After a very slow month for reviews in October, things picked up considerably in November. Thanks everyone!

This will be the last of our monthly roundups for Classics and Literary in 2014, as the next round-up will be an annual report. I’m looking forward to seeing what pops up out of my analysis. It’s been an interesting year for books by women writers – in my area anyhow – but more on that next month.

Numerical November

Thirty-two reviews were posted this month, three more than for November last year.  Here are some highlights:

  • Helen Garner’s book This house of grief continues to bring in reviews since its publication a couple of months ago, garnering four this month. Michelle de Kretser received three reviews across two books, as did Annabel Smith.
  • A quarter of the reviews this month were for non-fiction works, helped along by Helen Garner’s book of course!
  • This month’s most prolific reviewer was one of our small band of male reviewers, Jonathan Shaw (Me fail? I fly), with five reviews. He was closely followed by Angie Holst (Projected Happiness) who posted four.

The Classics

Reviews for classics keep coming in, with two posted this month. Both were for lesser known works by well-known authors. We could question whether lesser known works qualify as “classics” but my policy is to keep the categories broad and flexible. Anyhow, where else would they go?

Eleanor Dark, Return to CoolamiThe first classic is Eleanor Dark’s Return to Coolami (1936), reviewed by Angie Holst. A lot has been made over the last couple of years of Text Publishing’s promotion of Australian classics through their Text Classics series, but other publishers have been quietly going about the same business. Return to Coolami, for example, comes from Allen and Unwin’s House of Books series. Holst likens this book, which explores three marriages, to Harrower’s In certain circles:

Like Harrower, there is a confidence with Dark’s writing, and an intelligent understanding of the inner workings of both women and men. I thought this a very modern feeling novel, which is high praise given its 1930s release. Some of the issues raised in the portrayal of Susan are strongly feminist although of course, this period was a time of monumental change for women.

TurnerParthenonJuveniliaThe other “classic” is a little more ambiguous in categorisation. It was reviewed by me, and is a collection of juvenilia by Ethel Turner, author of one of Australia’s best-loved children’s classics, Seven little Australians. Titled Tales from the “Parthenon”, it contains a selection of works from the journal published by Turner and her sister Lilian immediately post-school. Written over more than 40 years before Dark’s work, Turner’s pieces also address gender issues and make clear their author’s belief that women have a right to independence and intellectually equality.

Literary non-fiction

Eight of the reviews posted this month were for non-fiction works. To appear in this round-up, they need to be identified as belonging to what is generally recognised as literary or narrative non-fiction, that is, non-fiction which uses some of the techniques of fiction, such as characterisation, evocative language, and/or dialogue. Helen Garner’s This house of grief uses all of these. Jonathan Shaw, for example, describes Garner as dramatising her personal responses, and Kate (Books are My Favourite and Best) writes that:

there are bits of herself – her knitting, her grandchildren, her friend’s recent divorce – and there’s her sharp focus on the players involved, as opposed to the evidence .

Memoirs are, perhaps, a little more difficult to define as “literary” since they naturally deal with “character”. I have assumed that the reviewers who defined as literary the memoirs they read in November have done so on the basis of the quality of the writing and of the reflections. Kylie Mason reviewed Kristy Chambers’ memoir It’s not you, Geography, it’s me in the Newton Review of Books, and liked her “appealing narrative voice”. There is, she writes, a

certain charm to her willingness to showcase with directness and wit the very worst of her travel experiences, and she does not shy away from the harder aspects of travelling with a mental illness.

Kate Belle (The Ecstasy Files) writes about another travel-related memoir, Sinning across Spain by Ailsa Piper, saying that Piper shares “deeply personal and intimate revelations of her experience”.

Janine Rizzetti (Resident Judge of Port Phillip) reviewed Maggie Mackellar’s When it rains, which falls into the “grief memoir” sub-genre. Rizzetti makes it very clear why she defined this book as “literary”. Mackellar, she says,

has left strict chronological order behind and instead spirals around her story. The book is written as a series of short chapters, mostly in the present tense, that read a bit like newspaper columns in that each one seems self-contained with apparent closure in the final paragraph of each one.  But you turn the page, and still it goes on – just as she must.  As one chapter follows another chapter, she is still circling warily around her pain but gradually stepping away from it as well.

These aren’t all the reviews posted this month for “literary” non-fiction, but they represent some of the variety we find in this loose grouping.

Most Underrated Book Award for 2014 (MUBA)

Jane Rawson, A wrong turn at the office of unmade listsPaula Grunseit, our coordinator for awards, has already posted this month on MUBA, but I wanted to mention it here for two reasons. For those of you who didn’t read her post and haven’t heard, this year’s MUBA was won by Jane Rawson for her novel, A wrong turn at the office of unmade lists. Rawson is one of our generous band of authors who regularly post reviews of other writers’ books for the challenge. So far this year, in this category, she has posted 23 reviews. That’s more than two a month! Well done Jane, and thanks.

The other reason is that her book has received a few reviews this year, including one this month by Angie Holst who liked it. Holst said she could see why it won the award. She concludes her review of this “indefinable” novel with the following assessment:

Rawson is ambitious in her structure and voice, whilst maintaining coherence and pace. I did think the earlier sections in future Melbourne were more confident, less dialogue driven and more purposeful. However, the latter sections no doubt were what captured the attention of the MUBA judges: their scope and imagination make this an unusual and worthy read.

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.