Who would have thought when Elizabeth Lhuede conceived this challenge at the end of 2011 that three years later we would still be here? But, here we are, and becoming quite a fixture on the Australian book scene. As I wrote in my 2013 wrap-up, I’m enjoying my involvement and once again want to thank the AWW Team Members for their support and, of course, all you reviewers who continue to support the challenge.

As I say each year, my area of responsibility, Literary and Classics, is a slippery one. There are no universally accepted definitions for either. Consequently, we rely primarily on reviewers’ decisions regarding categorisation. However, I do tweak this occasionally, such as where most reviewers have categorised a book as Literary but one or two haven’t, or where, because “Literary” is a sub-category, some reviewers don’t realise they can apply it. Given all this, my assessment is that a little over 380 reviews were posted in this category in 2014, which is about 3% fewer than in 2013.

Most reviewed Literary/Classic books in 2014

LostAndFoundBrookeDavisLast year’s most reviewed book, Hannah Kent’s debut novel Burial Rites, was not a surprise. It was the runaway winner with nearly double the number of reviews as the second most reviewed books. This year, though, has been a little different, and you may be surprised … Here are the most reviewed books:

  • Brooke Davis, Lost & found (16)
  • Evie Wyld, All the birds, singing (11)
  • Helen Garner, This house of grief ; Hannah Kent, Burial rites; Annabel Smith, The ark (9 each)
  • Kirsten Krauth, just_a_girl (8)
  • Amanda Curtin, Elemental (7)

As last year, this list includes the year’s Miles Franklin winner, Evie Wyld’s All the birds, singing. Also like last year, three of the books are debut novels (those by Davis, Kent and Krauth). This year’s list, though, includes two departures from last year: The ark, by previously published author Annabel Smith, was self-published (and can be read in print, as an e-book, or via an app), and Helen Garner’s This house of grief, is non-fiction, which is probably a surprising outcome but it speaks to the reputation of its author.

Most reviewed Literary/Classic authors in 2014

thishouseofgrief-garnerThe authors most reviewed closely equates with the books most reviewed, but not completely, which suggests that people are also reading backlists. Here are the most reviewed authors:

  • Helen Garner (19) for eight works, both fiction and non-fiction
  • Brooke Davis (16) for Lost & found
  • Kate Forsyth for four works; Evie Wyld for two books (12 each)
  • Annabel Smith for two books (11)
  • Amanda Curtin for three books; Inga Simpson for two books (9 each)

Several other authors were hot on their heels, including Michelle de Kretser, Jessie Cole, Joan London, Melissa Lucashenko, Favel Parrett and Alexis Wright.

Most reviewed Classics

in certain circles - elizabeth harrowerFewer reviews were posted in the Classic category in 2014, with just 23 compared to last year’s 30. I’d like to see more – because I’d like to think we explore Australia’s literary traditions – but any number is good to see. Interestingly, however, this year’s reviews included more lesser-known books and authors, which is quite a departure from last year’s in which Joan Lindsay’s Picnic at Hanging Rock, Miles Franklin’s My Brilliant Career and Ruth Park’s Harp in the South dominated. This year’s reviews were also spread across more authors. Here are the most reviewed authors:

  • Elizabeth Harrower (3): Down in the city, In certain circles, The watch tower
  • Thea Astley (2): A boatload of home folk, Drylands
  • Barbara Baynton (2): “Billy Skywonkie”, “Bush church”
  • Jean Curlewis (2): Beach beyond, The ship that never set sail
  • Vera Dwyer (2): The Kayles of Bushy Lodge
  • Henry Handel Richardson (2): The getting of wisdom, Ultima Thule

A fascinating and diverse list, don’t you think? And many are available free as e-texts, so there’s no excuse for us not reading some of them next year, is there!

Some random observations

Publishers. It’s always interesting to see who is publishing literary fiction. While the big players – Penguin, Picador, Random House and Allen & Unwin, and their various off-shoots – are definitely playing a role, it is the small publishers who contribute much in this area, particularly in terms providing opportunities to new or more experimental or, shall we say, “diverse” authors. Two university publishers, UQP and UWA, were responsible, between them, for just over 12% of the reviews posted. And UQP published most of the indigenous writers reviewed. Several independent small presses also featured well, such as Text Publishing, Giramondo, Black Inc, Transit Lounge and Fremantle Press. These, and similar presses, are worth checking out. They deserve our support for the hard work they do.

TheSwanBookAlexisWrightIndigenous authors. I had hoped to see more reviews of indigenous authors this year, but in fact the number was similar to last year. They included Melissa Lucashenko and Alexis Wright (each reviewed 6 times), Tara June Winch (reviewed twice); and Larissa Behrendt, Marie Munkara, and Ellen Van Neerven (all reviewed once).  More were probably reviewed in other categories, and are likely to be reported in the Diversity round-up.

australianlovestories-kennedyShort stories – as single stories, anthologies and collections – continue to be well supported by Challenge participants despite a general view (from where, I sometimes wonder) that short stories are not popular. Two new anthologies captured reviewers’ attention – Australian love stories, edited by Cate Kennedy (3), and The great unknown, edited by Angela Meyer (2). Cate Kennedy was also our most reviewed short story writer, with three reviews across two of her collections, Like a house on fire and Dark roots. Debra Adelaide’s fetchingly titled Letter to George Clooney was reviewed twice, as was Maxine Beneba Clarke’s Foreign soil.

Our reviewers

Several reviewers, besides me, contributed 10 or more reviews for this category. I’d like to give them a shout out, though really, you are all champions for taking part:

Coming in 2015

Some of our established authors have books coming out in 2015, including Marion Halligan, Krissy Kneen and Amanda Lohrey. But they are just a taste of what is sure to be another exciting year for those of us who love to read Australian women writers. If you haven’t joined the Challenge yet, do consider doing so. It’s easy, just sign on here. You don’t have to write reviews, but we love it if you do. I look forward to seeing you as the year progresses!

Oh, and do check our listing if you would like to see all Literary/Classic reviews posted in 2014.

About Whispering Gums

I read, review and blog about (mostly) literary fiction. It was reading Jane Austen when I was 14 that turned me onto 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 in childhood with Banjo Paterson’s ballads and Ethel Turner’s Seven Little Australians. 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 made sure to include a good percentage of Australian (and other) women writers in my reading diet.