Woo hoo. we are now in the fifth year of our challenge. What an achievement. I look forward to spending another year with all you Literary and Classic reviewers. We’d love to hear what you think about how the challenge is going. The easiest way to do this would be via comments on one of our posts. Do drop in …

January’s numbers

WoodNaturalWe’ve started the year with 29 reviews, three fewer than last year’s 32 but a perfectly respectable number. Here are some highlights

  • Five of the 29 reviews were for books originally published in the twentieth century, three of which were for books published over 35 years ago and designated by their reviewers as classics.
  • Allen & Unwin was our most popular publisher for the month, with 5 reviews.
  • Our top reviewer for January was last year’s top reviewer, Jennifer Cameron-Smith, with 3 reviews.
  • Our most reviewed author for the month was Charlotte Wood with 3 reviews (for 2 novels), followed by Rosalie Ham, Myfanwy Jones and Dominique Wilson, with 2 reviews each.

The Classics

I was pottering around the internet the other day and came across a Mark Twain quote which defines a classic as “a book which people praise and don’t read”! Well, thank goodness our challenge readers don’t listen to Twain because this month three reviews were posted for classics. I’ll share the three in chronological order starting with the oldest.

And the oldest book is one that is new to me – sussed out by one of our stalwarts, Debbie Robson. The book, published in 1915, is The Green Harper by Mabel Forrest. Forrest was a prolific early twentieth century novelist, but The Green Harper is a small book of around 60 pages. Debbie says it raises a question that interested her for a while: “Why the fascination with fairy and saturnalia in the first two or so years [decades, I think she meant] of the 20th century?” She plans to research this later in the year. One of the features of this book that impressed her was Forrest’s

various swipes at the government of the time and the White Australia Policy. In the short story The Little Black Man (he’s some sort of leprechaun) he says:
“I don’t like all this talk about a White Australia,” he said.

Christina Stead, The Salzburg TalesHow wonderful. Forrest sounds like someone well worth looking into. Anyhow, next up is Christina Stead’s The Salzburg Tales which was published in 1934. It was reviewed by Jennifer Cameron-Smith. This is a collection of short stories “told” by strangers who meet at the Salzburg Festival. Jennifer, who is gradually working her way through Stead’s œuvre, wrote that:

While I found most of the stories interesting, and some utterly absorbing, few of the characters telling the story made much impact on me. They existed, I felt, as vehicles for conveying the story to the reader without themselves being of significance. Or, perhaps, I was so focussed on the stories being told I didn’t pay enough attention to the story teller. One day I’ll reread ‘The Salzburg Tales’, and I’ll pay more attention to the storytellers.

Jessica Anderson, Tirra Lirra by the RiverOur last classic is a little more recent, being Jessica Anderson’s Tirra Lirra by the River, published in 1978. Kelly (of Orange Pekoe Reviews) reviewed this one. Kelly admitted that she didn’t like it a lot the first time she read it – for university – but on this read she felt differently:

A ‘coming home’ story that seamlessly moves back and forward in time without me even noticing. Clever, compact writing.

It’s a comparatively short book, and well worth reading if you haven’t yet. Anderson is one of our great Aussie women writers who is not known as well as she ought to be.

University presses

On my own blog recently, a commenter from the United Kingdom expressed admiration for the involvement of Australian universities in literary publishing, so I thought why not take an opportunity here to blow their trumpets a little – particularly since all three of our most active Australian university presses are represented in this month’s reviews. The presses come from Melbourne University (MUP), University of Queensland (UQP) and the University of Western Australia (UWAP).

From MUP this month comes Christina Stead’s The Salzburg Tales, but I’ve already discussed this book above so won’t linger long here, except to briefly introduce MUP. The Press, which has the wonderful logo “Books with spine”, has been publishing for 80 years. Its main focus is non-fiction, but oh, what non-fiction. From the challenge’s point of view, recent releases include award-winning historian writer Anna Clark’s Private lives, public history, Betty Churcher’s The forgotten notebook, Jenny Hocking’s The dismissal dossier, and the anthology Mothermorphosis edited by Monica Dux.

jane Caro, Just a queenOur UQP book is Jane Caro’s Just a queen, reviewed by Brona. It’s the second book in Caro’s Tudor trilogy and tells of Elizabeth I. Brona writes:

Just A Queen ticks all my boxes – fabulous fictionalised history, a fascinating female character, well written and an engaging story from start to finish.

UQP is nearly 70 years old, having been established in 1948. It started as a traditional academic press, but it later “branched into publishing books for general readers in the areas of fiction, non-fiction, poetry, Indigenous writing and youth literature” and claims to have “launched the careers of many celebrated Australian writers, such as David Malouf, Peter Carey, Kate Grenville, Doris Pilkington and Nick Earls”. It’s their support for literary and indigenous fiction that has most impressed me over the last three decades.

CurtinSinkingsUWAPLast, but not least, from UWA comes Amanda Curtin’s The sinkings reviewed by Jemima on her Oddfeather blog. The novel tells the story of a contemporary woman researching an early 19th century convict. Jemima liked it, saying:

Although it is at times harrowing to read, I highly recommend this book, if not least of all to educate oneself in research methods, and at best to examine the way the world reacts to those who do not fit into a neat binary of ‘male’ or ‘female’.

I’m not sure how long UWAP has been publishing but they describe themselves as fostering “local writing that explores Western Australian and Australian identity” and as seeking “fresh voices of international origin”.

2016 Releases

The year is but one month old, and already we have three reviews for books published in 2016. Two are for Dominique Wilson’s second novel, That Devil’s Madness. Challenge founder, Elizabeth Lhuede reviewed it, and wrote eloquently about its worth:

This story interests me on numerous levels. It illuminates the complexity of post-colonialism and Christian-Muslim relations in North Africa; it gives a historical context for present-day political unrest, dissatisfaction with injustice and the root causes of terrorism; and it acts as a reminder for Australian readers of the tentativeness of our claims to sovereignty over Indigenous lands, and the historical and cultural blindness that attends our attitudes to “boat people”.

Jo (at Book Lover Book Reviews) was also impressed. She’d read and enjoyed Wilson’s first novel The Yellow Papers and was looking forward to what she produced next. Jo writes that “That Devil’s Madness, her venture into the tumultuous history of her birth place Algeria, surpassed my expectations”.

Roseanne, A funeral in FiesoleThe other 2016 release reviewed was Rosanne Dingli’s The Funeral in Fiesole. It is this Western Australian author’s seventh novel and was reviewed by Maureen Helen who is clearly a Dingli fan. She writes:

The novel is set in a crumbling villa. The frescos, the ceilings, the gardens desperately need care and attention. This setting is so real that the villa is almost another character. It needs to be restored, to be brought back to life, lived in.

The language used by this author is, as always, beautiful, and slightly unconventional.

And that’s it from me for now … I look forward to sharing another round-up with you next month. Until then, happy reading.


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.