for the AWW Challenge.
Click on category title links (titles by women in bold) to view more information about titles and judges’ reports.
People’s Choice Award for the Christina Stead Prize for fiction
The judges of the 2013 Christina Stead Prize have selected six novels for the shortlist and now you can have your say. By casting a vote for your favourite book you will also go into the draw for weekly prizes. Voting for the People’s Choice Award opened on Friday 12 April and votes can be cast via the State Library of NSW website.
- Eleven Seasons, Paul D. Carter (Allen & Unwin)
- The Burial, Courtney Collins (Allen & Unwin)
- Sufficient Grace, Amy Espeseth (Scribe)
- Running Dogs, Ruby Murray (Scribe)
- The Weight of a Human Heart, Ryan O’Neill (Black Inc.)
- The Last Thread, Michael Sala (Affirm Press)\
Set in the early twentieth century, The Burial by Courtney Collins is inspired by the story of Australia’s last bushranger, Jessie Hickman.
Sophia Whitfield says: “The Burial is a richly atmospheric novel that harkens after the colonial past. It has award winner stamped all over it. The Burial is a beautifully written book set to the backdrop of the haunting Australian landscape.”
Angela Meyer of Literaryminded says: “It’s blood, bone, grit and earth, but peacefulness too — the quiet of the dead; of being underground or being far above the world, far up the side of a mountain. The peace of an unexpected friendship, or for the other characters, a respite from your obligations: a beautiful tattooed woman; a drug haze.” Meyer also has a Q and A with the author.
Shelleyrae writes: “While The Burial is dark and melancholic, dwelling on loss and death, it also celebrates the triumph of survival against all odds. Jessie refuses to let go, refuses to give up, no matter the sacrifice and despite being dogged by ghosts, both living and dead. Her bravery and her determination is laudable and her trials unimaginable as she searches for grace and freedom. Gritty yet glorious, The Burial is an impressive debut. Collins has revealed an extraordinary voice sure to be embraced by the literati.”
Sufficient Grace by Amy Espeseth was reviewed at 1 girl…2 many books and rated 6/10. “I first heard about this book last year at the Melbourne Writers Festival. I attended one of the Morning Reads sessions and Amy Espeseth read the first scene from this book. She has a fantastic voice and her accent (she is from Wisconsin also) was mesmerising. It was a great scene, although quite brutal and I immediately filed this book away for the future. When it was longlisted for the inaugural Stella Prize, a new Australian prize for women’s fiction, I decided that it would be one of the first books I read. I was going to attempt to read the longlist but really I know that isn’t going to happen. But I do intend to read a couple. This book is a bit difficult for me to review because on one hand, I think that the writing is almost perfection. It is beautifully written – vivid and sharp, beautiful and poetic. … Despite my admiration for Espeseth’s writing and her ability to include a reader so fully within her story, I cannot say that I enjoyed this book – and perhaps I am not supposed to. It’s bleak and it’s very much steeped in religion, something I don’t particularly enjoy reading.”
“Set in Jakarta, 1997, a global city of poverty, beauty, corruption and extreme wealth, this is a novel about power and responsibility; about the stories we tell ourselves in order to survive, and the damage they can do.” The judges said: “Running Dogs is a fast-paced, compelling book. In her depiction of the beguiling Petra, Murray has created a complex and fascinating character, at once selfish, loyal, protective and dismissive. With an assurance that belies her status as a first-time novelist, Murray successfully weaves the two narrative threads of her work to create a fascinating account of privilege and corruption in Indonesia.”
Marilyn Dell Brady, founder of GWC, the Global Women of Color Reading and Reviewing Challenge, has reviewed Running Dogs at her personal blog Me, You, and Books. She writes: “Ruby Murray is an excellent writer who paints vivid word pictures of Jakarta and its varied inhabitants. Her characters are sharp and believable, if sometimes naive. She draws a compelling picture of how individuals get drawn into unthinkable activities. My problem was that I could never quite like and care about any of her characters. I could empathize with the pain of the Jordan children as they grew up in a household which dismissed and used them, but not as adults when they turn a blind eye to misconduct and corruption. Of course, we live in a world where those with wealth and power behave this way too often, but I have little sympathy for them. I cannot accept that painful childhoods offer an excuse for such lack of awareness about the pain they are causing. Yet because of Murray’s skillful use of language I enjoyed this book and learned much about Jakarta in the 1990s and today. I am grateful to have received a copy of it in the Scribe Giveaway on Australian Women Writers. I recommend this book, especially to readers interested in Jakarta and the lives of the rich and powerful or in how and why people make or avoid moral choices.”
Angela Savage reviewed Running Dogs here. She said: “Despite Indonesia’s proximity and its intense, at times turbulent relationship with Australia, relatively few Australian novels are set there, with the notable exception of Christopher Koch’s 1978 award winning The Year of Living Dangerously [made into one of my all-time favourite movies by Peter Weir]. Is this because, as the Australian character in Ruby J Murray’s Running Dogs suggests, when it comes to Jakarta, let alone the whole country, ‘Looking to see the city for what it was, its actual scale, required too much from her?’ Murray, who has spent significant time in Indonesia, rises to the challenge, producing in Running Dogs a complex and engaging debut novel that brings Indonesia to life without trying to explain it. … Moments of wry humour combine with finely observed detail to light up the text like ‘sun caught on the burnished sides of the keoprak tins in the early evening.’” Savage sums up by saying that “Murray’s novel is a welcome opportunity to get to know Jakarta a little better.”
- Exile: The Lives and Hopes of Werner Pelz, Roger Averill (Transit Lounge)
- Ben Jonson: A Life, Ian Donaldson (Oxford University Press)
- Dark Night: Walking with McCahon, Martin Edmond (Auckland University Press)
- The Biggest Estate on Earth, Bill Gammage (Allen & Unwin)
- Double Entry, Jane Gleeson-White (Allen & Unwin)
- The Office: A Hard Working History, Gideon Haigh (Melbourne University Publishing)
For some reason, a trend continues which sees a dearth of women on non-fiction awards lists so it’s wonderful to see Jane Gleeson-White’s Double Entry shortlisted. The judges said: “Double Entry is a wide-ranging yet accessible history and analysis of a practice that underpins not only our global economy but arguably our entire way of thinking in the modern world. This is a book about the future as well as the past, and also about possibly the most important thing of all: how we measure value. It therefore seeks to answer a question so difficult we rarely ask it: what are our values?”
Yvonne Perkins reviewed Double Entry here describing it as “an enjoyable and provocative read.” She goes on to say: “The most important argument Gleeson-White raises in her book is that double entry book-keeping is an exercise in rhetoric. While this may surprise many readers most accountants would already be aware of the persuasive power of financial statements and the ability to develop a financial argument through judicious choice of accounting treatments for particular items – always complying with generally accepted accounting principles, accounting standards and the law of course. I have not seen the rhetorical power of financial statements discussed so thoroughly with a general audience before. … Jane Gleeson-White shows command over her subject matter demonstrating thorough and deep research. Double Entry is a delight to read.”
- Ruby Moonlight, Ali Cobby-Eckermann (Magabala Books)
- First Light, Kate Fagan (Giramondo)
- Open Sesame, Michael Farrell (Giramondo)
- The Welfare of My Enemy, Anthony Lawrence (Puncher & Wattman)
- Ladylike, Kate Lilley (UWA Publishing)
- Here, There and Elsewhere, Vivian Smith (Giramondo)
The three titles by women have not been reviewed for the AWW Challenge – yet. Poetry readers: please send us your reviews!
“Ruby Moonlight is a verse sequence imagining a specific incident in mid-north South Australia, in the late nineteenth century. Through a series of interconnected poems we follow the story of a young girl, Ruby, who survives the massacre of her entire family; wandering through Ngadjuri land, “she staggers to follow bird song” and trusts in nature to guide her to safety. Through a minimal style, absence of punctuation and deeply emotional yet understated and refined storytelling, Ruby Moonlight recounts an unforgettable series of experiences and illuminates parts of the Australian natural world that are often forgotten, ignored or altered. It is the kind of powerful narrative that has often been silenced.”
From the judges’ report: “Kate Fagan (First Light) writes like a composer arranging intonation and modalities into a musical score. In First Light she is keenly aware of the cadence of language as she skilfully intertwines formal attributes with gently warped syntax to make an exacting poetic experiment tempered by lyricism. This superb set of poems is imbued with a relational aesthetic like a group of often-sensuous, mesmeric love letters.”
“The title poem of this collection (Ladylike) draws on pamphlets associated with the notorious case of the bigamist Mary Carleton, who was executed in 1673, and texts contemporary with it; women from Sigmund Freud’s case studies provide the material for the series of poems, ‘Round Vienna’; and the poem ‘Cleft’ is dedicated to Kate Lilley’s mother, Australian literary giant Dorothy Hewett. Throughout this collection, Kate mines the areas of her scholarly specialisation – the early modern period – as well as contemporary popular culture and matches it with some of the twentieth century’s enduring interests such as psychoanalysis and Freud.”
- The Ghost of Miss Annabel Spoon, Aaron Blabey (Penguin Group Australia)
- Brotherband 1: The Outcasts, John Flanagan (Random House Australia)
- Pookie Aleera is Not My Boyfriend, Steven Herrick (University of Queensland Press)
- A Bear and a Tree, Stephen Michael King (Penguin Group Australia)
- The Tender Moments of Saffron Silk: Kingdom of Silk Series # 6, Glenda Millard (author) and Stephen Michael King (illustrator) (HarperCollins Australia)
- Dragonkeeper Book 4: Blood Brothers, Carole Wilkinson (Walker Books Australia)
Sharon Greenaway highly recommends Dragonkeeper Book 4 and says that “This fourth book in the popular Dragonkeeper series is a credit to Carole Wilkinson because while it pays homage to the previous stories and Ping the previous Dragonkeeper, it can be also be read as a standalone book, although you will be tempted to read the others if you haven’t already.”
The judges say of Glenda Millard’s The Tender Moments of Saffron Silk (Book 6 in the series): “[Her] prose is lyrical, her characters realistic and beautifully drawn. In other hands this story could have been sentimental and cloying, but Millard‘s command of language gives us a gentle depiction of a loving family that celebrates ‘differentness’, and who support each other through difficulties. The tenderness and sensitivity of Millard’s prose is reflected in Stephen Michael King’s whimsical illustrations. This book is a joy to read and share.”
- Three Summers, Judith Clarke (Allen & Unwin)
- The Ink Bridge, Neil Grant (Allen & Unwin)
- Sea Hearts, Margo Lanagan (Allen & Unwin)
- A Corner of White, Jaclyn Moriarty (Pan Macmillan Australia)
- Into that Forest, Louis Nowra (Allen & Unwin)
- Unforgotten, Tohby Riddle (Allen & Unwin)
Three Summers by Judith Clarke is about Ruth whose life was shaped in one fateful moment when, as a baby, she was tossed clear from a car wreck. Her grandmother raised her, with a fierce hope that she would one day go to university and see every marvellous place in the world. When Ruth and her best friend Fee finish school, Fee chooses motherhood and marriage. Ruth knows that she must leave town, but that means leaving Tam Finn, the elusive yet entrancing boy so unlike any other she has ever met. An extraordinary story of friendship, longing and the saving grace of love. Three Summers has not yet been reviewed for the AWW Challenge.
Faith at Beyond the Dreamline has reviewed Jacyln Moriarty’s parallel-world fantasy novel A Corner of White. “Jaclyn Moriarty is a Sydney-based author whose previous works include Feeling Sorry for Celia and The Year of Secret Assignments. A Corner of White is the first in a new series, ‘The Colours of Madeleine’, and is a book of distinct but interconnected halves. Madeleine’s rainy Cambridge is the stronger of the two, richly whimsical yet consistent, while Elliot’s Cello is a peculiar cross between the caricature of a traditional ‘magical kingdom’ and modern North America, complete with baseball caps and television soap operas. There are some wonderful elements of fantasy – carnivorous Colours that can rip a man to shreds, unpredictable seasons that wander at will throughout the kingdom – but they are not given a stable context in which to shine, and the characters in Cello range from believable to irritatingly twee. A Corner of White is not entirely satisfying, but it sets up a clever concept and fleshes that out with the beautiful musings of Isaac Newton and Lord Byron. I’ll be interested to see what happens when the second book of the series is released.”
Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan has already won an Indie award and was shortlisted for the inaugural Stella Prize. The reviews here at the AWW Challenge show that it is a favourite of many readers.
Kathy says: “I feel I should start my review of Sea Hearts with some full disclosure: I loved this book. Loved it in the kind of bone-deep, part-of-my-mental-landscape kind of way that is usually, for me, an insuperable barrier to writing any kind of useful analysis, let alone criticism. That was a really long-winded and self-indulgent way of saying that this is not going to be an analytical or theoretical review. I am not going to talk about the devices that Lanagan uses or the pacing, style or plotting glitches, if any. This review is going to be about how Sea Hearts made me feel, and why. … Terribly sad. Enormous unnameable longing. Beautiful and powerful. Compassionate, for all the flawed people and all their little sins that led them to this end. It is a wonderful, life-infusing book. I really don’t care if you don’t normally like fantasy or folklore-type fiction; please believe me, this is worth departing from type for. Read it and you will know why.”
Sea Hearts is rated 5/5 at Belle’s Bookshelf. “Sea Hearts explores some pretty significant themes — love, passion, grief, revenge, obsession and even gender roles. It’s intense, but never too heavy. Lanagan’s beautiful way with words, elegant plot structure, whimsical world-building and remarkable cast of characters weave together to form a breathtaking book that I think everybody should read.”
- All Windows Open and Other Stories, Hariklia Heristanidis (Clouds of Magellan)
- Don’t Go Back to Where You Came From, Tim Soutphommasane (New South Publishing)
- Beneath the Darkening Sky, Majok Tulba (Penguin Group Australia)
- Anguli Ma: A Gothic Tale, Chi Vu (Giramondo)
There are two women nominees on the Community Relations Commission for a mulitcultural NSW Award shortlist. We would love to see your reviews of these books as so far, they have not been reviewed for the AWW Challenge.
Anguli Ma by Chi Vu is “a reinterpretation of a traditional Buddist folktale. Chi Vu gives a compelling insight into the relations formed between refugees who have been displaced from their families or their communities, and lead isolated lives haunted by suspicion and fear. At the same time its macabre humour and surreal effects point to redemptive possibilities, in demonstrating how these old fears are played out and resolved in their new settings.”
The judges say of All Windows Open by Hariklia Heristanidis: “This is a collection of eight short stories with the longest being the title story. It tells the story of Chrissie Triantafillou, an average Greek girl growing up in Melbourne in the 1980s. Chrissie has a number of distinguishing features, including the lack of a sense of smell; she has the comfortable life many second generation migrants desire, with a stable home life, a place at university and a handsome ‘Australian’ boyfriend. This all changes dramatically when she falls in love with her cousin who has just returned from extended European travels. … The following stories expand on the central themes, inviting the reader to understand new worlds. The result is an enjoyable, humorous and insightful book.”
A reminder that you can access all AWW Challenge reviews (sorted and unsorted) here.
I’m a freelance book reviewer, journalist and editor and have worked as a librarian for many years. I’m always feeling guilty about what I ‘should’ have or ‘should be reading’. I signed up for the AWW challenge in 2012 and this year, as well as doing my own challenge, I will be posting updates about various literary awards and Classics. I blog over at Wordsville and you can find me on Twitter @PaulaGrunseit