(Imported from Blogger; formatting glitches need to be fixed)

Author Annabel Smith gives her perspective on reading and reviewing books by Australian women, including Barbara Jefferis Award shortlisted novel Black Glass by Meg Mundell. Mundell’s book was also recently shortlisted for The Australian Science Fiction Foundation’s Norma K Hemming Award which recognises “excellence in the exploration of themes of race, gender, sexuality, class and disability.”The shortlist includes the following outstanding AWW novels:

  • Bell, A.A. Hindsight
  • Douglass, Sara. The Devil’s Diadem
  • Falconer, Kim. Road to the Soul
  • Goodman, Alison. Eona
  • Hannett, Lisa L. Bluegrass Symphony
  • Isle, Sue. Nightsiders
  • Mundell, Meg. Black Glass
  • Roberts, Tansy Rayner. The Shattered City
Annabel Smith writes:
Almost a decade ago I saw David Malouf read from his collection of short stories Dream Stuff at the Victorian State Library. During question time, someone asked Malouf if he had read Ulysses. Malouf had already responded to several idiotic questions during this session and this one had me squirming in my seat. But Malouf replied graciously that he had, and waited, along with everyone else, to see where this might lead. “I just can’t get to grips with it!” the questioner blurted out, confessionally. “Can you give me some advice?” Malouf’s advice was that life was short, and if a book wasn’t speaking to you, you should move onto one that did.
This is advice that I have always followed as a reader. When asked to write a review of the year in Australian fiction for Westerly, I decided, after some thought to apply that same practice to my reviewing. A book review is understood to be subjective. However, I believe a good review strives for objectivity wherever possible, or at least admits to its limits in that regard. As a writer, I’ve been on the receiving end of reviews that have seemed unfair; one in particular, where it was clear to me that the reviewer had read only the first section of my novel, and that his review did not represent my work as a whole, and was not therefore a balanced review. I believe struggling though a book that I don’t connect with is guaranteed to result in a review that is resentful and therefore perhaps unfair to the book in question.  Books I dislike or am unmoved by are not necessarily bad, they are just not for me.
One of the reasons I undertook the Westerly fiction review was because I knew I was guilty of cultural cringe when it came to Australian fiction, and I thought being forced to read more of it would give me an opportunity to adjust my perspective. And I did read some fantastic Australian books published in the last twelve months.  Only a handful of those, however, were by women writers so when I came across the Australian Women Writers Reading and Reviewing Challenge I saw it as a good opportunity to acquaint myself with more great writing by Australian Women Writers.
The books I’ve read and reviewed (on Goodreads) so far are:
Sarah Thornhill by Kate Grenville
When We Have Wings by Claire Corbett
Inherited (Short Stories) by Amanda Curtin
Shooting the Fox (Short Stories) by Marion Halligan
A Common Loss by Kristen Tranter
Black Glass by Meg Mundell
The books I want to read are:
Five Bells by Gail Jones
Dog Boy by Eva Hornung
What the Dead Said by DJ Daniels
One Man Zeitgeist: Dave Eggers, Publishing and Publicity by Caroline D. Hamilton
Too Close to Home by Georgia Blain
Gone by Jennifer Mills
Above and Below by Stephanie Campisi
My Sister Chaos by Lara Fergus
Here is my review of Black Glass by Meg Mundell:

Meg Mundell’s debut novel Black Glass is the story of two sisters and their search for each other in a city of the not-too-distant future. The black glass of the title is the glass of surveillance. Those who inhabit the city’s various zones are not only watched but manipulated by technicians who subtly influence behaviour through the use of scents, sounds and lighting at a subliminal level.

The text includes email exchanges, transcripts of conversations and internet search results, adding to the sense that in this brave new world nothing is private.
The novel is richly detailed, containing brief, beautiful descriptions and surprising metaphors. Mundell’s dialogue is one of the novel’s great strengths – witty, pacey and authentic, it positively crackles with energy and renders the characters perfectly.
A former journalist and government advisor, Mundell conveys a great deal of cynicism about the relationship between the media and the government. At one point, one of the characters reflects on how the media relies on “an endless supply of human folly and greed, criminality, bad luck and exploitation.” And this is exactly what Mundell serves up in her exciting debut: a blackly funny, sinister and gritty exploration of marginalisation.
AnnabelSmith’s first novel, A New Map of the Universe, was published by UWA Publishing in 2005 and shortlisted for the WA Premier’s Prize for Fiction. She has had short fiction published in Westerly and Southerly, been a writer-in-residence at Katherine Susannah Prichard Writers’ Centre and holds a PhD in writing from Edith Cowan University. Her second novel, Whisky Charlie Foxtrot will be published by Fremantle Press in November 2012.