Well, August was a slower month, review-wise anyhow, here in Classics-and-Literary land. That doesn’t mean, however, that we have nothing to report. New books continued to be published over our southern winter, and many were picked up by our reviewers … as you will see below. But, before I launch into this month’s round-up, I’d like to remind you that the Challenge is featuring authors with a disability in August. Each week there has, and will be, a featured interview with an author who experiences some sort of disability. So far this month, team member Jessica White has interviewed Honey Brown and Donna McDonald. Do check them out via the links I’ve provided on their names.


Although I started this post saying that reviews were down this month, you know how it is with statistics. You can always make them mean something good or bad if you try. Being an optimist, I go for the good, and so with a little search of my figures for last year, I discovered that this August is in fact stellar! Twenty-eight reviews were posted which is over 30% more than August 2013’s measly 21! The challenge is still tracking well …

The highlights are:

  • While last month saw nearly 20% of the reviews posted being for books published ten or more years ago, this month only one review was for a book more than ten years old. In fact, all but three were published in 2013 or 2014. It’s important that new authors are being recognised, but I also love it when readers explore our literary heritage a little more deeply.
  • Two authors received three reviews this month: Favel Parrett for When the night comes, and Kate Forsyth for Dancing with knives (2) and The wild girl (1)
  • Our most prolific reviewer in August was Maree Kimberley with 3 reviews, followed by Dark Matter ZineDebbie Robson, challenge co-ordinator Elizabeth Lhuede (Devoted Eclectic), and Kate W (Books are my favourite and best) with two each.

The Classics

downinthecity-harrowerJust one classic this month, Elizabeth Harrower’s Down in the city. If you have been following the buzz over the last couple of years about Text Publishing’s Australian Classics initiative, you are sure to have heard of Elizabeth Harrower. Harrower was born in 1928 and wrote five novels in the 1960s to 1970s, of which four were published then and one not published until Text released it this year. Those of us who have read any of these novels wonder why she has been so under the radar for the last few decades. Her writing is powerful and her subject-matter hard-hitting. In fact, Debbie Robson who reviewed Down in the city said she’d read an article that described her as “the F. Scott Fitzgerald of Australia”. Debbie clearly wasn’t disappointed, and would probably agree that Harrower is like Fitzgerald in her skewering of the questionable morality of the well-to-do. Robson writes this, to conclude her review:

She doesn’t flinch in taking a “real life” stance. In her depiction of domestic abuse she is decades ahead of her time… Mesmerising and powerful! Highly recommended!!

New books out

whenthenightcomes-parrettSeveral books were published in August, as I’m sure they are most months, but I did notice a few this month and the fact that our reviewers were hot onto them! One was Favel Parrett’s second book, When the night comes. You’ ll probably remember that Parrett’s first novel Past the shallows was very well received when it came out in 2011. It won the Dobbie Literary Award in 2012, and was shortlisted for several other awards that year, including the inaugural Stella Prize and the Miles Franklin. It’s not surprising then that our reviewers were quick to read her second novel. Kate W hadn’t read Parrett’s first book, but was very impressed by When the night comes. She describes Parrett’s writing:

Parrett understands lots of things very deeply – water, the difference a teacher makes, the effect of a well-timed bag of mixed lollies, silence – and talks of these things in words that are deceptively simple. The story is compact. A chapter about a wooden spoon and rainy days brought tears to my eyes.

A compact story. That appeals to me. Brenda loved it too, giving different hints of its content:

The writing is inspiring, the descriptions of Hobart, Antarctica and Bo’s home in Denmark are such that I felt I was there, experiencing the icy cold and frigid beauty.

Shelleyrae’s initial impression was different. She found it somewhat disjointed and repetitive, but

by the half way mark I’d finally settled into the dreamlike rhythm of the narrative and gained an appreciation for its unique tempo.

She then read it again, and was thoroughly “absorbed”.

The Golden Age Joan LondonTwo other new books this month came from more established authors: Helen Garner’s This house of grief, and Joan London’s The golden age. As I plan a little focus on Garner below, I’ll just discuss London here. She has had two novels published, prior to this, and three short story collections. That four of these five books have been shortlisted for, or won, awards will give you some sense of her standing. Elimy is the first to review it for the challenge, and here is her description of what it is about:

Poetry becomes a central theme in the novel as it does in young Frank Gold’s life; the quest for that illusive final line is a metaphor for a sort of quest for meaning in the life of a young person who has made his way by surviving horrors, first under the Nazis, where as a Jewish person he was forced to hide in the roof above the home of a moribund piano teacher and then in his new home of Perth, where he contracts polio and must learn to walk again.

Sounds intriguing, eh? Interestingly, these two new novels come from two of our less populous states, Tasmania and Western Australia, which speaks to a wonderful depth and breadth in Australian women’s writing at present.

Helen Garner

Every now and then I like to feature a particular writer in these round-ups. In 2013, Garner was reviewed four times in this category. This year she has already been reviewed 10 times, and there will be at least one more (from me!). It’s probably pretty accurate to say that, with the passing in the last decade of writers like Thea Astley and Elizabeth Jolley, Helen Garner is the grand dame of Australian women writers, indeed of Australian literature. She has written novels, short stories, essays and journalistic pieces. She has won many of our major literary awards, including a Walkley Award for journalism. It’s therefore great to see our reviewers delving into her books this year.

thishouseofgrief-garnerWhile the reviews to date have included her novels and short stories, the majority have been for her pioneering and controversial narrative non-fiction books, The first stone and Joe Cinque’s consolation. I say pioneering because, in addition to using the fictional techniques typical of this “genre”, she was one of the first to put herself into the pieces, that is, to tell a “true” story with herself in the frame. Writers like Chloe Hooper (in The tall man) and Anna Klien (in Into the forest and Night games) have followed her into this form.

Melbourne’s Wheeler Centre describes her narrative non-fiction approach better than I could:

She blends journalism, reportage, memoir and cultural analysis – all filtered through the distinctive authorial voice that has long made her fiction so compelling. She uses the novelist’s tools of stark characterisation, evocative language and a magpie’s eye for telling dialogue.

Now Garner has written her third in this style, The house of grief, in which she follows the trial of Robert Farquharson who was tried and convicted of killing his three sons in 2005. Lou Murphy, reviewing it in the Newtown Review of Books, believes that Garner has steered a careful course between feeling sympathy and passing blame, suggesting to me a more even-handed reportage than her previous two forays. He concludes that:

she weaves legal argument and social commentary into a compelling narrative that is a deeply moving rendering of grief and human behaviour.

It’s clearly a heartbreaking story but one in which Garner seems to have managed to explore the ambiguity in human behaviour and relationships, rather than make black-and-white statements about right and wrong. And, she writes great sentences!

I’ve 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.