What news this month? The awards season is winding down but we still have a few to go. In October, for example, we had:

  • the announcement of the biennial Barbara Jefferis award, and it went to Peggy Frew’s Hope Farm which was shortlisted for a few awards this year and has received several reviews for the challenge.
  • the Patrick White Award, which was endowed by White from his Nobel Prize money. It goes to “an author who has made an ongoing contribution to Australian literature, but who may not have received due recognition”. This year’s winner was Carmel Bird, a wonderful writer who has written across the forms including novels, short stories, essays. Four of her books have been reviewed (with 5 reviews) for the challenge this year.
  • the announcement of the shortlist for the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards. There are several categories, but here I’ll just name the women shortlisted for the fiction prize: Lisa Gorton’s The life of houses and Charlotte Wood’s The natural way of things. Wood has, as you’ll know if you’ve been reading our blog, been reviewed many times for the challenge, and Gorton’s book was reviewed a couple of times last year, but not at all this year. Interesting, eh?

It’s October again … where has the year gone

We had 22 reviews in October, with the following highlights:

The Classics

2014-LoveRomance-postcard-FranklinWe had one classic reviewed this month, and it’s one of our favourites here, Miles Franklin’s My brilliant career. Our reviewer was Jennifer Cameron-Smith (GoodReads) who had an interesting comment to make about what was a rereading for her:

I finished this novel resolving to read the rest of Miles Franklin’s works (as well as those she wrote under the pseudonym of ‘Brent of Bin Bin’). This is one of very few novels I’ve read where marriage was not the preferred option for a female. When I first read it (in the 1970s), I took this for granted. Reading it again, I’m more aware of how unusual this was for a novel written in the late nineteenth century.

Do you reread novels and see something new the next time around?

Carmel Bird

BirdFamilySkeletonJust one of Bird’s many books was reviewed this month, her latest novel Family skeleton, but given her Patrick White Award, and the fact that she has been reviewed five times this year, I thought I’d feature her this month. To start with, here is what the judges said on choosing her for the award:

Carmel has contributed widely and uniquely to Australian literature since her first book in 1976. Carmel has since gone on to publish 30 more books – her imagination is extraordinarily wide-ranging and her fiction consequently creates a world that criss-crosses textual, intellectual and geographical boundaries.

The four books reviewed for the challenge this year demonstrate some of her variety: her latest novel, Family skeleton (2 reviews); two collections of short stories, My hearts are your hearts and The essential bird; and her delightful small essay-cum-memoir, Fair game: A Tasmania memoir. I’ll start with Family skeleton because it was reviewed this month.

It was reviewed by Kylie Mason for The Newtown Review of Books. Mason starts by describing Bird as “one of Australia’s most prolific and original authors”. She liked the work immensely, saying:

As ever, Bird’s writing is lyrical and transporting. She vividly paints the privileged world Margaret inhabits and the past she has idealised, as well as gracefully exploring the nature of family, loyalty, spirituality and truth.

Bird HeartFamily skeleton was also reviewed by Nalini Haynes (of Dark Matter Zine). She was a little challenged by it, but was positive overall saying that it would be good for bookclubs as it “will inspire discussion not only about the literary aspects of the novel but about families and secrets.” A book that is interesting on both literary and content levels is, I agree, perfect bookclub material.

Now, this post is getting long, so I’ll just share Jennifer Cameron-Smith’s comments on Bird’s most recent short story collection, My hearts are your hearts. She, who also reviewed The essential Bird for the Challenge this year, says she has fallen in love with Bird’s short stories. Here’s what she says about My hearts are your hearts:

But each of the stories, entire in itself, could be different. Could be larger, perhaps, if Ms Bird chose to take it in another direction or into a different dimension. Each story is perfect as it is, but I felt like each story had another life, somewhere off the page, it could be continued. There’s a form of magic in the mundane, a believability in what is presented.

Tantalising, n’est-ce pas? But also, Cameron-Smith has captured that special something about Bird’s work, which is the difficulty of pinning her down. Just when you think you’ve grasped her point, she’s off on another tangent. It makes her such fun to read. Do try her if you haven’t.

The Triple-Reviewed Books

Georgia Blain, Between a wolf and a dogTo conclude this month, we should focus on the two books which were reviewed thrice!

Georgia Blain’s intriguingly titled, and Queensland Literary Award winning Between a wolf and a dog was reviewed by Alex Daw, Carol (Reading, Writing and Riesling), and Weird Marginalia. Alex describes the plot:

Hilary, a filmmaker, is dying and wants to choose her own death. Her husband has predeceased her and her daughters, now grownup with their own issues, are loving towards her but estranged from each other.

She found it an easy read. She liked that Blain “keeps sentimentality at bay” and enjoyed the lyrical prose, though she didn’t much like the characters. This month’s top review, Carol, loved the book, saying it’s among the best she’s read this year. She writes:

Exquisitely painful, melancholy, reflective, poignant and yet so beautifully written you will not be able to put this book down.

Finally, Weird Marginalia, also loved it, reiterating some of the points made by our other two reviewers, and writing:

The characters are well drawn and believable. They live in a thoroughly realistic and credible world. It is easy to emphasise [empathise?] with their small dramas. The writing is lyrical … This is an engrossing read …

Hannah Kent, The good peopleWhile Georgia Blain has written around 8 novels, The good people is Hannah Kent’s second. Like her hugely successful Burial rites, this novel looks at a crime in a different place and time to her own, this time early nineteenth century Ireland. It was reviewed this month by Emily Paull (Aka The Incredible Rambling Elimy), Julia Tulloh Harper, and Kate (booksaremyfavouriteandbest).

Emily Paull, who enjoyed it, though not quite as much as that hard-act-to-follow first novel, introduces the plot as follows:

The novel tells the story of three women who set about trying to banish a fairy changeling which they believe has been left in the place of one of the women’s grandson.

Sounds like Kent has unearthed another complex story about women in difficult times, doesn’t it?

All three reviewers praised Kent’s writing, particularly her ” evocative descriptions of the forest and the river and the mist” (Julia Tulloh Harper) and her “unbelievably beautiful” writing on landscape and nature (Kate). However, each didn’t engage with it as much as they had with Burial rites. It appears that Kent has written a beautiful second novel, with a fascinating plot, but has not engaged readers quite so much this time around. Those second novels are very tricky, particularly when your first had the success that Kent’s did. I think I need to read this one for myself.

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.