June is probably the most important month on Australia’s literary calendar – because, of course, it’s the month when our main literary award is announced. The winner, as most of you probably already know and as our awards co-ordinator Paula Grunseit has already reported, was Evie Wyld’s All the birds, singing.

All three books by women that were shortlisted for the Miles Franklin award were reviewed this month: Fiona McFarlane’s The Night Guest was reviewed by Jane Rawson, Cory Taylor’s My Beautiful Enemy by Jennifer Cameron-Smith and Marilyn Brady (our American participant), and Evie Wyld’s All the Birds, Singing by Angie Holst and Julia Tulloch.

Jolly June

June was jolly here in Lit-Classic land because we had a stellar month, numbers wise, with 39 reviews posted. Well done, everyone.

TheSwanBookAlexisWrightThe highlights are:

  • Three books are now tying for most reviewed book (to date) with all garnering 7 reviews: Kirsten Krauth’s just_a_girl, Amanda Curtin’s Elemental, and Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites. One review behind these is Evie Wyld’s All the Birds, Singing, with two indigenous writers one behind that, Alexis Wright’s The Swan Book, and Melissa Lucashenko’s Mullumbimby. With July being NAIDOC Week, I hope that next month I will be reporting on more reviews of indigenous writers.
  • One author was reviewed 5 (yes, FIVE) times this month: Kate Forsyth, with four reviews for her latest novel Dancing on Knives, and one for Bitter Greens.
  • We love seeing authors receive multiple reviews, but we also want to see a good spread, as our aim is to promote the breadth of women’s writing in Australia, past and present. This month, 5 authors received their first reviews for 2014: Sarah Armstrong, Marion Halligan, Stephanie Campisi, Elizabeth Jolley and Julie Proudfoot.
  • Our most prolific reviewer for June was Jane Rawson who posted 5 reviews on GoodReads.

The Classics

in certain circles - elizabeth harrowerReviews for two classics were posted this month. One was mine for “Bush church” in Barbara Baynton’s collection, Bush Studies. The other was Orange Pekoe’s review of Elizabeth Jolley’s The Well. This was Orange Pekoe’s second reading of the novel and, unfortunately for her, she didn’t like it any better the second time. I applaud her for giving it another go. She felt that:

the box ticking (the inclusion of ‘otherness’ for feminist, post-modern, post-colonial and, very tenuously in my opinion, racial interpretations) was to the detriment of what could have been a good gothic horror story.

While not classified by its reviewer as a classic – and rightly so because it was first published in 2014 – Elizabeth Harrower’s In certain circles, written in 1971, would have qualified had not Harrower withdrawn it from publication at, apparently, the last minute. Sonja, who reviewed it for the challenge, is clearly glad that Text Publishing decided to publish it now because, she says, it “stands the test of time”. She describes it as an emotional read in which “psychological tension … propels the narrative forward”.

Kate Forsyth

BitterGreensForsythGiven Forsyth was our most reviewed author this month, I figured she deserved a little focus. If you are a Radio National listener, you may have heard Forsyth on Life Matters because in May they commenced a new monthly series with Forsyth looking at “how fairytales can still teach us lessons in the 21st century”. Forsyth, whose writing has been inspired by fairy tales, is currently writing her doctorate on them. The first program looked at Sleeping Beauty.

Bitter Greens, which is one of the books reviewed this month, re-tells “Rapunzel”. Karen who reviewed it for the challenge tells us that the book starts with Charlotte Rose who first told the story, which was later adapted by the Grimm Brothers. Karen writes:

Kate Forsyth has let down Rapunzel’s hair for us; we all get to climb into the tower to have a good look at what’s up there and to see what it’s like to be there, to feel the longing, the despair, the thrill of escape …

Forsyth’s The wild girl, which has been reviewed several times for the challenge, albeit not this month, tells the story of Wilhelm Grimm’s romance with Dortchen Wild, the young woman who had told him many of the stories he and his brother became famous for.

dancing on knives - kate forsythThe Opal Octopus (sounds like a book title itself, doesn’t it?) who produced one of this month’s reviews for Forsyth’s latest novel, Dancing on Knives, says:

I’m a huge sucker for books where food plays an important part! I’m also a big fan of books with a powerful sense of place. This book has both, along with family dysfunction, a murder mystery, and fairytale echoes.

I haven’t read any of Octopus’ reviews before, this being her first for the literary category, but I like how she expresses herself. Here she is again:

Others have critiqued it for its gently moseying pace. Sure, it’s not a driving thriller, but you don’t read a Forsyth for the page-turniness. It is less a speedboat ride and more a paddle-steamer meander through a sublime, dark forest. With Spanish food.

Deborah also enjoyed the book, but notes that it departs from what she understands to be Forsyth’s main genre, speculative/fantasy fiction. Perhaps so, but from what Sam says, those influences aren’t far away in what she describes as its Gothic elements, and dark suspense.

Speaking of categorisation

Applying categories to the arts – to fiction, music, and so on – is a fraught business. Categorisation has its uses. It can help us make sense of the world. But it can also confine us. We here at the Challenge had some interesting conversations when establishing our categories. We wanted broad categories that would both encompass wide ranges of books and be easy to apply. But even broad categories are not fool-proof, and some authors create big challenges for our reviewers when they link their reviews.

Kate Forsyth is one such author. The four reviews to date for Dancing on Knives have been placed in three different categories: Mixed/Don’t know/Prefer not to say (1), Crime fiction (1), and General fiction (2). A similar thing has happened with the five reviews posted this year for Alexis Wright’s The Swan Book: Mixed/Don’t know/Prefer not to say (1), Speculative fiction (2), and General fiction (2).

There is no right answer, but it does affect where and how these books appear in our various round-ups. Just saying …

I have of course mentioned only a few of the books reviewed this month. To see all of the Literary/Classic books reviewed this year to date, please check this Weebly page.


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.