With the year drawing to a close, so is the literary awards season. However, one shortlist was announced in October – for the MUBA (Most Underrated Book Award) – and we are still waiting for this year’s Prime Minister’s Literary Awards. Will they make it by the end of the year?

All four shortlisted books for MUBA are by, or include, Australian women writers. You can read about them on the MUBA site:

  • The Island Will Sink by Briohny Doyle
  • The Invisible War by Ailsa Wild, Briony Barr, Gregory Crocetti, Ben Huchings, Jeremy Barr
  • Loopholes by Susan McCreery
  • Horse Island by Christina Kennedy

Only the first, Briohny Doyle’s, has been reviewed for the challenge, and the last is probably not relevant to “Classics and Literary”. However, it would be great to see them all reviewed for the Challenge.

Outstanding October

October was a stellar month with 73 reviews posted for Classics and Literary books. Wow. Here are some highlights, statistically speaking:

  • Our most reviewed authors were Jesse Blackadder (for her book Sixty Seconds) and classic Australian author May Gibbs (forThe Complete Adventures of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie and The Gumnut Babies)
  • Our top reviewer by far is also of our most popular authors, Kate Forsyth, who posted 12 reviews (albeit she was posting a bit of a backlog of her reviews). It is though wonderful seeing our Aussie authors supporting each other in this way.
  • Eight reviews were posted for Classics, continuing the increase in the number of classics read and reviewed this year.
  • Fifteen per cent of the books reviewed were published before 2000.

The Classics

May Gibbs, The Complete Adventures of Snugglepot and CuddlepieThe eight classics reviewed comprised four for May Gibbs, two for Christina Stead, and one each for Miles Franklin and M. Barnard Eldershaw.

It’s particularly gratifying to see reviews for classic children’s books coming through, reflecting Australia’s excellent tradition of children’s writing. Mrs B’s Book Reviews and Ashleigh Meikle (The Book Muse) both reviewed the same two May Gibbs’ books. Mrs B wrote that she’s loved May Gibbs since she was a child:

I discovered this book [The complete adventures of Snugglepot and Cuddlepie] as a young girl growing up in Australia in the 1980’s and it is a story that has stayed with me my whole life. I always look fondly upon my reading adventures with the endearing Snugglepot and Cuddlepie. Now, as an adult and a mother to two young children, the magic in re-reading this text and sharing the journey with my own children has been a magical experience.

Ashleigh Meikle said

May Gibbs is Australia’s Beatrix Potter, both interested in conservation and their natural surrounds at a time of great change and upheaval in their countries, as the city of Sydney, in particular the area of Neutral Bay, grew up around Nutcote, where May Gibbs lived – her answer to Hilltop.

Christina Stead, Seven poor men of SydneyJulian Leatherdale and Bill Holloway (The Australian Legend) reviewed Christina Stead. Julian writes in his GoodReads review of Seven poor men of Sydney:

I now understand why generations of Australian writers hold Stead in such high esteem. This, her second novel, is a breath-takingly ambitious modernist masterpiece displaying a literary chutzpah that invites comparison with James Joyce’s debut, ‘Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man’.

Great praise, eh, and from my experience of Stead, well-deserved. While Seven poor men of Sydney was Stead’s second novel, Miss Herbert was her second last one. Bill writes:

The writing does not have the virtuoso quality of Lettie Fox or even of Cotters’ England but that is not to say it is not well written, but rather that it reflects very well the unreflective and maybe even stolid mental processes of its protagonist.

History, Memoir, Biography

Briohny Doyle, Adult fantasyWe have two non-fiction genres at the Challenge, one being History, Memoir or Biography. Not all books in the category would be categorised as “literary” but five were this month. One, Adult fantasy, is by Briohny Doyle whose novel The island will sink has been shortlisted for the MUBA. Adult fantasy, subtitled Searching for true maturity in an age of mortgages, marriages and other adult milestones, was reviewed by Ashley Kalagian Blunt. She writes that

Doyle successfully frames her search for ‘a meaningful adult existence’ in the context of the major issues faced by individuals in Western society today, and particularly by millennials. In doing so, she lays a consoling hand on the shoulder of others like me.

Gabrielle Carey, Moving among strangersThis book, Blunt writes, combines memoir with journalism. I reviewed another hybrid work, Gabrielle Carey’s Moving among strangers in which Carey combines a memoir of her family with a biography of Australia’s double Miles Franklin winner, Randolph Stow. I wrote that:

There are many angles … from which I could write on this engaging but slippery book. There’s Carey’s sharing of her own history – the loss of her mother, her tricky relationship with her sister, the death by suicide of her father, and so on. There’s the form of the work and how it fits into what seems to be a new breed of biography-memoirs that is popping up. And of course, there’s Stow, himself. He comes across as an elusive character, and that’s probably because he was.

Indigenous authors

Claire Coleman, Terra NulliusIndigenous authors are increasingly being reviewed for the challenge. In October there were five reviews for four books by indigenous authors. One of these, Claire G Coleman’s debut novel Terra Nullius, was reviewed twice. Shannon (Giraffe Days) writes:

Coleman’s Terra Nullius is instantly recognisable as a colonial narrative written from a post-colonial – and indigenous – perspective. The setting – the hot, arid and vast terrain of Western Australia – is so richly drawn I felt that suffocating heat, the scarcity of water, the desperate need for shade. The characters are divided into two – the Settlers and the Natives – and the ideological and cultural misunderstandings between them, especially on the side of the Settlers, is palpable.

We need to see more of these stories from indigenous perspectives …

Tara June Winch, After the carnageCalzean contributed two reviews – for Tara June Winch’s Swallow the air and After the carnage. She writes of After the carnage that it “could be called the world in 13 stories” and of Swallow the air she says

The stories provide a chilling tale of life growing up as an Aboriginal. Alcohol, domestic violence, petty crimes, drugs, unemployment, suicide, racism, Government disinterest. The writing is poetic in describing the world May lives in. A book of great impact.

If you haven’t read any of these books, do consider doing so next time you are wondering what to read next. I don’t think you’ll be disappointed.


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.