How quickly things change. Last month we were just getting a hint here in Australia that we might have to restrict our lives. A month later, and we are all au fait with flattening the curve, PPEs and Zoom meetings. We hope all our lovely challenge participants are healthy and safely hunkering down – and reading lots of Aussie women writers.

March madness

Book coverMarch madness colloquially refers to the fact that there is usually a lot going on in March, here down under, anyhow, where we have lovely autumn weather. This March though, the madness comes from another cause, COVID-19. Instead of being overwhelmed with things to do, we have been going mad trying to work out new ways of living under social isolation. One of those ways, it seems, was to read more, because our March figure of 63 reviews is a significant increase on February’s 42. But wait, no, we had 64 reviews posted last March, so that theory’s blown. Oh well. Whatever the reason, it’s a tremendous number (as he who shall not be named would say!)

Here are some statistical highlights:

  • Our most reviewed authors were Dervla McTieran and Natasha Lester, each with five reviews.
  • Our most reviewed books were Natasha Lester’s The Paris secret (five reviews), followed closely by Dervla McTiernan’s The good turn and Leah Swann’s Sheerwater (each with four reviews).
  • Our top reviewers were Cass Moriarty (GoodReads) with nine reviews, followed by Theresa Smith (Theresa Smith Writes) with six reviews.
  • Three classics were posted this month, all by Bill (The Australian Legend).

The Classics

This month’s classics are an interesting bunch – Ada Cambridge’s Sisters (1904), Dymphna Cusack’s Jungfrau (1936) and Daisy Bates’ The passing of the Aborigines (1938).

Book coverBill’s review of Daisy Bates’ The passing of the Aborigines is the first for this book in our challenge. Bill has made quite a study of Bates, so his review is well worth reading if you don’t know a lot about her, or have only heard the negative stories. Bill tackles some of the modern Indigenous criticisms of the book – including the implication in its very title – but concludes:

Bates as an Australian ‘explorer’ and scientist (anthropologist) should be more widely recognised. The Passing of the Aborigines is a fascinating work by a fascinating person and an important and largely unrecognised record in our national history.

The other two books are both novels, and have been reviewed for the challenge before. Of Ada Cambridge’s turn-of-the-century novel Sisters, which comes late in her 25-or-so-novels career, Bill writes that it is “a complicated story and not Cambridge’s best”. However, it is still well worth reading from my own memory of it.

Book coverJungfrau, by contrast, is Dymphna Cusack’s debut novel. Bill, who seems to have enjoyed this more than Sisters, sees its essential question as being “Should intelligent women marry or pursue careers?” A modernist novel, it is also, apparently, ‘”the first psychological exploration of women’s sexuality and aspirations” in Australian fiction’.

Awards-listed books reviewed

Over the last couple of round-ups, I’ve noted a few books that had been long or shortlisted for awards but had not been reviewed for the Challenge. In March some lovely readers contributed their reviews for a few of these books, so I’d like to highlight them here.

Book coverThe Stella Prize shortlist includes Josephine Rowe’s short story collection Here until August, and I’m pleased to say that we now have a review for it from Kate (booksaremyfavouriteandbest). Kate liked the collection, commenting on the carefulness of the writing, and concluding that:

the most remarkable feature of this collection is the depth and complexity of the interwoven themes. Each story challenges the reader to consider how they might feel in a similar situation (and I say ‘feel’ rather than ‘do’ because the focus is on the emotional rather than action). Change represents a loss but it also marks a new beginning, and that is evident in each of the stories.

Book coverTwo books that were longlisted for the Stella Prize – though didn’t make the shortlist – were also added to our review database in March. The most intriguing one of these is Songspirals by the Gay’wu Group of Women. Denise Newton (Denise Newton Writes) titles her review “No ordinary book – A gift from the heart of Yolŋu culture”, and opens it with:

My heart was full as I read this unusual and generous book. When I had finished, I felt two things: humility and gratitude. Along the way there were many ‘light bulb’ moments, when aspects of Yolŋu culture that had been confusing or which I had previously misunderstood, became a bit clearer.

Book coverShe concludes by noting the importance of language to maintaining a strong culture and says that this book provides “a wonderful way to be introduced to the complexities and richness of one of Australia’s First Languages”.

The other Stella longlisted book reviewed this month is another short story collection, Joey Bui’s Lucky ticket. It was reviewed briefly by Calzean (GoodReads). This book gives voice, writes Calzean, to “a wide range of characters and locations. They are either old, young, female, male. They are in or from Vietnam, Australia, Nepal, Zanzibar, UAE, Argentina.” While particularly enjoying the Vietnamese stories, she liked it overall, calling it “a worthy book for today’s readers.”

Awards News

Three Awards made announcements this month, two Australian, and one international shortlist featuring an Australian. Read on …

NSW Premier’s Literary Awards Shortlist

Carrie Tiffany, Exploded viewChristina Stead Prize for Fiction ($40,000) (3 of 6 by women)

  • Carrie Tiffany’s Exploded View
  • Lucy Treloar’s Wolfe Island 
  • Tara June Winch’s The Yield

Multicultural NSW Award ($20,000) (4 of 6 by women)

  • Maxine Beneba Clarke’s Growing up African in Australia
  • Melanie Cheng’s Room for a stranger
  • Ruby Hamad’s White tears/brown scars
  • Samia Khatun’s Australianama: The South Asian odyssey in Australia

Melissa Lucashenko, Too much lipNSW Premier’s Prize for Indigenous writing (biennial) (2 of 3 by women)

  • Rachel Bin Salleh’s Alfred’s war (illus by Samantha Fry)
  • Melissa Lucashenko’s Too much lip

UTS Glenda Adams Award for New Writing (all by women)

  • Joey Bui’s Lucky Ticket
  • Lauren Aimee Curtis’ Dolores
  • Florina Enache’s An-Tan-Tiri Mogodan: Short stories
  • Yumna Kassab’s The house of Youssef
  • Elizabeth Kuiper’s Little stones
  • S L Lim’s Real differences

A few of the shortlisted books have not been reviewed yet for the challenge: Ruby Hamad’s White tears/brown scars, Samia Khatun’s Australianama, Lauren Aimee Curtis’ Dolores andYumna Kassab’s The house of Youssef. You know what to do!!

Indie Book Awards

Book coverIn the Indie Book Awards, announced in late March, Favel Parrett’s There was still love was both the overall and the fiction winner. This book has garnered several reviews for the Challenge, but not this month.

International Booker Prize shortlist

The six-title shortlist for the International Booker Prize was announced on 2 April, and included Shokoofeh Azar’s The enlightenment of the greengage tree, which was shortlisted for the Stella Prize in 2018.

We haven’t had any reviews for this book since 2018, but given the significance of this shortlisting, I delved back into our archives and will share with you Brona’s (Brona’s Books) remarks on this book:

Azar has given us a classic story of good and evil. Her words are fluid as is her approach to time and truth. Belonging, love and loss are the major themes while the search for solace is the main concern for her characters. Given the horrific events that occurred during the Iranian Revolution, it is easy to understand why and how an author would choose to wrap these unreal events up in mythology. When the real world you live in suddenly gets turned on its head, sometimes the only response is imagination and the only hope is magic.

That response seems equally appropriate today – albeit we are living under a pandemic not a revolution – don’t you think?

Keep safe everyone – and have a happy inside Easter.


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