The end of the year is racing towards us and the reviews seem to be slowing down a bit. However, they haven’t stopped – thank goodness – so here I am with a round-up for October.

Oh Oh Oh October

Only 20 reviews, but some good’uns. But first, some stats:

  • 14 reviewers posted 20 reviews: David Golding was this month’s star performer posting 5 (yes, 5!) reviews. Marilyn (Me, You and Books) from Texas and Josie Forshaw each posted 2 reviews.
  • 33 authors were reviewed: Michelle de Kretser and Nikki Gemmell were each reviewed twice (and each for different books, so there were no books this month which received more than one review).
  • Contemporary stories continue to dominate, with 10 reviews; 5 reviews were posted for Historical Fiction and 3  for Speculative Fiction.
  • Hannah Kent received another review for Burial Rites, bringing that book’s tally to 14 reviews for the year.
  • One non-fiction work was reviewed.


The number of classics reviewed was either one or two, depending on your definition. The definite one was Marilyn’s review of The Way Home, which is Volume 2 in Henry Handel Richardson‘s The Fortunes of Richard Mahoney trilogy. Marilyn continues to be impressed by Richardson, saying that:

Despite her traditional style, she displays very modern insight into her various characters, especially into their ambivalence and inner contradictions.

Marilyn, an American, comments that this book has given her insight into the difference between the US and Australia, even though we both had our roots in Britain. She sees, she says, Americans more as colonisers but Australians as colonists.

monkey-gripThe other book is Helen Garner‘s Monkey Grip. By traditional definitions it probably isn’t (yet) a classic, having been published in 1977, but for the purposes of our challenge we’ll call it so. This, Garner’s first novel, made quite a splash when it was first published, splitting the critics, some of whom saw her as a new voice on the Australian scene and others who thought she was essentially publishing her diary. It has, however, refused to go away making it, yes, a classic. It was reviewed by Beth Oliver (on Thinking about Jane) who, although she had reservations about how Garner handles characters, was impressed. She writes:

Garner’s 1970′s story is utterly urban, and incredibly hipster … The writing is rich and sensual  … If you can forgive and tolerate and be patient and not expect too much, it’s incredibly rewarding.

I think this sums up Garner perfectly. She can be incredibly infuriating, but oh, her writing!

Nikki Gemmell

I-take-you-gemmellNikki Gemmell burst on the world literary stage in 2003 with her, initially anonymous, autobiographical erotic novel, The bride stripped bare. It was her third novel. She has not received many reviews in the challenge this year but, coincidentally, two reviewers posted reviews this month: Josie Forshaw read Gemmell’s first novel Shiver which she mostly enjoyed, and Shannon (Giraffe Days) read I Take You, the third novel in The Bride Stripped Bare Trilogy. I Take You is apparently a contemporary retelling of Lady Chatterly’s Lover. Shannon has written an extensive and thorough review. She didn’t love the novel, but did find it “thought-provoking”. She makes the interesting point that:

Gemmell turns the current popularity for dominant-submissive, sexual-awakening stories on its head by presenting a couple who have already established such a relationship, and then drawing the heroine away from it. Unlike other erotic-based novels, in which the female narrators discover their own latent desires and then find the courage to explore them and express themselves in positive ways, we meet Connie in what seems like such a relationship, but which slowly dissolves into a different kind of repression.


exilesathome_nodjeskaThe majority of the non-fiction reviewed for the challenge to date has been biographies or autobiographies/memoirs, but the work reviewed this month is something different. Published in 1981, Drusilla Modjeska‘s Exiles at home: Australian Women Writers 1925-1945. It was reviewed by this month’s top reviewer David Golding. Golding says that he couldn’t recommend this book to the general reader because it is “clearly a revised thesis and shows many of the hallmarks of academic writing”. Having read it many years ago, I take his point. However, it is a significant work about a time when Australian women writers flourished (despite it all!). Golding recognises this, writing:

The greatest strengths of this book are the way it brings to life the varying constraints placed upon these different women, and the way that the women came together through correspondence to find support.

The writers include Nettie Palmer (who mentored many), Katherine Susannah Prichard, Eleanor Dark, Christina Stead, Dymphna Cusack and of course Miles Franklin. If you are particularly interested in this fascinating time in Australian literary and cultural history, it’s a must read.

Electronic Publishing

I’m a little embarrassed to conclude this round-up with my only review for the challenge this month, but I have a reason! (Self-justification I know!) I reviewed Dorothy Johnston’s Eight Pieces on Prostitution, which is a collection of eight short stories (or seven short stories and a novella) which Johnston published electronically via the Authors Unlimited Portal. The portal, developed by the Australian Society of Authors, aims to help authors get into electronic publishing and, particularly, to encourage the republication of their backlists. At $9.95, I thought Johnston’s book, which I thoroughly enjoyed, was a good deal – but, more importantly, I hope it helps keep authors’ works alive for longer.

NOTE: 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 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 in childhood with Banjo Paterson’s ballads and Ethel Turner’s Seven Little Australians. 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.