And so, the last month of the year has started. Those of you who have been following our challenge for a while now, will know that our November round-ups are our last “normal” round-ups of the year, as our December round-ups (posted of course in January) will round up the year – how many books were reviewed, which books were reviewed the most, and other tantalising facts and figures. Yes, I know, you can hardly wait – but you have to!

Meanwhile, a lot happened in November, particularly on the Awards front. You can read about all that below.

November’s Numbers

Liane Moriarty, Nine perfect strangersOur number of reviews posted, 33, was somewhat down – on both October’s figures (41) and last November’s (50), but is still very respectable. Here are some highlights:

  • There wasn’t a strong concentration on particular authors this month, but two received two reviews each, so our most reviewed authors were Liane Moriarty for Nine perfect strangers, and Katharine Susannah Prichard for two short stories.
  • Our top reviewers were Amanda (Mrs B’s Book Reviews) and Bill Holloway (The Australian Legend), and moi (Whispering Gums) with four reviews each.
  • Over 20% of this month’s reviews were for Classics. Woo hoo … so read on ….

The Classics

Mary Grant Bruce, Mates at BillabongDespite our fewer number of reviews this month, the number of Classics reviewed jumped significantly from one to seven! And what an interesting bunch they were – four children’s or young adult novels and three short stories. The children’s books were Mary Grant Bruce’s Mates at Billabong (reviewed by Brenda at GoodReads); Ruth Park’s Playing Beatie Bow (reviewed by Nadia L King), PL Travers Mary Poppins (reviewed by Ashleigh Meikle of The Book Muse); and Ethel Turner’s Seven little Australians (reviewed by Amanda of Mrs B’s Book Reviews).

Mates at Billabong is the second in Mary Grant Bruce‘s classic children’s series, and Brenda’s review is the second for this book posted to our Challenge. Brenda got her copy from Project Gutenberg, and greatly enjoyed it, saying that “for a book which is 106 years old, it was a delight – totally enjoyable with quite a few laugh out loud moments.”

Ruth Park, Playing Beatie BowNadia greatly enjoyed Ruth Park‘s award-winning Playing Beatie Bow. Its depictions of family life have aged, but she

enjoyed the vividness of Park’s Sydney and adored the romantic thread throughout the story. Park’s themes of relationship, friendship and family are just as relevant today as they were back in the 1980s.

PL Travers, Mary PoppinsAshleigh Meikle reviewed the new deluxe edition of PL Travers’ Mary Poppins which has been “published ahead of the release of the hotly anticipated Disney film Mary Poppins Returns“. She says that it’s “a delightful edition, and the illustrations are whimsical and fun, but still capturing the essence of the original story that P.L. Travers intended for her characters”. Oh, and she likes the story itself too!

Seven Little AustraliansAnd then there was that turn of the century English classic, Ethel Turner’s Seven little Australians. Amanda used it for her “forgotten classic” Book Bingo square! Hmm, that’s a bit cheeky! Has it been forgotten? Never mind, I’ll accept it because “any” classic is good for me – and she does admit that the definition is problematic. She enjoyed it, saying that its “best aspect … was the wonderful depiction of life in Sydney and NSW in the 1800s.”

Ethel Anderson, At ParramattaNow, having given so much time to these children’s books, I’d better give the short stories, short shrift – although they deserve more. Bill (The Australian Legend) posted on Ethel Anderson’s At Parramatta, which, he says, has been variously described as a novella, and “a collection of ‘discontinuous narratives.” Anderson (1883-1958), says Bill, was born into the Australian squattocracy. He focuses on two stories in his review. My two reviews were of Katharine Susannah Prichard’s “The bridge” and “Christmas tree”, that I found in the NLA’s Trove database. They would make a good choice for …

… Bill’s Australian classics project, AWW Gen 2 Week, which runs from Jan 13 to 19, 2019 and will focus on women’s writing from the 1890s up to and including the Great War.


Emma Viskic, Resurrection BayWhat makes Crime literary? This is one of those tricky questions that doesn’t have an answer, so mostly I go with what the majority of our reviewers say. If most mark their review on our review-submission form as literary, that’s usually good enough for me, but if most don’t mark it that way, then I usually ignore it for my round-up. I hope that doesn’t offend any reviewers or authors out there.

My rule-of thumb is that a “literary” crime novel will break its genre’s mould in some way – in, perhaps, writing style, voice, structure, or the way the plot is developed. Take Mrs B’s review of Emma Viskic’s Resurrection Bay, for example. The book has been categorised as literary by most of our reviewers. Mrs B spends some time describing the book’s strengths, particularly regarding characterisation, setting and plot, and then writes:

Resurrection Bay works well as a crime and procedural novel. I am certain even esteemed crime readers will find this book wholly engaging, complex and a little different from the norm.

Emily O'Grady, The yellow houseAnother example this month is Emily O’Grady’s The Australian/Vogel prize-winning novel, The yellow house, reviewed by me, in fact. I’m not a big reader of crime, but this book didn’t really seem like a crime novel. While serious crimes are central to the story, the book’s focus is not the crime, but the impact of serious crime on the family/descendants of the perpetrator. In that sense it reads more like a family drama than a crime novel. What makes it literary, in particular, is the voice O’Grady tells her story in. It’s not easy writing an adult book through the eyes of a child (Cub, in this case). Here is part of what I said:

… we know at the beginning something that Cub doesn’t know when the narrative “really” starts. Why does O’Grady take this approach? I’m guessing it’s to focus us less on that plot. We know what Cub doesn’t know – or at least enough of it. We can therefore focus on how a family lives with this knowledge rather than on trying to work out, as Cub has to do, what the secret is. It makes Cub a perfect naive narrator: she has the curiosity and loyalty of a child but lacks the wisdom necessary to make the right calls.

I’d love to know what you think about defining “literary” crime?

Awards News

Several awards were announced in November, with two – the MUBA Award and the Patrick White Literary Award – going to male writers. We congratulate them (of course), but in this post our focus is on women (of course!) Here are the awards in which women featured:

Barbara Jefferis Award

The winner was announced in early November. This is a biennial award for “the best novel written by an Australian author that depicts women and girls in a positive way or otherwise empowers the status of women and girls in society”. And it was Libby Angel’s The trapeze act. It has been reviewed – twice for the challenge – but not this year.

Mark and Evette Moran Nib Literary Award

This award, managed by Sydney’s Waverley Council, celebrates “the best in Australian research and writing” and so has a slightly different angle to other awards. It was established in 2002, and is open to “all Australian writers regardless of their experience, chosen subject matter or genre.” Judging criteria are “excellence in research, high level of literary merit, readability and value to the community.” In 2018, 9 prizes were awarded across 4 categories.

The winners relevant to us were:

  • Mark and Evette Moran Nib Literary Award ($20,000): Helen Lewis’ The dead still cry out, which has not yet been reviewed for the Challenge.
  • Nib People’s Choice Prize ($1,000): Bri Lee’s Eggshell skull. GoodReads reviewer Cass Moriarty reviewed this book in November, and noted that since its publication Lee has been on the author interview circuit, taking the opportunity to  drive “a conversation about abuse and the justice system.”
  • Alex Buzo Shortlist Prize (6 prizes) ($1,000 each) of which FOUR went to women: Sarah Krasnostein’s The trauma cleaner: One woman’s extraordinary life in death, decay & disaster; Tanya Bretherton’s The suitcase baby; plus Lewis and Lee, of course. Both Krasnostein’s and Bretherton’s books have been reviewed for us.

Melbourne Prize for Literature

This prize, along with the suite of Melbourne Prizes across the arts, aims “to recognise and reward excellence and talent; to inspire creative development; [and] to enrich public life.” It has four categories, all of which were won by women writers this year:

  • Melbourne Prize for Literature: Alison Lester, who is a multi-awarded creator of children’s books, and has been reviewed for the challenge many times
  • Best Writing Award: Maria Tumarkin’s Axiomatic (Brow Books). Tumarkin has been reviewed for us, but not Axiomatic. Anyone?
  • Readings Residency Award: Jamie Marina Lau, who is a writer, artist and author. Her debut novel Pink Mountain on Locust Island hasn’t been reviewed for the challenge either.
  • Civic Choice Award (voted by the public): Louise Milligan for Cardinal (MUP), which has been reviewed for the challenge twice.

And so ends another round-up. There are a few books here – by Helen Lewis, Maria Tumarkin and Jamie Marina Lau – that would love to be added to our review database. Anyone willing?


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.