The second-ever Stella Prize longlist was announced at midday today via Twitter and what an amazing, diverse list of titles we have! There are six fiction, and six non-fiction books (selected from 160 entries) ranging across genre including short stories. Congratulations to all longlisted authors and publishers!

This year’s Stella Prize judges are critic and writer Kerryn Goldsworthy (chair); journalist and broadcaster Annabel Crabb; author and academic Brenda Walker; bookseller Fiona Stager; and writer and lecturer Tony Birch.

Chair of the Stella Prize, Aviva Tuffield, says: “The Stella Prize board were delighted with the support and attention that the inaugural Stella Prize received in 2013. This year’s longlist yet again demonstrates the high quality and wonderful diversity of writing by Australian women. We are excited to see such a wealth of nonfiction on this year’s longlist sitting alongside some superb works of fiction. We acknowledge that the Stella Prize judges have a hard task ahead in narrowing down this stellar longlist to a shortlist.”

The 2014 Stella longlist in alphabetical order by author

  • Letter to George Clooney by Debra Adelaide (Picador)
  • Moving Among Strangers by Gabrielle Carey (UQP)
  • Burial Rites by Hannah Kent (Picador)
  • Night Games by Anna Krien (Black Inc)
  • Mullumbimby by Melissa Lucashenko  (UQP)
  • The Night Guest by Fiona McFarlane (Penguin)
  • Boy, Lost by Kristina Olsson (UQP)
  • The Misogyny Factor by Anne Summers (New South)
  • Madeleine by Helen Trinca (Text)
  • The Swan Book by Alexis Wright (Giramondo)
  • The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka by Clare Wright (Text)
  • All the Birds, Singing by Evie Wyld (Random House)

Reviews roundup

As we know, Australian Women Writers’ Challenge participants are reading/reviewing machines (though they are all real people I assure you) and have already reviewed most of the longlisted books. Here’s a brief roundup with links to a selection of reviews and as always, your access to a full list of searchable reviews is via this link.


Letter to George Clooney by Debra Adelaide was recently reviewed by Angie Holst . She said it was “a joy to read” and that she finished it in a few days preferring to read it in chronological order rather than “dipping in haphazardly” and recommending this approach as “the last two stories are the most profound and will leave you at the close of the book deep in contemplation.” Angie writes: “Most pieces of the collection are observational in nature, written with a dry wit, particularly those poking gentle fun at the profession of writing, and a few a bit more scathing on the pitfalls and pleasures of modern dating. There are also stories based in more speculative worlds such as Virgin Bones telling of families in some distant time who live in cemeteries and polish bones for wealthy people; and the first story The Sleepers in That Quiet Earth where writer steps into the life of the short story she is composing.”

Moving among strangers

Moving Among Strangers: Randolph Stow and my family by Gabrielle Carey has not yet been reviewed for the AWWC so we look forward to receiving your reviews.

Hannah Kent, Burial Rites

Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites won the People’s Choice award in the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards last month. It was reviewed 21 times by AWW Challenge participants in 2013, making it the “most popular” book in terms of number of reviews. The most recent review is by Tracey over at Carpe Diem. She writes: “I was captivated by this story long before I even turned the first page. … I found Burial Rites incredibly evocative, and I was immediately immersed in the countryside of Iceland, a country I had no prior knowledge of.  The gruelling weather, the unforgiving landscape and harsh and close living conditions all set the scene for Agnes’s life.  … I lingered for a long time within the pages of Burial Rites and I really didn’t want it to end.  I wasn’t looking forward to reading to the end of Agnes’s fate, and my heart was definitely heavy at the end.” You can read about some of the earlier reviews here.


Night Games: Sex, Power and Sport by Anna Krien was reviewed by feminist blogger Scarlett Harris who said it is “a fantastic, impeccably researched and hard-hitting look at misogyny and power in football. She goes on to say that it is “an absorbing read for those well versed in the misogynistic nature of ‘jock culture’ as well as for those new to the topic. Krien makes sure not to alienate sports fans who may be wary of picking up the book.” Sue of Whispering Gums also reviewed it saying: Like Helen Garner (The first stone and Joe Cinque’s consolation) and Chloe Hooper (Tall man), Anna Krien, whose Into the forest and Us and them I’ve previously reviewed, writes in the narrative non-fiction genre. It uses literary techniques to create a narrative about a real issue or event, and can involve the author putting herself (in this case) in the story. I like the style. If well done, it feels honest because the author is clear from page one about the facts (and their limits) she’s presenting, the ideas she’s exploring and, significantly, the challenges she personally faces during her exploration. Krien doesn’t shy away from confronting her feelings, but neither does she let them overshadow her ability to reason. … If you weren’t inclined to read this book, think again, because I found Night games to be illuminating beyond its specific focus on football culture. It is also an excellent read.”


Jessica White reviewed  Melissa Lucashenko’s fifth novel Mullumbimby which tells the story of divorcee Jo Breen who buys a farm in the Byron Bay hinterland, in the hope of connecting to the land of her Aboriginal ancestors. Calling it “a rollicking good read”, Jessica says: “What struck me most about the story was how Indigenous people have been estranged from their own ways of knowing by colonisation. Jo isn’t well-versed in her culture, her parents having died when she was young, and her Aunty Barb, who brings her up, also passing away.” Writereaderly was expecting a “light”, “entertaining” read and was pleasantly surprised saying: “There’s the quirky characters, dreaded and not; the references to BluesFest and the Writers’ Festival and Mardi Grass and Sangsurya; the evocation of the river at Bruns and Wollumbin and Mount Chincogan; the abundant queers (I love it when a dyke’s just called a dyke); the rain, the rainforest, the beach… Such a pleasure to read this place rendered with such smart-arsey love. The multifaceted examination of indigenous rights is smart-thinking and smartly plotted, the narrative trips along, the characters are human, the language vernacular and gritty, and the book an accessible, informed, good-timer. Well recommended.”


The Night Guest tells the story of a 75-year-old woman and her carer. Kylie Mason reviewed it and writes: “The Night Guest is an impressive debut from Australian writer Fiona McFarlane, a masterful, magical novel crafted around a very modern dilemma: who looks after the elderly members of our society if their families are unable or unwilling? … This is a quiet book; much happens under the surface, just beyond Ruth’s reach, making it difficult to determine the truth of her relationship with Frida. Part of the book’s beauty lies in this uncertainty, as the reader’s distance from the story allows assumptions to be made and suspicions to form, but McFarlane’s characters behave in unexpected ways, challenging our expectations. The result is a skilful study of ageing and loneliness and an exploration of our own beliefs about those who choose to care for the vulnerable members of our society.” Sally reviewed it saying it is “intriguing and thought provoking as it looks at aging, aged care, manipulation, trust and the vulnerability of the elderly to crime. I had to ring my elderly mother when I finished it just to make sure she was ok – even though my brother and sister live nearby her. It’s that sort of book.” James Kennedy of Dark Matter Zine reviewed it but wasn’t a fan finding it negative and mentioned that the omission of male characters “throws its character cast off balance.” He found the ending “darker than anyone but the author could have imagined.”


Jessica White reviewed Boy, Lost: A family memoir which was longlisted for the 2014 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards. She wrote: “Boy, Lost, is a memoir about Olsson’s mother Yvonne who, as a young ingénue, was swept off her feet and carried up north by a man who turned out to be brutal.  Just as she found enough courage to escape from him and to head back to Brisbane with their son, Yvonne’s husband tore Peter from her arms on the train. The memoir is an imagining of the circumstances of Yvonne’s life, while charting the impact of that missing child upon Yvonne and her other children.” I added Boy Lost to my reading list after hearing Olsson in conversation with Lily Chan (Toyo) at the 2013 Byron Bay Writers’ Festival. Both writers have chosen a particular way of writing memoir, by weaving fact and imaginings together, to construct a life. As White says: “Some readers and critics might quibble with the fictional elements of memoir, but all memory is, in one way or another, a fiction – we can never reconstitute memory exactly as it happened.  My impression of this work is that Kris, through conversations with family members and attention to photographic records, evokes personalities and events with sensitivity.” After reading Jessica’s review, I was compelled to get a move on and read Boy, Lost. I’ve just reviewed it for the Newtown Review of Books  and have included excerpts from Olsson’s Byron Bay session. I have to agree with Jessica — I am totally in love with this book. In fact, it knocked me for six and I haven’t been able to read another book since finishing it a couple of weeks ago. Sometimes you need quite a bit of breathing space between reads. I’d recommend it for anyone aspiring to write memoir.


Since hearing Anne Summers in conversation with Tara Moss at the 2013 Sydney Writers’ Festival  Varuna program (it was the first public discussion of The Misogyny Factor), this is another book that has been patiently waiting on my TBR shelf. High time to read it. Scarlett Harris has read and reviewed it. She writes: “There is sexism and misogyny to be found almost everywhere you look, but The Misogyny Factor primarily focuses on the realms of politics and the economy. For example, we’re all (well, those who have a vested interest in the pay gap and who don’t buy into the misguided notion that we now have gender equality. If anything, we’ve regressed, and Summers addresses this specifically in the book, too). … “In the fallout from Gillard’s ousting, and the subsequent gendered abuse I heard and saw thrown her way in the media and on Facebook and Twitter (which lead me to unfriend certain long-time-coming people), unfortunately I think Summers is right. The misogyny factor is alive and well in Australia.”


Sue of Whispering Gums reviewed Madeleine saying she wanted to read the biography of this “complicated and “difficult woman” for several reasons. “First, of course, being a reader, I’m interested in biographies and autobiographies of writers. Secondly, Madeleine St John belongs to that group of Australians, half a generation or so older than I am, that has made quite a mark on the literary and arts world. Her friends and acquaintances included Sydney University peers Clive James, Bruce Beresford, Robert Hughes, Richard Walsh, most of whom lived ex-pat lives like she did. Thirdly, her father Edward St John, was a controversial conservative politician (and then barrister) who fought injustice and whom Justice Michael Kirby described as “a contradictory, restless, reforming spirit”. And finally, I was hoping to find out more about what happened to Bruce Beresford’s plan to film her first novel, The women in black. Trinca covers all these bases and more in her biography.” Sue says that “Trinca’s biography is a traditional, chronologically told one. It’s tight, with little superfluous detail but enough examples to provide a good picture of Madeleine and her life. I particularly enjoyed the chapters covering the writing and publication of her novels. The book is very well documented, using clear but unobtrusive numbers linked to extensive notes at the end.” I didn’t know much about St John but was intrigued by Trinca’s discussion of her with Geordie Williamson at last year’s SWF so this is yet another title to add to my out of control reading list.


Chris White’s review of The Swan Book begins: “Buy this book. It is brilliant.” White continues: “Beautiful, tragic and breath-taking, The Swan Book is possibly one of the best science fiction novels I have ever read (although I’ve got the feeling I’ll be saying that more and more often as my Year of Reading Women keeps going.) … I feel like I could quote from this novel all day.” Marilyn Brady of the Global Women of Color Reading Challenge also loved it saying: “Wright’s skillful writing constantly interweaves the beautiful and the ugliness of life.  Her prose is sophisticated, unique, and fast-paced enough to carry readers along with the narrative.  When I re-read the first chapter, however, I discovered an additional layer of richness that I had missed the first time through.  Probably Australians will pick up more of her allusions to the place and its politics.  This is a complex book, hard to summarize and analyze, especially for a non-literary, non-Australian like myself. … Wright has written an angry book, one that some will criticize as too angry.  She satirizes the failure and stupidity of Australian government in their dealings with Indigenous people.  Even if their measures were well-intended, they have disrespected and never understood those whom they claimed to help.  Indigenous Australians like Warren Finch also receive Wright’s biting scorn for their efforts to cash in on their identity to gain wealth and status.  Finch’s rise is an Australian phenomenon, but he is popular all around the world as a spokesperson for Indigenous people everywhere. … This is an important book, even more important than her Carpentria, which won the Miles Franklin award.  I strongly recommend it all readers who delight in books of depth, complexity and beauty.”

Wright Forgotten Rebels Eureka

Janine Rizzetti reviewed The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka describing it as having a “very strong feminist intent” and “big, bold and different.” She says that “it teems with personalities” and “takes the Eureka uprising and puts people into it: particularly women and children, but also storekeepers, commandants, theatre owners, newspaper proprietors and publicans.  It’s a noisy book. … While Eureka is the flashpoint, the real strength of the book is peopling the event and the wider context with flesh and blood, often unknown characters.  The emphasis is very much on women, and writing them back into the story that they always inhabited- but it’s not just about women.  There is a conscious emphasis on Jewish emigrants, American gold-seekers and a consciousness of the Aboriginal people whose lands were deluged by this flood of humanity. Nor is it just about the rebels, because she distinguishes carefully between the military and the police and explicates carefully the politics of Eureka from the government perspective as well. … It is a compelling read that is well-researched and scholarly and at the same time very, very human.” Yvonne Perkins has also reviewed it at length here. She writes: “This book is bold. A bed-time story this ain’t. Its prose slaps you around the face to make sure you are paying attention. It is assertive and provocative. It sucks you into the time that was, on the Ballarat goldfields of the mid-nineteenth century. … Clare Wright set out to write women back into the history of the Ballarat Gold Fields and the rebellion now known as the Eureka Stockade.  Yet this book is much more than an account of the few weeks leading up to the violence and its aftermath. This book is successful at engaging the reader with this history because so much care and space is given to sharing the context in which the Eureka Stockade took place. This helps the reader understand the women and men of the goldfields as real people.”

All the Birds Singing

This was one of my favourite reads of 2013. My review says: “In this neo-gothic pastorale, something or someone is brutally killing Jake Whyte’s sheep and prowling around and through her house at night. Jake lives on a remote, bleak English island, her closest companions her dog (named Dog) and the sheep she farms. … This is a novel written from and for the senses. It is full of sounds, strong emotions and smells  bush smells, food smells, the smell of blood and fear. It is also a novel about the rhythm of life on the land, about loss, grief, and friendship, about lonely people trying to reach out and connect with one another. Part thriller, part coming-of-age story, All the Birds, Singing is probably not for those who don’t like to read about the darker side of human experience. As for me, I couldn’t stop reading and the novel came with me into my dreams the night I finished it …”  Bree  was drawn in by the characterisation (particularly of Jake)  but found the “back and forth narrative” to be problematic. She didn’t have a satisfying reading experience because she was left with “more questions than answers.In fact, very little is resolved by the end of the book.” Sue of Whispering Gums read  All the birds, singing straight after finishing Eleanor Catton’s The Luminaries and “was intrigued by some similarities – both have a mystery at their core, and both use a complex narrative structure – but enjoyed their differences. Wyld’s book is tightly focused on one main character while Catton’s sprawls (albeit in a very controlled way) across a large cast. Paradoxically, Wyld’s 230-page book spans a couple of decades while Catton’s 830-page one barely more than a year. And yet both convey, through their structures, an idea of circularity, of the close relationship between beginnings and endings.” She says it is about how the past cannot be left alone”. “We’ve all got pasts”, the shearers’ boss tells Jake early in the novel, but for some people the past must be dealt with before they can move on. The novel is also about redemption. It’s not the first novel about the subject, and neither will it be the last, but it is a finely told version that catches you in its grips and makes you feel you are reading it for the first time.” Carol of Reading, Writing and Riesling described it as “a bleak, grim and unrelenting tale of hardship, pain and guilt that is a compelling read.”

The 2014 Stella Prize shortlist will be announced at 12 noon AEDT on Thursday 20 March, and the 2014 Stella Prize will be awarded in Sydney on the evening of Tuesday 29 April.

About Me

I’m a freelance book reviewer, journalist, writer and editor. I blog over at Wordsville and can be found on Twitter @PaulaGrunseit