The biggest news for April was the announcement of the second Stella Prize. While last year’s prize went to a work of literary fiction, Carrie Tiffany’s Mateship with Birds, this year’s, confirming the Prize’s commitment to a diverse eligibility, is a work of history, Clare Wright’s The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka. The win has been written up on this blog by our awards coordinator, Paula Grunseit. In the next couple of months we expect to see the Miles Franklin shortlist (May 15) and then the winner (June 26) announced.
Thirty reviews were posted this month, somewhat fewer than last month, but not embarrassingly so! They covered 26 authors. The most reviewed book was last year’s most reviewed book, Hannah Kent’s Burial rites, with three reviews. Two books received two reviews each, Cicada by Moira McKinnon and Mr Wigg by Inga Simpson, and two different books by Kate Grenville were reviewed.
Highlights for this month are:
- Indigenous authors and works including indigenous issues continue to be reviewed regularly, with four reviews being so categorised this month.
- Three bloggers posted three reviews this month: Emily Paull (The Incredible Rambling Elimy [sic]), Louise Allen, and moi (Whispering Gums). Thanks Emily and Louise.
The oldest book reviewed was my own review of Jessica Anderson’s One of the Wattle Birds, published in 1994. It was Anderson’s last novel and tells the story of Cec whose mother has recently died but who left her some money that she can only access if she marries. It explores common Anderson themes to do with money and power, and family relationships. The other book is Kate Grenville’s The Idea of Perfection (1999), which won her the Orange Prize (now the Bailey’s Women Prize). Reviewer Natalia Clare enjoyed it, describing it as “an engaging, poignant and funny novel”. It has apparently convinced her to read more Grenville. She could do worse!
Not all reviews for non-fiction appear in my list, but those do where the book uses literary techniques and styles to discuss factual matter. Such books are variously categorised as “literary non-fiction” or “creative nonfiction” or “narrative nonfiction”. One of Australia’s first proponents of this style was Helen Garner, and her work Joe Cinque’s Consolation was reviewed this month. This book explores the devastating but complex case of Joe Cinque who was murdered in Canberra by his girlfriend Anu Singh. Reviewer Nalini Haynes liked the book and says that Garner:
has boldly gone where others fear to tread. This time Helen Garner explores murder, grief and the judiciary system.
The other book reviewed this month is Anna Krien’s Night Games, which is her second venture into this genre. Night Games explores football culture, through the story of a specific rape court case. Janine (or the Resident Judge) doesn’t feel that Krien is as successful as Garner, suggesting that Krien is
dodging what she expects to be brickbats from feminists and football supporters, by raising questions and admitting uncertainty as a pre-emptive defence.
But she recognises that Krien is describing something that is chillingly real.
Indigenous writers and issues …
The challenge has two form/subgenre/special interest area categories relating to indigenous people, one being “indigenous issues” and the other “indigenous author”. Two of the reviews this month were for novels by indigenous authors (Melissa Lucashenko’s Mullumbimby and Alexis Wright’s The Swan Book) and two were for books which include discussion of indigenous issues (Kate Grenville’s Sara Thornhill and Moira McKinnon’s Cicada).
Both Lucashenko and Wright have been longlisted for this year’s Miles Franklin Award, and both have received a handful of reviews to date in the challenge. American blogger, Marilyn, reviewed Lucashenko’s Mullumbimby, and compared it with Wright’s book which she reviewed in a previous month. She writes:
I loved and learned from both books, but they are very different. Wright’s new novel is a mythic, universal call for people to recognize what it means to be displaced as the Australian Indigenous people have been. Lucashenko writes a sharply realistic novel about a particular person and place. Her book will probably be more widely read and discussed in the Indigenous community while Wright’s will appeal more to the international literary community. Both are deeply needed and both need to be widely read.
She describes Mullumbimby as being “how people retain their identity and values on the edges of a dominant culture”.
Stephanie Gunn would agree with Marilyn that The swan book needs to be widely read. She commences her review with:
Every once in a while you pick up a book that you immediately want to buy copies of for half (or all) of your friends. This is one of those books.
She recognises that its poetic style may not suit everyone but enjoyed the way Wright creates a world in which “myth walks beside reality”.
More challenging for writers and reviewers are those books by non-indigenous writers which deal with indigenous subject matter. It’s a controversial issue, with some indigenous writers believing that only they can write on indigenous subjects. Melissa Lucashenko has expressed such an opinion, arguing against further white appropriation of indigenous culture, but there is also a recognition that literature that ignores indigenous people is not accurately representing Australian society. It’s a sensitive issue.
Sophie Shanahan’s review of Kate Grenville’s Sarah Thornhill addresses, in a way, the very issue of indigenous presence when she says that the novel provides evidence that Stanner’s “great Australian silence” is already descending. Moira McKinnon’s Cicada is set in the Kimberleys and reviewer Louise Allan loved it for several reasons, but particularly for its insight into Aboriginal culture and knowledge. She writes that:
I’d describe this story as a tribute to the Kimberley. It is also a tribute to indigenous culture and highlights how little we, as a predominantly white society, have understood the depth of indigenous knowledge and skill.
Allen doesn’t specifically address the issue of a white woman writing about indigenous culture, but Moira McKinnon is a doctor who has worked in outback Australia, including with Fred Hollows on his eye program. From Allen’s point of view, the novel makes a contribution to the issue of non-indigenous ignorance of indigenous culture. I wonder what indigenous writers think about it?
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.