And so we reach the year’s half-way mark. How are you all going with the challenge? Are you meeting your goals? Falling behind? Or, wonder of wonders, ahead of the game? Any which way, we are happy that you are still here, reading Aussie women’s books and visiting our blog. Thankyou.

Now June is another big month in Australia’s literary world, because it is the month that the shortlist for the Miles Franklin Literary Award is announced. As in recent months, I’ll discuss awards news below.

Jumping June

Emily O'Grady, The yellow houseReview numbers continue to go well, with 61 reviews posted to my area this month, compared with 56 last June. Here are the highlights:

  • Our most reviewed author was Elizabeth Jolley with four reviews, for four different works. She was closely followed by four authors who received three reviews: Emily O’Grady, Hannah Richell, Holly Ringland and Kate Van Hooft. A rather nice spread this month, really.
  • Our top reviewers were Ashleigh Meikle (The Book Muse) with 9 reviews, and Theresa Smith (Theresa Smith Writes) with 4 reviews.
  • Six reviews, or approximately 10%, this month were for classics. 

The Classics

While six reviews this month were for Classics, I will save the two Elizabeth Jolleys identified as classics for the next section of this post, leaving just four for this section. They are, in chronological order: Rosa Praed’s Australian life, black and white (1885), Miles Franklin’s All that swagger (1936), Thea Astley’s Hunting the wild pineapple (1979), and Shirley Hazzard’s The transit of Venus (1980).

Now, I have to apologise to calzean who posted the review of Rosa Praed’s Australian life, black and white because she explicitly stated that it’s “not a classic at all”, due, I think, to the values conveyed in this 1885 work from. Calzean writes that Praed

is sympathetic to individual Aboriginals but not to the race. The descriptions of the massacres at Myall Creek are a sad reflection of the ethics of the time. There’s a heap of characters and the author tries to write Aboriginal-English in their dialogue. Not a classic at all.

As she says, it’s the ethics of the time. Technically, I’d agree with calzean that this doesn’t sound like a classic, like a book that will be treasured over time. However, I’m using a broad definition of “classic” for the challenge, and Praed is one of our “classic” Australian women writers.

Miles Franklin, All that swaggerThe other classics are all from the twentieth century. Bill (The Australian Legend) reviewed Miles Franklin’s All that swagger. He says:

Jill Roe believes that this was the book Franklin had to write. The trigger was the death of her father – the novel is a fictionalized account of her Franklin grandfather’s pioneering exploits – but Miles “seized upon the Franklin experience over time as the perfect vehicle for what she wanted to say about contemporary Australia, with its still-uncertain culture and fragile environment.”Astley

Shirley Hazzard, The transit of VenusIn order to keep this post to a reasonable length, and given I’ve recently featured n@ancy who wrote the post, I’ll end with Jonathan Shaw’s post on Shirley Hazzard’s 1980 novel The transit of Venus. He read it with his reading group, and didn’t like it much:

Sadly, though I’m in awe of The Transit of Venus for its passion and complexity and astonishingly subtle prose, I just couldn’t like it. I feel mean saying so, because it feels like a very personal book – Shirley Hazzard and her protagonist Caroline Bell have a lot of history on common. At the same time, it’s the way the author injects herself constantly into the narrative that alienated me.

He’s right about her prose. I suggest that you decide for yourselves, if you haven’t read her already, as I recollect loving it! (Sorry Jonathan.)

Elizabeth Jolley

A surprising four reviews were posted for Elizabeth Jolley this month. I say surprising because she tends not to feature heavily here, with less than 20 being posted over the history of the challenge. And yet, it’s not surprising because in June blogger Lisa (ANZLitLovers) hosted an Elizabeth Jolley Week and this generated the four reviews.

Elizabeth Jolley, PalominoElizabeth Jolley was a late bloomer, with her first novel not being published until she was in her 50s. However, she made up for last time, publishing 15 novels in just over 20 years, as well as short story collections, a book of radio plays, and some non-fiction. The four works reviewed in June included three novels: her debut novel, Palomino (1980), her best known and by far most-reviewed novel here, The well (1986), and a quieter later novel, The orchard thieves (1995).

For this month’s post, I’m choosing the debut novel, Palomino, which was reviewed by Alicia Gilmore. I liked Alicia’s description of the experience of reading Jolley because she can be surprising to read:

The pacing of this novel, partly due to the exquisite prose, caused me to slow down my reading in a way I haven’t done for a while. It took me a little while as a reader to fall into Jolley’s language, but once I had, it was a pleasure.

Awards News: the Miles Franklin shortlist

Storyland Catherine McKinnonSix books were shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award, with four being by women writers. I’ve listed them here, with the number of reviews posted to the Challenge as at the time of posting:

  • Felicity Castagna’s No more boats (Giramondo): just one review
  • Michelle de Kretser’s The life to come (Allen & Unwin): five reviews
  • Eva Hornung’s The last garden (Text): three reviews
  • Catherine McKinnon’s Storyland (HarperCollins Publishers): six reviews

Last month I noted that Felicity Castagna’s book had only received one review, and hoped someone might step in and add another one for us. Clearly I didn’t take up my challenge – and neither did anyone else. I wonder if someone will do so before the winner is announced in late August?

Meanwhile, since Catherine McKinnon’s Storyland was reviewed twice this month, I’ll explore this book a little more. One of the reviewers was Aussie expat in London, Kim (Reading Matters.). She starts off with a lovely succinct description of this unusual book:

Set on the banks of Lake Illawarra in New South Wales, Storyland is essentially a fictionalised history of Australia, spanning four centuries. Its focus is very much on how people are shaped by the environments in which they live and vice versa — or, as one of the characters explains in the first chapter, “The land is a book waiting to be read. Learn to read it and you will never go hungry”.

Kim loved the multiple point-of-view book, for many reasons, but one was “McKinnon’s eloquent and haunting prose. She’s at her best [Kim writes] when she describes landscapes and our connection to particular places.”

The other June reviewer was Tracy Sorenson in the Newtown Review of Books. She commences her review with: “Storyland carries us into new imaginative places – past, present and future.” She examines Storyland’s form, style, genre – the traditions it draws on – in some depth. She too was impressed, saying:

… Storyland is no postmodern, academic treatise. McKinnon plays with form just enough to carry us into new imaginative places. She decentres individual human beings only up to a point, because while each story is only part of something bigger, each one is beautifully crafted and compelling.

If you haven’t read it, do think about doing so. I’ve not really heard a reader who hasn’t become engrossed in this far-reaching book.


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. 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 fell in love with Elizabeth Jolley, Thea Astley, Olga Masters, Helen Garner and Kate Grenville. Ever since then I have included a good percentage of Australian (and other) women writers in my reading diet.