Seven is for many a lucky number … and I’m inclined to agree, because this round-up concludes the seventh year of the Challenge and here we not only still are, but we are still going strong. Seven years! Our books reviewed database, which you can find on the Books Reviewed for AWW Challenge, grew by a little under 20% this year. In other words, we now provide access to reviews for just over 5,200 books, written by Australian women writers, past and present, and across all forms and genres. That’s an impressive resource, wouldn’t you say? It has only been achieved through the hard work of all you who read the books and submit your reviews to our database, of our AWW Challenge team volunteers who work hard behind the scenes to keep it all running smoothly and write the posts to us all informed. A wonderful cooperative effort for which I thank you all.

Now, as I’ve said before my area of Literary and Classics is a slippery one, because there are no universally accepted definitions for either. Consequently, we primarily rely on reviewers’ decisions regarding categorisation. I do tweak this occasionally. For example, where most reviewers have categorised a book as Literary but one or two haven’t, or vice versa, I will make a call. Or where, because “Literary” is a sub-category, some reviewers don’t realise they can apply it, I will apply it. Given this, my assessment is that just under 630 reviews were posted in this category in 2018. That’s around 8% fewer than last year, but given the year saw just 360 reviews posted, I think we can be happy that we’ve maintained ground.

December 2018 Round-up

Just a quick discussion of December’s reviews before we get onto the main business of this post. Some 36 reviews were posted during the month, being a little down on the previous December but still a good look!

Highlights included:

But now, on with wrapping up the year…

Literary Awards in 2018

Michelle de Kretser, The life to comeAustralian women fared well in the year’s literary awards. No one book stood out particularly from the rest but Michelle de Kretser’s The life to come not only won the Miles Franklin Award, but was listed for other awards, including the Stella Prize. Other Australian women who won significant awards include:

  • Libby Angel’s The trapeze actBarbara Jefferis Award
  • Melanie Cheng’s Australia Day: Victorian Premier’s Literary (Fiction) Award
  • Shastra Deo’s The agonist: ALS Gold Medal
  • Eva Hornung’s The last garden: Adelaide Festival Awards
  • Sarah Krasnostein’s The trauma cleaner: Dobbie Award
  • Sofie Laguna’s The choke: Indie Book Awards (Fiction)
  • Fiona McFarlane’s High places: Nita Kibble Award:
  • Sarah Schmidt’s See what I have done: Australian Book Industry Award (Literary Fiction)
  • Alexis Wright’s Tracker: Stella Prize

Alexis Wright, trackerAll of these books have been reviewed for the challenge, though some (Libby Angel’s, Shastra Deo’s and Fiona McFarlane’s) not this year. However, the book from this list that received the most attention from our reviewers this year was Sarah Krasnostein’s biography, The trauma cleaner. It’s about an unknown transgender woman, which is interesting because, while memoirs can often be by unknowns, biographies tend to be about knowns.

For this post, though, I’m going to move on to the only book from the list that was reviewed in December, Alexis Wright’s Stella Prize-winning Tracker. Reviewer Bill Holloway (The Australian Legend) writes:

Tracker’s story, which as you can imagine, does not proceed in straight lines, concerns his wide range of contacts through Indigenous, State and National politics, as well as of course all the actors in the Central Land area, and indeed throughout northern Australia; and his core belief that Aboriginals must achieve economic independence, and that all else is just gifts from their white masters […]

If you’re serious about Reconciliation – and Reconciliation is just a token without Aboriginal property rights – then read this book.

Most reviewed Literary books in 2018

For two years in a row, the honour for most reviewed book has been hotly contested, with three books sharing top honours this year! The most reviewed books were:

  • Robyn Cadwallader, Book of colours; Eleanor Limprecht, The passengers; and Kali Napier, The secret at ocean’s edge: 13
  • Emily O’Grady, The yellow house: 11
  • Jenny Ackland, Little gods; Lauren Chater, The lace weaver; Claire G Coleman, Terra nullius; Jane Harper, Force of nature; Sarah Krasnostein, The trauma cleaner; Natasha Lester, The Paris seamstress; Kirsty Manning, The Jade lily; Heather Morris, The tattooist of Auschwitz; Hannah Richell, The peacock summer; and Kelly Rimmer, Before I let you know: 9

Interestingly, fewer of this year’s most reviewed books than last year’s have appeared on Awards shortlists – just O’Grady, Krasnostein and Coleman have. Is there a conclusion to be drawn from this? Of course, some of these books may be so new they were not eligible for 2018 awards, and we do like to read the newest releases here!

Emily O'Grady, The yellow houseLike last year, all but one are novels, and the majority of these are historical fiction. Emily O’Grady’s The yellow house, though, is Crime and, as it’s the only award-winner reviewed in December, let’s look at it. It was reviewed by Amanda (Mrs B’s Book Reviews) for her Bingo challenge, fitting the “book by an author under the age of 30 box”. Amanda was very impressed by it – and its writer. She sums it up with:

The narration is authentic, the dialogue buffed to perfection, the subject matter is considerate and it is clearly marked with a distinct sinking feeling of pure dread, stemming from the events spiralling around this gripping novel. Astonishing, spine tingling and impressionable, I hope to hear more from Emily O’Grady.

Most reviewed Literary authors in 2018

There was a complete change in our top reviewed authors from last year’s – but one, Helen Garner, did appear here in 2016. This year’s top FIVE positions went to:

  • Robyn Cadwallader (15 reviews for 2 books)
  • Eleanor Limprecht (14 reviews for 2 books)
  • Kali Napier (13 reviews for 1 book)
  • Helen Garner (11 reviews for 7 books)
  • Emily O’Grady and Hannah Richell (10 reviews each)

Close on their heels were several authors with 9 reviews each.

Robyn Cadwallader was among our most reviewed authors in 2015 when The anchoress was published, and here she is wowing us again three years later with her second medieval-era historical novel, Book of colours. It was reviewed once in December, so again – see how I’m sneaking my December round-up into this yearly wrap-up!! – I’ll choose it to represent this group. Rebecca Bowyer (The Story Addict) reviewed it at some at some depth, and said:

This is very much a literary novel rather than an edge-of-your-set page turner. The writing is, at times, poetic. At other times it reflects the rough and ready society of 14th-century London.

This has to be hands-down the best literary insult I’ve ever read:

‘Your words are turds, laddie. You’ve no business shitting them round here.’

Most reviewed Classics

Ethel Anderson, At ParramattaSome 8% of the reviews posted to Literary/Classics were for Classics, which is pleasing. The 51 reviews were for books by 29 authors, and included a few new authors, most little known: Ethel Anderson (1883-1958), Ellen Davitt (1812-1879), Louisa Anne Meredith (1812-1895), and Mollie Skinner (1876-1955). New books were also added for authors already in the system. I love the increasing depth and breadth these sorts of additions bring to our database, making it a great resource for those wanting to explore classic Australian literature. A huge thanks to everyone who read and contributed reviews for classics this year.

Now, intriguingly, unlike last year which had a definite first (Miles Franklin), second (Katharine Susannah Prichard), and third (Thea Astley), this year’s reviews were spread widely with little concentration. Six authors shared top position with 3 reviews for each: Miles Franklin, Helen Garner, Elizabeth Jolley, Rosa Praed, Katharine Susannah Prichard, and Henry Handel Richardson.

Our reviewers

Before I list “my” top reviewers it’s important to note that the figures I give are only their reviews for Classics and Literary. Most if not all will have contributed other reviews too. This year’s top reviewers represent a complete turnover from last year’s, but last year’s top reviewers were all still active this year too, which was great to see. This year’s top reviewers were:

I thank them and, in fact, all of you who contributed even one review this year. Every review helps us achieve our goal of recognising and promoting the diversity of Australian women’s writing.

Joining us in 2018

As you’ve realised by now, 2018 was a good year for my corner of the Challenge.It  I’d love it to continue in 2019, so if you haven’t joined the Challenge in the past, please consider doing so this year. It’s easy and it’s fun – just sign on here.

Meanwhile, I thank each and every one of you who contributed even one review this year. Every one of them helps.

About Whispering Gums

I read, review and blog about (mostly) literary fiction. It was reading Jane Austen when I was 14 that turned me onto 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 in childhood with Banjo Paterson’s ballads and Ethel Turner’s Seven Little Australians. 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 made sure to include a good percentage of Australian (and other) women writers in my reading diet.