The literary awards keep coming, and in May we had the winner of the NSW Premier’s Literary Awards announced, as well as longlist for the Miles Franklin Award. For more about these, check under Around the Awards below.
Another lovely bunch of reviews in May, with 81 posted. However, 19 of those were from Bill Holloway (The Australian Legend) posting his “back catalogue” of Aussie classics, and 11 were from Kali Napier who posted her reviews from earlier this year. It’s great to see all these reviews being captured. This means that for May itself we had 51 books read and reviewed, which is still pretty darn marvellous! Some highlights are:
- Our most reviewed author was the same as last month, Sara Schmidt with five reviews for her book See what I have done. Next was Heather Rose’s The museum of modern love, with four reviews, and several authors who were reviewed three times, Claire Corbett, Ashley Hay and Eliza Henry-Jones.
- Top-reviewer for the month was Theresa Smith (Theresa Smith Writes) with four reviews.
- Special mention: Because Bill (The Australian Legend) linked many reviews from the past this month, I have not included his reviews in the previous dot-points, but his work is worth mentioning. His 19 contributions included six reviews for Miles Franklin, and three reviews for contemporary writer Jane Rawson, as well as reviews for lesser known turn-of-the-century Australian writers like Ada Cambridge and Rosa Praed.
Another stellar month for classics, as you will have gathered by now. Some seventeen reviews for classics were posted, by three different reviewers. As I mentioned above, Bill (The Australian Legend) linked his back catalogue of reviews and while none were actually posted in May, I can’t not acknowledge his work. So, I have chosen one of his recent posts, from April, to feature this month, The three Miss Kings by Ada Cambridge.
The three Miss Kings, published in 1883, was the tenth of Cambridge’s 25 novels. I wonder how many of our participants have heard of Ada Cambridge, let alone read her? If you haven’t, she is worth checking out. Anyhow, this story concerns the lives of three sisters, and the moral and religious challenges they confront in finding partners. Bill writes:
Cambridge is not the writer that her fellow chronicler of C19th Melbourne, Tasma, is. That is, she is not as ‘literary’. But her writing is straightforward, the story itself is enjoyable…
Another classic posted this month was Eleanor Dark’s The little company. Dark is best known for her book The timeless land, but reviewer Julian Leatherdale was impressed with this book, which is set in Sydney and Katoomba during World War II. He writes:
Well, this is my first Eleanor Dark and it is a revelation. Her writing style is beautiful and dense, and so rigorous it is able to capture the most subtle and indeterminate of psychological states. The writing is never hurried; many scenes are lengthy, discursive conversations about writing and politics or finely observed interactions between characters and there is much internal examination as well. And yet there never a dull moment. These interrogations of politics, especially of communism and nationalism, have an urgency and vividness that make this book still feel modern.
Looking at genre
What makes a genre book literary? This is one of those questions that everyone will answer differently, and which poses this section of our blog the most angst. The simplest answer relates to books which breaks the bounds of genre in some significant way. My problem is that I don’t read enough “genre” books – such as crime and speculative fiction – to always know when these bounds are crossed. Consequently, I mostly rely on what our participants say. And this month, they said that Claire Corbett’s latest novel, Watch over me, a futuristic novel about war over the last great fossil fuel reserves, fills the literary bill.
Mrs B’s Book Reviews describes it as “a very modern, almost futuristic take on love, life and survival in a time of conflict. … an ambitious novel, with strong intentions” though felt it didn’t quite live up to the expectations she had at the start. Sally Nimon, writing in the Newton Review of Books, felt her credulity was stretched a little at the end but says that
This is a powerful portrayal of what can happen in war and in the skilful hands of Claire Corbett the message is clear: there but for the grace of God …
Our third reviewer, Michelle (Beauty & Lace) also found it a strong read. She starts with:
Watch Over Me is a novel that is disturbing, intriguing and engrossing all at once. It’s set in a time that could well be right now, or a few years in the future. The technology is recognisable if a little more advanced, there is nothing scarily futuristic.
If there’s one thing that speculative fiction can do very well, it’s capturing the major concerns of the day – and in “our day” one of those major concerns relates to energy and climate change. This book joins many we’ve been seeing in recent years which use some aspect of the energy and/or climate change crisis as a springboard. Another book linked to the Challenge this month, which deals with this topic, is Jane Rawson’s A wrong turn at the Office of Unmade Lists. Bill (The Australian Legend) is very clear on why this near-future dystopian book is not “pure” genre. He writes
One last thing, don’t be misled by the prize for SF writing. I have read SF incessantly since those long ago uni days and, on the evidence of this book, Rawson is one of those writers like my favourite Williams, Burroughs and Gibson, who write on the edge of what is possible in ‘mainstream’ fiction. Unmade Lists is not Fantasy, is not Space Opera, is definitely not genre fiction. Read it and see.
Around the awards
The NSW Premier’s Literary Awards were announced, with those of particular interest (and relevance) to us here, being:
- Christina Stead Prize for Fiction: Heather Rose’s The museum of modern love (which also won this year’s Stella Prize)
- UTS Glenda Adams Award for New Writing: Michelle Cahill’s Letter to Pessoa
Both of these have been reviewed for the challenge.
The Miles Franklin Award longlist comprising nine books was announced in early May. Five are by women writers, and, wonderfully, all have been reviewed at least once for the challenge:
- Emily McGuire’s An isolated incident
- Josephine Rowe’s A loving, faithful animal
- Inga Simpson’ Where the trees were
- Kirsten Tranter’s Hold
- Josephine Wilson’s Extinctions
Coming in June
For all new releases, please check our dedicated page, but some interesting new books this month include:
- Sara Dowse’s As the lonely fly (You can find a review on my blog, and a Saturday spotlight with Sara on this blog)
- Melanie Joosten’s Gravity well (We have no reviews yet for her debut novel, Berlin syndrome. Can you help?)
- Anna Spargo-Ryan’s The gulf (You can find an early review on Debbish’s blog)
I read, review and blog about literary fiction (mostly) on Whispering Gums. 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.
Another fabulous roundup. Top reviewer for May! I will wear that with pride but sadly I have let you down on the classics front.
Haha, Theresa, you can’t win them all! Leave some for other people!
Also, I like your simple marker for identifying when a genre novel has ‘become’ (for want of a better descriptor) literary. Do you think we’re seeing more of this? I feel many books are not being pigeon holed as much, probably owing to more experimentation on the part of writers, and maybe also to more flexibility about genres. Or maybe I’m just picking the right books which has led me to notice this! 😉
Thanks Theresa. Good question. I don’t think I’m expert enough in any genre to really be authoritative but you could very well be right that there’s both more experimentation and more flexibility. It’s part of the modern world, perhaps, to not be pigeon-holed?!
Thanks for all the mentions. Hope all your readers rush out and buy Jane Rawson’s genre-busting books. I don’t know about other genres but I think in the past some very good authors were ignored as being only SF – PK Dick for example. Perhaps the first breakouts were Ballard and Lessing. Glad that’s not so much the case now.
A pleasure Bill, thanks for your reviews. And yes, I hope so too.
BTW Margaret Atwood is another who has written in this SF space, isn’t she.