The year is hotting up and it’s starting to get serious here in Literary-and-Classics land. Not only were significantly more reviews posted in March but the awards season is well underway. The Miles Franklin Longlist was announced in March (and reported on this blog by Paula Grunseit) and the inaugural Stella Awards will be announced in April. All of the Stella shortlisted books have been reviewed for the challenge, but one of the eight Miles Franklin nominated books – Jacqueline Wright’s Red dirt talking – has yet to be reviewed. (I do have it and will do my best to read it in time, but if anyone is looking for a book to read, think about this one!) By the way, did you notice that eight of the ten books long listed for the Miles Franklin award are by women writers. Interesting huh!

Some March numbers

Thirty-nine book reviews were tagged as Classics and/or Literary, nearly 40% more than last month. Well done, participants! Here are some overall observations:

  • The 39 reviews were posted by 30 reviewers, with one reviewer, writereaderly, posting 4 reviews. She’s a reviewing machine!
  • 34 of the reviews were classified as Fiction, 5 as Non-fiction, 4 as Poetry, and there were 2 anthologies which are edited by women, but include male authors. (These numbers add up to more than 39 because books can be allocated to multiple categories).
  • 29 authors were reviewed with several receiving multiple reviews: Kate Forsyth (6), Karen Foxlee (3), and Jesse Blackadder, Patti Miller and Dorothy Porter (2 each).
  • Four indigenous authors were reviewed – Larissa Behrendt, Melissa Lucashenko, Jeanine Leane and Tara June Winch. (Noted in the spirit of  Affirmative Action!)


Henry Handel Richardson, Maurice Guest

Courtesy: Text Publishing

Two reviews were classified as a classic by their reviewers. Funnily, one was by the same author as our February classic, Henry Handel Richardson, but for a different book, Maurice Guest. The reviewer, John (Musings of a Literary Dilettante), says that the prose is sublime, even though a little overblown and times. It’s a story of “obsession and erotic love” and is set in Europe. John concludes that:

It’s not Australian in any particular way, so I can’t call it an ‘Australian classic’. It is, instead, that greater thing, a realist European novel of the highest calibre, a forgotten classic perhaps, but a classic nonetheless.

The other classic was Miles Franklin’s All that swagger, reviewed by Canberra’s Dani who has sworn to only read books related to Canberra this year. Miles Franklin grew up in the Canberra area and Dani quotes a gorgeous description in which Franklin describes the landscape as having “a necklace of ranges beautiful as opals and sapphires”. The book, she feels, is about how landscape has changed Australian character and culture.

March’s most popular books

Kate Forsyth, The wild girlThe book which garnered the most reviews this month (6) is one I’ve never heard of, Kate Forsyth’s The wild girl. It’s an historical romance set in 19th century Germany about the Grimm Brothers. It restores to the historical record (if fiction can be said to do that!) the story of the woman who provided many of the tales the Grimms collected. Sally from Oz loved it, saying it:

must not be missed; it is a powerful story about storytelling, about love in the harshest of conditions, overcoming adversity. It is also about the cruelty of war, the cruelty by those who should protect you, deprivation and obedience to parents no matter what. It is a strong story and the abuse is handled delicately and with compassion. The pages just flew by; I did not get bogged down once.

Shelleyrae, like Sally, comments on how well Forsyth blended her historical research with fiction, and Stephanie says the “prose is utterly beautiful”.

Karen Foxlee’s second novel, The midnight dress, was only published this year, but we already have four reviews, three of them this month. It’s a suspense story about a young girl who goes missing on the night of the Harvest Parade. Amanda suggests that although it’s labelled adult fiction it would work well for young adults, while Shelleyrae, who describes the book as “rural Australian Gothic”, argues that while the protagonist is teenage, “it exceeds the boundaries of young adult fiction”. The third reviewer, Nicole, also highly recommends it.

I’ve just picked out the two books which received the most reviews to feature this month but you can check all the reviews by clicking this link.

As for the non-fiction…

Patti Miller, The mind of a thiefThere were 5 reviews for non-fiction, including two for Patti Miller’s memoir, The mind of a thief, which was longlisted for the Stella Prize, but missed the shortlist. It’s about Miller’s return to the country of her childhood, an area now known as belonging to Wiradjuri people, and her exploration of relationships to land – for indigenous and non-indigenous Australians. She also explores the possibility that she may have Wiradjuri blood. Mel had some concerns with Miller’s voice but would I think agree with Anna Maria Dell’oso’s assessment that the book is:

a muted, thoughtful journey of identity, part of the anxious white Australian search for belonging and authenticity that has underscored our culture since 1788.

Dell’oso also has some minor reservations, but both reviewers clearly think it is well worth reading. I suspect it’s a case of a tricky subject that is hard to get right. The important thing is that we keep trying.

Other reviews can be found by clicking the link provided above.

About Me

I’m 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 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 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 made sure to include a good percentage of Australian (and other) women writers in my reading diet.