My the months come around fast don’t they? Like last year, August and September saw fewer reviews than the preceding months, but we are still tracking ahead of last year, so thanks once again to all for keeping this challenge alive and well.
Slow and steady in September
So, we had 24 reviews in September and amongst them were some interesting highlights:
- Three, yes three, classics – and none of them the usual suspects
- Four authors receiving two reviews each: Sonya Hartnett, Cate Kennedy (for a short story anthology she edited), Joan London and Annabel Smith.
- Our most prolific reviewer being author Jane Rawson with 3 reviews.
- An innovative self-published e-book by a published author.
How do we define a classic? Usually it’s a book that has stood the test of time – though how much time is a matter of opinion. However, one of our three classics was published for the first time this year – Elizabeth Harrower’s In Certain Circles, published in Text’s Australian Classics series. It was her fifth novel, and the story goes that she originally submitted it to a publisher in 1971, then withdrew it, worked on it some more, resubmitted it, and then withdrew it again. Although still alive (she’s 86), she never published another novel. I’m happy to accept the reviewer’s definition of this as a classic, but you can decide for yourselves. This reviewer, Angie Holst, is one of our regulars, and writes:
It is extraordinarily crafted. I felt keen to keep returning to it and finish it, despite the fact that there is not a great deal of dramatic action within the plot.
If you haven’t read any Harrower, do give her a go. Her evocation of character and the clarity and tightness of her writing puts her among our best writers.
The other two classics both come from the 1920s – Jean Curlewis’ Beach beyond (1923) and Dorothy Cottrell’s The singing gold (1928). I know neither of these works but did discover during the month that Jean Curlewis is Ethel Turner’s daughter. Debbie Robson, one of our keenest reviewers of classics this year, was particularly delighted to discover that Curlewis was “an Australian writing in the 1920s and not about the bush”. A rare beast indeed. Robson liked the book, which is apparently one of four Curlewis wrote about upper middle-class Sydney families and youthful idealism.
Dorothy Cottrell’s The singing gold was reviewed by challenge team member Jessica White for August’s Women Writers with Disability month. Cottrell was a polio sufferer who spent most of her life in a wheelchair. This novel is fairly autobiographical, and Jessica was impressed overall:
Although the plot isn’t much to write home about, this novel still has gorgeous nature writing, a strong female protagonist, and that unavoidably heartening theme of gaining financial independence through writing.
New books by established authors
It was good to see reviews this month of the latest books by some of our well-established authors: Janette Turner Hospital’s The claimant (published May), Joan London’s The golden age (published early August), and Sonya Hartnett’s Golden boys (published late August).
Janette Turner Hospital is an expat Australian writer who’s only appeared once before in these round-ups, last November, when her first novel The ivory swing was reviewed. This month, Michael Richardson reviewed her latest novel in the Newtown Review of Books. Hospital describes her novel as “The great Gatsby in reverse”, and Richardson agrees, saying:
Like Gatsby, it is a story about wealth, identity and restless longing, but this book centres on the desire to escape wealth and privilege rather than obtain it.
It’s a reworking of the famous Tichborne Case, transplanted to the twentieth century and focused on the Vanderbilt fortune, rather than the British peerage. Richardson sees flaws in the novel – stretched at times to incredulity – but says that ultimately it is
a subtle and often beautiful novel of flowing prose, sympathetic characters, and careful treatment of trauma and loss.
Hospital is a writer who takes risks and often pushes ideas and language to the edge, but this makes her exciting to read.
I mentioned The golden age last month, so let’s now look at Hartnett’s Golden boys. Hartnett is a prolific Australian writer of children’s, young adult and adult novels. Her first novel – for adults – was published in 1984 when she was 15 years old! She has won and/or been shortlisted for many of Australia’s major literary awards. Our two reviewers, Kate (Books are my favourite and best) and Bree (1 girl … too many books), both comment on its toughness to read, with Bree calling it “unflinching” and Kate saying that:
There’s nothing ‘feel good’ about it. It will leave you feeling flat, heart-sore and perhaps angry as well.
It’s about two suburban families, one well-to-do, one struggling, with the father of the former prone to cruelties and the other discontented and unpredictable. Both reviewers, however, greatly admired Hartnett’s writing and both found themselves thinking about it long after they’d finished it. Sounds like a must-read to me!
Annabel Smith’s The Ark
And now we come to something completely different – a self-published e-book by a previously published author. I’m talking about The ark, a futuristic dystopian novel by Western Australian writer, Annabel Smith, whose novels include A new map of the universe and Whisky Charlie Foxtrot. Why did she self-publish this one? Well, perhaps because it is an e-book and an app, with interactive elements. It was published in September. I am currently reading it on my iPad, but fortunately two readers have already posted reviews for the Challenge. Reviewer Jane Rawson, who read it on Kindle, describes the set up:
The idea for this book is ingenious. In the 2040s, the world is falling to pieces. A seed bank has been set up in the Snowy Mountains to protect the world’s plant stocks. As the Chaos mounts, the director of the seed bank decides to bring the employees and their families inside and lock them away.
And Louise Allen describes its form
It’s written in epistolary form—emails, minutes of meetings, and news articles. There’s also a website, thearkbook.com, with video of inside the Ark and audio of conversations.
The interactive elements include not only opportunities to go to this website to tour the Ark, but also allows readers to add to the story or upload their own fan-fiction. It will be fascinating to see how many readers take this up, but meanwhile, how exciting to see a work experimenting with ways in which fiction can be extended by modern interactive technologies. It can, I believe, be bought on Amazon’s Kindle store or Apple’s iBooks store.
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.
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.