Welcome to 2013 to all you Australian Women Writers Challenge participants. And lurkers! We welcome you too! I will be bringing you over the year, regular round-ups of reviews in the Literary fiction/non-fiction area. Paula Grunseit, who is responsible for the Classics area, has recently posted a couple of special articles (Indie Book Awards Shortlist and Sleeping Beauties), and so, by negotiation, we are letting her off the hook and I’m including Classics in my round-up!

Who likes Stats? I do ….

Some 27 book reviews tagged as Classics and/or Literary were posted in January. They represent a pretty broad church – which is the nature of this particular beast and what makes doing this round-up such fun for me. Here are some observations, for what they’re worth:

  • The 27 reviews were posted by 18 reviewers, with 6 reviewers being responsible for just over half of the reviews.
  • 11 of the reviews were also categorised as Contemporary, 7 as Historical fiction, 4 as Non-fiction, and 3 as Classics.
  • 24 authors were reviewed with 2 receiving multiple reviews: Kate Grenville (3) and Barbara Baynton (2)
  • Over 75% of the reviews were for works published in the 21st century, with the rest being from the 20th century.
  • At least two of the reviewers, James Tierney and the Literary Dilettante are men. In fact, the Literary Dilettante said at the beginning of the year that he considered confining all his reading this year to Australian women, but probably won’t go quite that far. However, this is going to be his major focus and to date all the reviews on his blog this year have been for Australian women writers. That doesn’t sound very dilettantish to me but I’m not complaining!

Let’s start with the Classics

Ruth Park Harp in the south

Ruth Park’s timeless novel

This is easy as there are only three of them. There will always be arguments about what defines a classic so I’m going to circumvent that issue and just let the reviewers decide – this time anyhow. I don’t promise that we’ll always go easily!

One of the three reviewed classics was for Ruth Park’s wonderful The Harp in the South (1948). If you are taking part in the challenge and haven’t yet read this, add it to your list. It’s a must. Our reviewer, writereaderly, says this:

Excellent to read in terms of Sydney’s industrial history, and absorbing in that it reminded me that Australia too has (and has had) poor white folk (compared to our contemporary image of ourselves a bourgeois, urban and professional) …

It’s a powerful read that is warm and generous to its characters, that is sad but also has humour. As I said, a must. Sorry folks, can’t help pushing it!

The other two classics reviewed were done by me and were for two short stories by Barbara Baynton from her book, Bush Studies . “A dreamer” is the first in the collection and is, from what I’ve read so far, a little gentler than the rest of the collection but nonetheless introduces us to Baynton’s “non-romantic view of the Australian bush which is, for her, alienating and forbidding, particularly for women”. It was a view that was not appreciated by many of the male publishers, editors and authors of the time.

… and then move on to the Literary Fiction

Kate Grenville, Sarah Thornhill

Grenville’s Darah Thornhill

Of the nineteen literary fiction reviews, three were for works by Kate Grenville, who is one of Australia’s most popular current writers of literary fiction. Two reviews were for The Secret River and one for Sarah Thornhill. The Literary Dilettante said he “zipped through it [Sarah Thornhill], cosseted by an authentic voice and gripping story that explores how the past’s secrets shape the present”.

There were also reviews for last year’s Miles Franklin award-winner, All that I am by Anna Funder, and for Gail Jones’s Five Bells, Carrie Tiffany’s Mateship with birds, and Annabel Smith’s Whisky Charlie Foxtrot. Antoinetta said she picked up Smith’s book because of its cover (“yep, I one of those people” she writes) and was very glad she did.

It’s encouraging to see writers like Annabel Smith, Deborah Biancotti and Jessica White also reviewing books (by other writers of course!) for the challenge. Jessica reviewed Jess Huon’s set of short stories The Dark Wet. She writes that there were some mixed reviews for Huon’s stories but argued that any failings are overcome by the writing, which she describes as “absolutely gorgeous – so delicate and poised, and rendered with beautiful details”.

I can’t describe every review of course in a roundup like this, but if you’d like to check more out, this link is the place to be. However, I would like to mention one author whose book is probably on the cusp of being labelled a Classic. It’s Shirley Hazzard’s The Bay of Noon (1970) which was shortlisted in 2010 for the Lost Man Booker Prize, a special prize for books published in 1970  but which had missed being considered for the Man Booker due to rules alteration. Reviewer Deborah Biancotti writes that it is “A beautifully observed portrait of a time & a place”. That sounds just like the Hazzard I know.

But wait, there’s more …

diaries of miles franklin

The diaries of Miles Franklin

This round-up is becoming longer than the list of books reviewed this month so I’ll just briefly mention a couple of other reviews. One is The diaries of Miles Franklin, reviewed by Tarla. This is a pretty hefty tome so all credit to Tarla for reading it. Her response is a very personal one. She says:

It is always heartening to have a closer look at the life of writing giants and discover all the same frustrations, years spent trying to get published, fears of failure, lack of money; and that they write on regardless. I have been writing for 20+ years and have gotten nowhere; part of that time went on bringing up babies (four) under the impression that a woman could have it all. Franklin had no such delusions, but by the end of her life, wondered if her choice not to have a marriage and family had all been worth it. We would say it did.

Two other non-fiction works were reviewed, Kate Holden’s memoir, The Romantic, reviewed by Jessica White, and Anne-Marie Priest’s Great Writers, Great Lovers, reviewed by Marisa Wikramanayake. The Romantic is an intriguing read because, although it’s a memoir, it has been written in third person. How many memoirs have you read like that?


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.