The 2017 Stella Prize longlist

stella-prize-2017I’m a bit late with this, but last week the longlist for the 2017 Stella Prize was unveiled. (Hat tip to Sue at Whispering Gums whose post alerted me to the announcement.)

The $50,000 prize is for Australian women writers and only books, both fiction and non-fiction, published in 2016 were eligible

I had so much fun following this prize last year (all my posts about it are here) that I thought I might do the same again this year. It helps that I’ve already read a couple off the list thanks to my year-long project of reading books from Australia in 2016. I don’t plan on reading everything from the longlist, but will do my best to read everything that is shortlisted.

The dozen titles on the list include reportage, a biography, several memoirs, a handful of novels, a collection of short stories — and two by authors who have since died.

Below is a list of the books, in alphabetical order by author name, which includes a brief description (taken from the judges’ report) and their current availability in the UK. Hyperlinks will take you to my reviews.

Victoria the Queen by Julia Baird
Victoria: The Queen by Julia Baird (HarperCollins)
“Victoria: The Queen brings into vivid focus a woman whose inner life was intense, sometimes volatile, and inseparable from the strategic exercise of European and colonial power. In Baird’s biography we meet a very young queen, faced with the challenge of guiding her nation at a moment in history that didn’t readily accommodate powerful women. We witness her, throughout her long reign, negotiating individual, national and colonial authority. As depicted by Baird, Victoria was a clever, ambitious woman who took advice from mentors, yet was also an emotional and controlling mother and a passionate wife. This is a rich and compelling biography, based on exhaustive archival research and replete with vibrant prose.”
Available in the UK in ebook.

Between a wolf and a dog
Between a Wolf and a Dog by Georgia Blain (Scribe)
“Between a Wolf and a Dog is an accomplished and sympathetic novel about love and motherhood, therapy, the impact of betrayal, and the choices that arise from acts of irresponsibility, or from careful deliberation. Ester is a therapist, advising her clients on the options available to them that they can’t always see for themselves. Her ex-husband, Lawrence, is a pollster who manipulates his data for the thrill of transgression, but who is ultimately required to perform an unselfish and difficult act. Between a Wolf and a Dog is Georgia Blain’s final novel, and it is a triumph: finely structured, suspenseful and morally acute.”
Published in the UK in paperback and ebook.

The Hate Race
The Hate Race by Maxine Beneba Clarke (Hachette)
“The Hate Race is an important account of growing up in suburban Australia during the 1980s and 1990s. Many of the routines of a suburban childhood will be immediately recognisable to readers, except that the colour of Maxine Beneba Clarke’s skin makes her the target for an astonishing level of discrimination. The combination of a recognisable Australian childhood and a world of bullying, ostracism and casual racism is necessarily shocking, transforming this memoir into a significant indictment of national complacency. The Hate Race is a moving memoir of national significance, grounded in a tradition of Afro-Caribbean storytelling that recognises the importance of the personal account: ‘This is how I tell it, or else what’s a story for.'”
Not currently available in the UK; it will be published in hardcover and ebook on 8 June.

Poum and Alexandre
Poum and Alexandre by Catherine de Sainte Phalle (Transit Lounge)
“Catherine de Saint Phalle’s tender portrait of a lifelong partnership deserves to be an instant classic of the biography genre. De Saint Phalle grew up in Paris, the only child of charming but damaged parents: fragile, death-obsessed Poum and ebullient, older Alexandre, whose lives were ruled by their “sin” of being unmarried. De Saint Phalle’s narrative of an unusual childhood with this haunted, sometimes childlike and deeply bonded couple is remarkable for its lack of self-pity and its depth of recollection. The reader is treated to a study of two wonderfully flawed people, meeting in the aftermath of war and negotiating a peculiar union of love and eccentricity. Always seeing Poum and Alexandre as people first, then parents, her book is both funny and tragic at the same time. De Saint Phalle writes with a clear-eyed humanity and wisdom about human nature that is reminiscent of Nabokov’s account of memory and childhood.”
Available in the UK in ebook.

Offshore by Madeline Gleeson
Offshore: Behind the Wire at Manus and Nauru by Madeline Gleeson (NewSouth)
“Offshore is a rigorous and comprehensive narrative on one of the central challenges of our times: the care of those who seek asylum in Australia when life in their own countries becomes untenable. The book is an extended exposé of the machinery of offshore processing in a context that does not always encourage visibility or, indeed, community confidence. The Regional Processing Units on Nauru and Manus Island are revealed as places of desperation, enabled by impersonal international agreements over the disposition of displaced adults and children. This book offers a potent challenge to Australia’s asylum-seeker policy by detailing the locations and procedures of offshore processing of asylum seekers, and the desperation experienced by those who seek safe haven in Australia.”
Available in the UK in ebook.

Avalanche
Avalanche by Julia Leigh (WW Norton)
“In her first work of nonfiction, novelist and filmmaker Julia Leigh tells the story of what would become a gruelling series of IVF attempts in her late thirties: ‘I did this knowing that no matter how hard I hoped, no matter what I tried, chances were I’d never have a child’. The attempt to become a mother outlasts her marriage and governs a great deal of her life. Subtitled ‘A Love Story’, Avalanche is as much about the desire to be a mother and maternal love as it is a clear-eyed account of a love affair gone wrong and an investigation of a medical industry that trades on hope. Leigh is just as scrupulous about holding her own feelings and choices up to the light as she is in raising questions about the gulf between the promises and hard data of the for-profit IVF industry. In writing one of the first literary treatments of IVF, Leigh creates a lyrical, clear-eyed account that cuts through to the core of an emotionally complex, sometimes obscured subject that is of great significance today.”
Published in the UK by Faber and Faber in hardcover and ebook.

An Isolated Incident
An Isolated Incident
 by Emily Maguire (Picador)

An Isolated Incident is a compelling story that considers the part the media plays in sensationalising crime, the plight of those whose lives are forever changed by an act of violence, and community acceptance of violence against women. It is also a murder mystery that deftly transforms the genre, focusing on the family and friends of the victim rather than the crime itself, and tactically diminishing the perpetrator in a careful withdrawal from the sensational. The novel is a celebration of sisters: Bella, the murder victim, and her sister Chris are very different women, but they have a convincing and touching affinity. May, a crime reporter, is also absorbed by the events surrounding Bella’s death and begins to question the limitations of her profession. Emily Maguire cleverly ties together the experiences of Chris and May, bringing into play the impact of Bella’s murder on other members of the community. Australian society’s attitudes towards violence against women are inevitably at the heart of this topical and accomplished novel.”
Not available in the UK.

The High Places
The High Places: Stories
 by Fiona McFarlane (Farrar, Straus and Giroux)

“Fiona McFarlane’s collection of stories, The High Places, is consistently brilliant, inventive and memorable. Representing a decade of work, the stories confidently span different eras and geographies – Sydney; Athens; an unnamed island in the Pacific – and seem to effortlessly represent the inner terrain of people’s secrets and regrets with rich emotional acuity and insight, while also managing to find the black comedy in odd encounters, strange situations and awful reunions. Animals appear throughout: dogs at races; animals in zoos; birds attached to humans. McFarlane uses this motif to show humans acting against their better instincts, often trapping themselves or others in circumstances that should have been avoidable. These are richly observed stories about complex people and situations, told by a gifted writer.”
Published in the UK by Sceptre in hardcover, paperback and ebook.

Wasted
Wasted: A Story of Alcohol, Grief and a Death in Brisbane by Elspeth Muir (Text)
“Elspeth Muir writes, with measured eloquence, of a devastating event: the death of her cherished younger brother who drowned during an alcohol-fuelled celebration of his final university exams. Her family is suspended in a state of painful loss and self-examination. From the particulars of this bereavement, Muir offers an unsparing consideration of the place of alcohol and recklessness in young people’s lives, including her own. If alcohol use is a rite of passage, so is travel, and one of the most engaging aspects of the book is the author’s journey through South America and her keen observations of cultural comparisons. Questions about celebration, bravado and the mitigation of intoxication from within and outside the family are raised in this engaging, generous and multifaceted book.”
Available in the UK in ebook.

The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose
The Museum of Modern Love
 by Heather Rose (Allen & Unwin)

The Museum of Modern Love is narrated by an intriguing unseen presence: an otherworldly companion to artists. This presence describes the intersecting lives of characters who form part of the audience for Marina Abramovic’s remarkable re-enacted retrospective and performance, The Artist Is Present, in 2010 in the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Marina Abramovic’s confronting and highly disciplined artwork invited members of the public to sit facing her in the gallery, and the experience provides some of the characters in The Museum of Modern Love with an almost hallucinatory insight into their own lives. The characters are finely developed, and the question of what constitutes art is refracted through their experiences in ways that never seem contrived. This is an ambitious novel that demonstrates the value of art as a catalyst for love, connection, and an apprehension of mystery.”
Available in the UK in ebook.

Dying A Memoir by Cory Taylor
Dying: A Memoir
 by Cory Taylor (Text)

“Brisbane writer Cory Taylor’s Dying: A Memoir, written in her final weeks of life, is a slim but remarkable book. Taylor’s tone is conversational, but her questions and insights are profound. In this most lonely of situations, what possible comfort can we get from others? Why are doctors, who have the task of keeping people alive, so ill-equipped to help us through death? When we’ve witnessed bad deaths, how do we equip ourselves to die well? Armed with reserves of anger, good humour and curiosity, Taylor doesn’t offer easy answers or sentimental stories. What she does offer the reader is a sense of solidarity. This is a rare book about dying that could be given to someone who is seriously ill, confident in its capacity to provide solace and comfort in shared recognition. It is also a book about the gift of writing and reading. In Dying: A Memoir, Taylor has made the concept of dying bearable, and given us something life-affirming.”
Published in the UK by Canongate in hardcover and ebook.

The media and the massacre by Sonya Voumard
The Media and the Massacre: Port Arthur 1996-2016 
by Sonya Voumard (Transit Lounge)

“Twenty years after the Port Arthur shootings, Sonya Voumard returns to this catastrophe and the way it was reported. A journalist herself, Voumard takes the reader through what it is like on the ground, and the decisions that are involved, in reporting from a major event as it unfolds; she also focuses her attentive eye on the relationship between Carleen Bryant, the mother of the murderer, and the two journalists who used her personal manuscript in a bestselling book about the perpetrator, an action that would result in a legal settlement. The Media and the Massacre interrogates both the practice of journalism and the effects on those who are the focus of journalistic attention. It is a searching inquiry into the ownership of stories that also charts significant changes in newspapers and the journalistic profession over the last decade. It’s both a compelling story and a humane and scrupulous investigation into the responsibilities of journalists.”
Available in the UK in ebook.

The shortlist will be announced on Thursday 8 March and the winner named on Tuesday 18 April.

Have you read any of these books? Or have any piqued your interest?

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16 thoughts on “The 2017 Stella Prize longlist

    • I have her short story collection here but not yet read it; meanwhile I’ve ordered The Hate Race direct from Oz as I’m confident it will get short listed and by the time it is published here the winner will already be announced. BTW, I recommend following her on Twitter; she’s always got interesting things to say.

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  1. I’ve read The Media and the Massacre (excellent), Emily Maguire’s An Isolated Incident (and named it in my Best Books for 2016), The Museum of Modern Love, (yeah, good, but just missing the bus somehow) and Between a Wolf and a Dog (Blain’s best book, IMO). (All reviewed on my blog). But the rest don’t interest me now they’ve been longlisted any more than they interested me beforehand: either I’ve heard so much about them already I am put off by the hype or they are about stuff that doesn’t interest me, no matter how worthy they are. And really, a bio of Victoria?

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    • I’ve just ordered An Isolated Incident from Readings in Carlton cos it’s the only book not available here and I know how much you liked it. I’m intrigued by all the books in this list (I’ve read the last two in it) because this is one way of me keeping in touch with Australian writing that simply does not get a look in on this side of the planet. Unlike you, I don’t get to hear/witness the hype so these all feel fresh and new to me. I’m looking forward to reading as many as I can, though I’ll probably skip the one about Victoria 😂

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  2. Did you get involved with the TwitterFest last year around the Stella shortlist. It was great fun and I made lots of new blogging friends…! I’ve already got a few of these reserved at the library (*rubs hands together*).

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      • Oh, that’s a shame three times over! I’ve binned FB for probably similar reasons, but Twitter is still working for me cos I only follow book nerds – so I operate in a bubble on there (like my Instagram. It’s all sunshine and roses).

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  3. I’ve read Dying and Wasted. I can recommend both but I did find Dying particularly worth reading. I’m most interested in An Isolated Incident after reading Lisa’s review.

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    • I agree about Dying… a wonderful book. I’ve ordered Wasted and An Isolated Incident from Australia… Wasted is available here in ebook but I’d rather read a physical one, and the price is much the same. It helps that Readings charges a flat $22 shipping charge to the UK. I’ve used this service before, and while it’s a costly exercise (especially now that the £ is so low) sometimes it’s nice to treat myself 😉

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  4. Pingback: ‘Wasted: A story of alcohol, grief and a death in Brisbane’ by Elspeth Muir | Reading Matters

  5. Pingback: ‘Wasted: A story of alcohol, grief and a death in Brisbane’ by Elspeth Muir | Reading Matters

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