memory-trap-goldsmithThere are still a few awards to be announced this year. Winners in the Melbourne Prize for Literature were announced in November. Andrea Goldsmith won the 2015 Best Writing Award Winner for her novel The Memory Trap. Also announced in November were the shortlists for the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards which seems to be a bit of a movable feats in terms of timing. Three novels by women were shortlisted for the Fiction award, and all have been reviewed for the challenge:

  • In Certain Circles, by Elizabeth Harrower
  • Golden Boys, by Sonya Hartnett
  • The Golden Age, by Joan London

Other books by women writers that were shortlisted include: Anne Henderson’s Menzies at War for Australian History; Darleen Bungey’s John Olsen: An Artist’s Life and Helen Garner’s This House of Grief: The Story of a Murder Trail for Non-fiction; and Judith Beveridge’s Devadatta’s Poems for Poetry.

This will be the last of our monthly roundups for Classics and Literary in 2015, as the next round-up will be an annual report. I wonder what that will show for the year …

November numbers

Twenty-eight reviews were posted this month.  Here are some highlights:

  • Charlotte Wood’s The natural order of things was our most reviewed book in November, with three reviews. It will be one of the most reviewed books for the year, though there are a few contenders for this award. Watch this space next month!
  • Kate Forsyth and Helen Garner were both reviewed twice, each review was for a different book.
  • This month’s most prolific reviewer was Sam Still Reading with three reviews. Several reviewers posted two reviews: Brona (Brona’s Books), Carolyn, Meghan Brewster (Manuscrapped), and Monique (Write Note Reviews)

The Classics

Three classics were reviewed this month. Woo hoo! Brona reviewed Australia Felix, the first book in Henry Handel Richardson’s The Fortunes of Richard Mahony trilogy, and writes about it in detail, discussing its history, its themes and its style. She had some problems with the style, noting that some of HHR’s stereotypes would be politically incorrect today, and finding it a bit wordy or ponderous at times, but, she wrote:

I thoroughly enjoyed the descriptions of the Australian environment and weather – I could picture the bush, the heat, the flies, the creeks, the frosty mornings, the birds etc. I also really liked seeing the birth of Ballarat and the views of early life in Melbourne.

And plans to read the second book. I hope we see a review of that next month!

CurlewisDrowningDebbie Robson, who reviewed two books by Jean Curlewis, Ethel Turner’s daughter, last year, reviewed a third one in November. It’s great to see this lesser known author being covered by the challenge. This latest one Robson reviewed is Drowning Maze. Set in the 1920s, it appealed to Robson who wrote:

This book is a lot of fun, a rollicking school boy adventure set in an unrecognisable Frenchs Forest, Pittwater and Newport.

It’s this historical setting – the description of places she knows but in an earlier time – that seems to be its particular appeal for Robson.

postcards-from-surfers-garnerThe third classic is one of those borderline ones. It’s Helen Garner’s collection of short stories, Postcards from Surfers, which was published in 1985. Since reviewer, Melissa Fegan, classified it as a classic, and since it is a book that she treats very much as we’d define a classic, that is, as one she returns to again and again, I think we’ll accept 30 years old as a classic. I mean, how could we not, having read this paragraph in her review for Meanjin Quarterly:

Yet, it is a book that I keep coming back to. Each time I rediscover myself, or at least a younger version of myself, in the series of unnamed narrators—many of them young women, many clearly versions of Garner herself. I smile each time at her description of a male musician in ‘Did he pay?’, who would ‘hold your gaze a second longer that was socially necessary, as if promising an alliance’, who ‘was so passive that anyone could project a fantasy onto him, and so constitutionally pleasant that she could well imagine it reciprocated’? I have fallen, too many times, for that man.

I’ve read and reviewed this book too and I agree – it is a delicious read.

Short stories

Since we’re talking short story collections, lets stay with this just a little longer, as, including Garner’s book, we had four short story collections reviewed over the month, the other three being Tegan Bennett Daylight’s Six bedrooms, Ceridwen Dovey’s Only the animals, and Kate Liston-Mills’ The Waterfowl are Drunk.

DaylightSixBedroomsTracy Sorensen reviewed Daylight’s Six bedrooms for The Newtown Review of Books. This collection contains a mix of  interconnected and standalone stories about share-houses, some set in the 1980s and others more recent. Sorenson loved the collection, concluding:

I found it easy to binge-read these stories, going from one to the next without stopping. The book is like a concept album, building in theme and tone if not in the storylines of particular characters. It’s a portrait of the messiness of life, and the inevitability of that messiness.

Only the Animals Ceridwen DoveyJanine Rizzetti (Resident Judge of Port Phillip) reviewed Ceridwen Dovey’s Only the animals. It is, she says, “This book is a series of short stories written by the souls of dead animals mentioned obliquely in literature”. Not a particularly promising premise she felt, and it wasn’t always easy if you didn’t pick up the allusions. Overall, she found it an uneasy reading experience, but concluded that

There’s enough curiosity about seeing the author perform that keeps you reading,  because this is a book of literary performance.

The last of these books, Kate Liston-Mills’ The Waterfowl are Drunk, is completely unknown to me. Brewster, who met Liston-Mills eighteen years ago in an English class describes it as “a poetic treasure consisting of seven short interwoven stories”. Poetic eh? Brewster admits to not being a fan of short fiction, but she describes some of the stories, such as:

Anyone who has ever caught a rural bus to school will love reading I Don’t Even Like Scotch Finger Biscuits.  Liston-Mills is spot on in her depiction of Georgia, a high school student forced to spend the afternoon with her Nan.

Overall, Dovey concludes that the book

is unlike anything I have read before, heartbreakingly funny, vivid and moving. In Pambula, people matter and hospitality is expressed in tea and bickies.

A random selection

thewomenspages-debraadelaideUsually I choose books to specially mention here on the basis of some theme or topic but to end off this review I’m going to choose a couple, sort of randomly. Let’s start in that time-honoured random tradition with the first one on the list! It is Debra Adelaide’s The women’s pages and was reviewed by Michelle McLaren for The Newtown Review of Books. It tells the story of Dove, whose adoptive mother had died a year previously. McLaren writes that “Dove is haunted – not by her mother, but by Wuthering Heights, her mother’s favourite novel”. Dove is also, we learn, writing her own novel. Adelaide tells her story in chapters which alternate Dove’s own story with that of the novel she is writing.

McLaren enjoyed the novel, writing that:

Taking on a literary classic is by no means easy, but Adelaide emerges triumphant. Her novel-within-a-novel is a poignant, richly feminist tribute to Wuthering Heights that deserves a place beside it on the shelf.

KennedyRiverWaterMy next so-called randomly selected book is Cate Kennedy’s The taste of river water, a book of poetry which was reviewed by one of our regular male reviewers here, Sean the Bookonaut. Sean introduces the book by saying that:

The collection presents poetry with a strong narrative structure and focus i.e. these poems tell stories, the diction and register is fairly plain/natural in its delivery.

Kennedy is often criticised for the plain, prose-like nature of much of her poetry. However, Sean enjoyed the book stating that Kennedy is a good storyteller, and demonstrates great skill ‘at crafting story through poetry”. He concludes with:

Are they memorable poems? I suppose time will tell.  They were all, however, enjoyable.
Not a wasted cent here.

Sounds like something I’d like to give a go.

FrewHopeFarmFinally, let’s randomly choose a review from our biggest reviewer of the month, Sam Still Reading. One of her three reviews was for another book and author I barely know, Peggy Frew’s Hope farm. It’s possibly a questionable inclusion as a “classic” but we’ll leave it here for the moment at least. It tells the story of a nomadic mother and daughter who start to settle down. Published by independent publisher Scribe, Sam describes it as:

Beautifully written, Peggy Frew gets the atmosphere of the ‘hippie farm’ and Silver’s teenage frustrations just right.

Sounds like a good place on which to end this month’s round-up. I wonder what you have all been reading?

I’ve mentioned only a few of the books reviewed this month. To see all books reviewed for the challenge, please check our books reviewed search 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.