Well, last month’s bribe seems to have worked! We’ve gone from no Classics reviewed in February to four in March. I shall be true to my word and mention each one under the Classics heading below.

March was also significant for the announcement of the Miles Franklin Literary Award long list. Seven of the 11 books shortlisted are by women. Read more about it in Paula Grunseit’s excellent post.

March musings, statistically speaking

Thirty-nine reviews were posted this month, 10 more than last month. They covered 31 authors, meaning several books/authors were reviewed more than once. Amanda Curtin’s Elemental continues its march (pun intended) this month with another two reviews. Linda Jaivin’s Quarterly Essay Found in translation, Hannah Kent’s Burial rites, Kirsten Krauth’s just_a_girl, Carrie Tiffany’s Mateship with birds, and Evie Wyld’s All the birds singing also received two reviews each. Hazel Rowley was reviewed twice, by Peter Corris, for  Franklin and Eleanor and Tête-à-Tête, her biography of Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir.

My highlights for this month are:

  • Our most reviewed author for the first quarter is Amanda Curtin, with six reviews for Elemental and one for Sinkings. Congratulations Amanda.
  • Super-blogger for the month was Jane Rawson who posted 4 reviews. She was closely followed by Mindy with 3. Jane has a website but posts her reviews at Goodreads. Mindy contributes to a wonderfully titled collaborative blog Hoyden About Town.

The Classics

Thea Astley, A boatload of home folkFour classics! I think that’s pretty much a record for the Challenge.

Debbie Robson reviewed Thea Astley’s A Boatload of Home Folk, and wasn’t overly keen, writing:

A Boat Load of Home Folk are sad, pathetic, very flawed and with virtually no redeeming features. I also had a lot of trouble with Astley’s very unusual style.

Astley does have an idiosyncratic style. Debbie says she’s prepared to try one of Astley’s later works so she wasn’t completely deterred. Conversely, Jane Rawson loved The getting of wisdom, calling it “hilarious and subversive”. Richardson is probably our most reviewed Classics author in the challenge to date, and with good reason. I found Barbara Baynton’s use of the vernacular challenging in the short story “Billy Skywonkie”, but see it as a significant work for its questioning of the era’s romantic notions of the bush and bushmen.

The great gatsbyThe fourth Classic, Nicki Greenberg’s graphic novel adaptation of The Great Gatsby, is a little trickier to categorise. Is a modern Australian woman’s adaptation of an American classic still a classic? I’m not sure, but why not? Sean, the Bookonaut, writes this:

Greenberg has a reputation for drawing interesting non-human  depictions of characters and this is evident in the creation of a host of different creatures for the main characters in the book.  Nick Carraway is an unassuming slug, Daisy is a puff headed fluff ball, Gatsby a seahorse, Tom Buchannan a brutish ogre and Jordan Baker a squid, to name a few.  It’s interesting to map these depictions to certain character traits. […] Clever and slightly bizarre, it fits the period well and was a pleasure to read.

If you are looking for something different, this could be the book for you.

Miles Franklin Literary Award

Of the seven books by women writers longlisted for the award, three were reviewed in March: Melissa Lucashenko’s Mullumbimby (1), Fiona McFarlane’s The night guest (1) and Evie Wyld’s All the birds, singing (2). 

Katie Keyes notes the autobiographical element of Mullumbimby, and describes it as

a quiet and effective advocate – a compelling tale that leaves me with a better sense of Australian Aboriginal experience than anything else I’ve read recently.

McFarlane, The night guestSonja Porter describes The night guest as “a well-crafted story” about love, ageing, loneliness and deceit. Belinda Hopper enjoyed All the birds, singing, even though, or perhaps because, she wasn’t sure of its conclusion. Orange Pekoe Reviews also enjoyed Wyld’s novel, calling it “a short, almost perfect novel” though she wasn’t sure she needed all the metaphorical references to birds “as it was the story itself that hooked me”.

As Paula wrote in her report (linked above), we have only one review so far of Tracey Farr’s The life and loves of Lena Gaunt, and have none yet for Cory Taylor’s My beautiful enemy. Let’s hope we see some next month – you’ll be sure to get a mention if you are one of those!

Short stories …

Holiday in CambodiaFor my final section this month I thought I’d do a little plug for short stories. I know many readers don’t like them, but fortunately we do have some enthusiasts among our participants. Three reviews were posted in the literary sub-category last month.

Kathryn Goldie loved last year’s MUBA (Most Underrated Book Award) shortlisted book, Two steps forward by Irma Gold. It was a book she noticed on the shelves at Readings bookshop and she’s glad she did. She says that “Each story is told in a different voice, without smacking of the experimental, uneven tone of some short story collections” and found the varied characters “deftly drawn and believable”.

Something rather different is Laura Jean McKay’s collection, Holiday in Cambodia, which was reviewed by Anna Sparga-Ryan. This collection, too, sounds highly varied despite all having the same setting. The stories cover “war, famine, torture, sex slavery” and exhibit an empathy for the country. Sparga-Ryan found the characterisation excellent, and said the writing is “sparse, concise and unlaboured”. 

Angie Holst read Cate Kennedy’s Like a house on fire, and called it “a glorious collection”. She also gives a plug in general for reading short stories – which seems a suitable point on which to end this month’s round-up:

I’m really enjoying reading these short stories anthologies as a departure from novel reading, with the dipping in and out much like the watching of television episodes as opposed to films. I like the quick and constant variation in genre, narrative voices and setting. Kennedy has proven herself adept at this constant variation, and she has a tremendous eye for the minutea of domestic life.

If you are uncertain about short stories, you might like to think again!


About Me

I am 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 on to reading 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 been making sure to include a good percentage of Australian (and other) women writers in my reading diet.