First, I apologise for the tardiness of my April round-up. I’ve been on the road and am only now settling back to routine. April was a special month for Literary Fiction: we had the announcement of the inaugural Stella Prize and then of the all-women shortlist for the Miles Franklin award. Exciting times for women writers.

Some April numbers

Thirty-seven book reviews were tagged as Classics and/or Literary in April – about the same number as last month. I must explain, though, that while we generally accept the tags applied by reviewers, we do sometimes edit them. This month I added the Literary sub-category to a few reviews, mostly because some books that had been tagged as Literary in previous months had not been tagged so by this month’s reviewers. However, it is a somewhat subjective category, so please keep this in mind as you read on:


Elizabeth Harrower's The Watch Tower

Elizabeth Harrower’s The Watch Tower

One of the two classics reviewed was Elizabeth Harrower’s harrowing (ha!) but wonderful The Watch Tower. It was reviewed by this month’s most prolific reviewer, Emily, who said she read it because Ramona Koval called it “scandalously under-read”. Ramona Koval is right, by the way! Emily calls it “a charming, horrifying, captivating novel”. The other classic reviewed was Joan Lindsay’s Picnic at Hanging Rock, reviewed by Kate W (Books are my Favourite and Best.) She’s read it many times and calls it “one of my favourite stories”. She says that

what truly stands out is Lindsay’s description of the Australian bush – you can feel that summer day and the descriptions of Hanging Rock are intimate.

Award-winning and short-listed books

Carrie Tiffany's Mateship with Birds

Carrie Tiffany’s Mateship with Birds

The inaugural Stella Prize winner, Carrie Tiffany’s Mateship with Birds, received two reviews. Bree (1 girl – 2 many books) had mixed feelings about the book, but particularly enjoyed the characterisation, while John (Musings of a Literary Dilettante) calls it “tender and sensual”. It’s not a traditionally structured book but John felt that “the fragmented narration lends the story another layer of tension”.

This month’s readers also reviewed older prize winners. For example, John (of Musings, above) reviewed 2004 Miles Franklin Award winner Shirley Hazzard’s The Great Fire, and Dani (Dinner at Caphs) reviewed Blanche d’Alpuget‘s 1982 The Age Novel of the Year winner Turtle Diary. She writes a thoughtful review seeing d’Alpuget’s book about refugees and immigration in the 1970s through the prism of today’s challenges. She writes:

I can’t help wondering how many of D’Alpuget’s largely faceless refugee families could still be waiting today in that so-called queue we keep hearing about. The one that people who arrive here by boat were supposed to be sent to the back of.

Books short-listed for 2013 awards reviewed this month include Cate Kennedy’s collection of short stories Like a House on Fire and Jacqueline Wright‘s Red Dirt Talking. Jessica White enjoyed Kennedy’s stories, saying that:

It’s these undertows, the unspoken tensions and thoughts between people, that propel the stories.  You read on to find out whether characters lash out, break away, make a connection, or simply sound out that which is unsaid.

Jacqueline Wright's Red dirt talking

Jacqueline Wright’s Red dirt talking

Janine Rizzetti (Resident Judge) reviewed both these books. While not a keen reader of short stories she thoroughly enjoyed Kennedy’s collection. She had some doubts about Wright’s debut novel, Red Dirt Talking, which explores black-white relationships in outback Australia, feeling it’s a little too long and unclear in parts, but concludes that Wright:

cuts through the visual imagery of outback life – the mess, the flies, the rubbish strewn yards, and the people gathered under trees – and picks up on the humour, the complexities of relationships and histories, and the uneasy coexistence of wariness and generosity in a community where she is an outsider.  I found myself perfectly happy to pick up the book to keep reading, and I was drawn along by wanting to know what happened to Kuj.

And now, I must mention one of my reviews – not to plug my review but to encourage more people to read the novel. It’s for Courtney Collins’ The Burial, which was shortlisted for the Stella Prize. It is a mesmerising historical fiction inspired by the life of Australian female bushranger Jessie Hickman. The narrative voice – the story is told by the bushranger’s dead baby – is unusual, but debut author Collins pulls it off. It’s about survival in a hard world, but it’s not all grim. Read it …

This month’s non-fiction…

Brenda Walker's Reading by moonlight

Brenda Walker’s Reading by moonlight

Just 2 reviews for non-fiction books were categorised as Literary this month: my review of Helen Trinca’s biography Madeleine about writer Madeleine St John, and Tarla Kramer’s of Brenda Walker’s Reading by Moonlight about how reading helped Walker cope during her treatment of and recovery from breast cancer. Tarla found the book a challenge to read at the start, mainly because of its “flitting” structure and some imagery she didn’t feel worked, but in the end she liked it, for a very important reason:

it made me think differently, it made me use the other parts of my brain.

And this, she says, is what art is really for. I’ll say Amen to that!

I’ve featured only a few of the books reviewed this month but you can check all the reviews by clicking this link.

About Whispering Gums

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.