The Miles Franklin Award longlist was announced on Tuesday and it’s wonderful to see eight out of the ten longlisted books are by women writers — yay and dare I say it’s about time!
The longlist is:
Floundering (Romy Ash, Text)
Lola Bensky (Lily Brett, Hamish Hamilton)
Street to Street (Brian Castro, Giramondo)
Questions of Travel (Michelle de Kretser, A&U)
The Beloved (Annah Faulkner, Picador)
The Daughters of Mars (Thomas Keneally, Vintage)
The Mountain (Drusilla Modjeska, Vintage)
The Light Between Oceans (ML Stedman, Vintage)
Mateship with Birds (Carrie Tiffany, Picador)
Red Dirt Talking (Jacqueline Wright, Fremantle Press).
Speaking on behalf of the Miles Franklin judging panel, State Library of NSW Mitchell Librarian Richard Neville said:
This year we have seen one of the highest number of entries indicating the robust strength of new fiction. From those 73 books the judges have selected ten outstanding novels for this year’s longlist. These range from conventional to multiple narratives, with settings as diverse as a lonely lighthouse, battlefield hospitals on the Western Front, colonial Papua New Guinea, the dusty outback and the inner city. The list provides a feast of reading, including close encounters with a polio-stricken girl determined to be an artist, a young boy kidnapped by his runaway mother, an unexpected shipwreck adoption, a family of kookaburras, a rock journalist and a famously shambolic poet.
Michelle de Kretser and Carrie Tiffany, two Stella Prize shortlistees have been longlisted for the Miles Franklin longlist and on Monday, M.L. Stedman (also longlisted for the Miles Franklin Award) won the debut fiction award and the Indie Book of the Year award for The Light between Oceans in the Indie Awards.
There are reading notes, author biographies and book synopses for all longlisted titles here and the shortlist will be announced on 30 April. What do you think about the longlist?
This year also sees the launch of the Miles of Reading Challenge which asks readers to read/review at least one of the longlisted books. Which book/s will you be reading?
Here is a brief roundup of reviews presenting a range of responses to the Miles Franklin longlisted titles.
Sue wrote of Floundering: “This debut novel from Romy Ash packs a powerful punch, that winds you and leaves you gasping for air and water. Floundering tells the story of two brothers, Tom and Jordy, who are reclaimed from their grandmother by their highly dysfunctional and estranged mother and taken on a road trip across Australia. Deeply disturbing because it all too possible and is the experience of life that some marginalised folk have this book is a must read. I could not read it in one sitting it was too deeply disturbing. This book will challenge you and punch you in the guts.”
Janine at Shambolic Living had some criticisms of the book: “The plot of Floundering proves a little weak. Once the family sets up camp in a caravan park the novel falls into a somewhat stereotypical storyline. There were also opportunities to further develop the character of the mother, Loretta, which weren’t taken. It would have been nice to have seen a little more of her motivations. The scene which gives the book its title, when she takes the boys searching for flounder, is the one chance for us to gain some insight into both her personality and the reasons behind why she has abducted her boys, it is a strong and powerful scene. … Overall, I enjoyed the opening half of Floundering enormously, but became a little frustrated with the plot development in the second half. However, I would be eager to read whatever Romy Ash produces for a second novel because she is a talented writer.”
There is an extensive review of Lily Brett’s Lola Bensky over at This Charming Mum. Lara writes: “It’s 1967. London is swinging and California is dreaming as some of history’s most formidable music artists take to the world stage. Overweight high-school drop-out Lola Bensky has every 19 year old’s dream job as a journalist for Rock-Out magazine. She leaves her anxious Jewish immigrant parents in Melbourne and heads overseas to chat with the likes of Mick Jagger, Jim Morrison and Cher. As she quizzes them about their lives, she develops a deeper understanding of her own unique upbringing as the child of holocaust survivors. … Lola Bensky is clever, funny and moving. The slippery narrative had me lurching from envy to repulsion and back again, taking the journey between the past and the present with Lola as a likeable, straight-talking tour guide. As the quirky Lola chats to her subjects, wrenching down her mini skirt and fussing with false lashes, she inadvertently questions the ways in which we view history, the people we hold up as heroes and the nature of being a child and a parent.”
James Tierney reviewed Michelle de Krester’s Questions of Travel at The Newtown Review of Books where he said: “Questions of Travel bubbles with memorable images and sharply turned phrases: a dog called Marmite yips the chorus of ‘Cold, Cold Heart’; laughter tumbles out of a character in lumps, like vomit; money is described as what grownups put in place of childish wishes. But this declarative prose begins to work against the novel as it progresses. Ravi and Laura are boxed in – not fully expressed as characters – by all that isn’t left unsaid. If fiction works to craft resonant questions, then Questions of Travel reads as if it knows its answers just a little too well.”
The Beloved by Annah Faulkner has been reviewed twice for the AWW Challenge. Lauren Murphy at The Australian Bookshelf says: “The Beloved is the debut novel by Australian author Annah Faulkner—winner of the Queensland Premier’s Literary Award for an Emerging Writer. Set in Port Moresby in the 1950’s to 1960’s, this story examines family dynamics, passion and a young girl’s determination to be true to herself. The Beloved is slow at times and I felt it lacked direction probably because the focus is on the characters and not necessarily on the plot. Bertie’s relationship with her mother is tumultuous and there were times I just wanted someone to save Bertie, while other times I could empathise with her mother. Their enmeshed relationship stems from her mother’s unresolved losses and it was a relief to see her take some responsibility for this at the end and provide Bertie with the freedom to be herself. A thought-provoking Australian story about a young girl and her family during post-war times.”
Angela Meyer also reviewed The Beloved as part of her AWW Challenge last year describing it as “a vivid Bildungsroman with believable characters and intense dramatic events.” She said: “Annah Faulkner … handles her characters’ desires and secrets tenderly. The novel is about two strong identities coming up against one another, the way passion (and art) can overtake a person’s very being, and the damaging effects of ‘wanting the best’ for a child who already knows who they are and what they want.”
The Mountain by Drusilla Modjeska was quite extensively reviewed and rated 3.5 out of 5 at Read in a Single Sitting. Stephanie writes: “Drusilla Modjeska’s much-lauded fiction debut The Mountain is concerned very much with ideas of identity. Divided into two main sections, the book first looks at the experiences of the Dutch Rika in Papua New Guinea, and the second at a new generation of Papuan natives and their cross-cultural dilemmas. Modjeska examines culture on a number of levels, including the traditional arts, the aspirational desires of particular groups of people, and the uneasy intersection of two very different cultures with very different power dynamics. She also looks at length at how culture does not exist in a vacuum, but is constantly changing and evolving both of its own accord and from its interaction with other cultural groups–no matter how much it is expected to remain the same. … The Mountain is an admirable read, but it’s no means an easy one. I won’t deny that it’s one that I appreciated more than I enjoyed, and can’t help but feeling that the title embodies exactly the kind of climbing effort involved in reading what often feels more like an anthropological thesis than a novel. There’s just so much here that it’s overwhelming, and it’s easy to become lost in the complexity of the book, particularly when one comes up against the second section of the book, which applies an entirely different lens of an analysis.
The Light Between Oceans was reviewed by John at Musings of a Literary Dilettante who said of it: “An engrossing story of the choices people make when presented with (several) moral dilemmas, The Light Between Oceans will have you turning the pages well into the wee-small hours. Stedman weaves this tale of moral choices together with aplomb. It is the perfect fodder for a book club to test everyone’s reactions to Tom and Isabel’s decisions as well as those of the wider community as the novel opens up to include characters from Point Partaguese.”
Another reader, Ruth, was not so engrossed. She writes: “I nearly abandoned this book half way through. The only reason I kept reading was my commitment to the 2013 Australian Women Writers Challenge. I’m glad I kept reading because the second half was devastating and moving. I was weeping at the end, an emotional response that is the hallmark of a fine book – at least in my mind.” She found the first half to be “slow, meandering, it was everything that frustrates me about a lot of Australian writers. They fall in love with the landscape and make it a character, a risky project and one that can leave the reader bored. As well, Stedman did an awful lot of lecturing. Lecturing about the West Australian coast line, about lighthouses and about the war. Most of it could have been woven into the story or left out.”
Erin at Healing Scribe was a fan. “Literary fiction novel The Light Between Oceans is the first book I’ve read as part of the AWW2012 Challenge. I was intrigued by the book’s tagline: ‘This is a story about right and wrong, and how sometimes they look the same.’ This blurring of right and wrong is the strong theme throughout the novel. What I loved most was the exploration of what it means to be a mother. Who is really someone’s mother—the woman who gives birth to you or the one who nurtures and raises you? The Light Between Oceans is a thought-provoking, touching and sad story which focusses a lot on a person’s moral compass. I enjoyed reading the book and the story kept me enthralled. Highly recommended.”
Having read a few reviews of Mateship with Birds, it’s one that seems to polarise readers. Tony from Tony’s Reading List recommends it and liked it better than Everyman’s Rules for Scientific Living but found that “It’s not always comfortable reading, but it does come across as the natural way of life out in the country…” He goes on to say: “The book is littered with Freudian allusions, and the focus on sex is almost obsessive, with (it seems) barely a page passing without some sort of mention. Oedipal complexes abound, and the fathers you would expect to see in the story are more conspicuous by their absence. Most of the characters have dreams that any Freudian psycho-analyst would have a field day with, and at one point Harry writes about a childhood memory of his mother doing something very intimate in his presence. Even the baby kookaburra, feeding its mother for the first time, seems to be in on the act…”
Michelle from Book to the Future and Janine from The Resident Judge from Port Phillip are both big fans of Mateship with Birds. Michelle says: “Mateship with Birds is one of those elegant, slow novels I find utterly irresistible. Within a matter of paragraphs, Tiffany’s lush narrative falls into step with the laidback rhythm of country life. But this is not some kind of sentimental, landscape-driven piece, nor is it a romance novel. It’s something entirely different – a devastatingly smart, original work of fiction that speaks in an understated, confident voice. … Disarmingly sensuous, Mateship with Birds isn’t quite like other novels. It’s clever without being showy; it’s delightfully slow without ever losing its momentum. It’s a strange bird indeed, but without a doubt, Mateship with Birds is a thing of rare beauty.”
Janine rated the novel 9/10 and said: “This is a quirky, sly book that had me closing it with regret, with a smile on my lips. It is set in Cohuna in the 1950s and is redolent of long grass, cow-pats, and dusty roads, set to a soundtrack of magpies and kookaburras, country dances and a slow, masculine drawl. … As with her debut book Everyman’s Rules for Scientific Living, it is a deceptively simple work with good people and big themes. I hope that it gets the recognition it deserves.”
Jacqueline Wright won the TAG Hungerford Award for most promising unpublished manuscript in 2010 and her novel Red Dirt Talking is the result. Set in the north-western town of Ransom, the story is about Anna, an anthropology graduate who is drawn into a mystery involving the disappearance of a child. It has not yet been reviewed for the Challenge but I’m including a link to a review of it by Sarina Gale here. She says: “At times Annie is overbearing as a character, too full of earnestness without enough light and shade. But where the author excels is in her male characters, particularly Mick, the silent Aussie bloke who becomes Annie’s love interest, and Maggot, the town garbo who finds trouble wherever he goes. This is a contemporary drama inhabited by a motley crew of characters, crackling with dialogue and shot through with a wry sense of humour.”
We’re looking forward to reading more AWW Challenge reviews of the longlisted books so get your Miles Franklin reading skates on!
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 where I’d like to focus on our long-lost women writers, I will be posting updates about Literary Awards and Classics. I blog over at Wordsville and you can find me on Twitter @PaulaGrunseit