Once again, I’m slightly late to the party with this, but the longlist for the 2018 Stella Prize was unveiled in Australia last week.
The list of 12 titles is a fascinating mix of fiction and non-fiction, including a couple of biographies and a collection of short stories. But the thing that stands out most is the fact that small presses dominate — just one title is published by a big, mainstream publisher.
Unsurprisingly, I haven’t read any on the list, because, with the exception of just a couple of titles, they haven’t been available in the UK. (Pleasingly, I see they are all now available in Kindle format.)
As ever, I plan on reading the entire shortlist when it is announced on Thursday 8 March. In the meantime, here is the longlist in full, arranged in alphabetical order by author name with a brief description (taken from the judges’ report) of the title.
The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree by Shokoofeh Azar and translated from the Farsi by Adrien Kijek (Fiction; Wild Dingo Press)
“Set in Iran, the story is narrated by thirteen-year-old Bahar as she follows the fortunes of her family in the violent aftermath of the 1979 Islamic Revolution. The novel presents a richly woven magical reality: Bahar’s mother attains enlightenment atop a greengage tree at the moment her son is executed; the ghosts of five thousand prisoners march down the streets of Tehran, preceded by a river of their own tears; and a fictional Ayatollah Khomeini finds himself lost underground in his own labyrinthine palace of mirrors.”
A Writing Life: Helen Garner and Her Work by Bernadette Brennan (Non-fiction; Text Publishing)
“This is a literary portrait of one our most important living writers. Bernadette Brennan has had access to previously unavailable papers, as well as to Helen Garner’s journals and correspondence. Various family, friends and colleagues shared their insights with Bernadette to create a vibrant picture of a woman working and struggling to be a writer and, more importantly, to be true to herself.”
Anaesthesia: The Gift of Oblivion and the Mystery of Consciousness by Kate Cole-Adams (Non-fiction; Text Publishing)
“The result of years of painstaking research, Kate Cole-Adams’s Anaesthesia: The Gift of Oblivion and the Mystery of Consciousness is a work of memoir, philosophy, science, and cultural essay, a personal story that weaves anecdotes and statistics. Cole-Adams focuses on general anaesthetic, and in doing so shows how surprisingly little we know about what happens when we go under. She examines case studies, listens to myriad surgical stories and interviews experts in the field, in the hope of shedding light on the very nature of consciousness itself.”
Terra Nullius by Claire G. Coleman (Fiction; Hachette Australia)
“An arresting and original novel that addresses the legacy of Australia’s violent colonial history. It begins with a breathless account of a young man running away from a remote missionary outpost overseen by the domineering Sister Bagra. The dramatic tale of flight and pursuit that unfolds across the book’s early chapters develops into a scathing commentary on the systemic depredations and injustices that are consequences of the archetypal conflict that inevitably arises between Natives and Settlers. Later, the novel shifts into the realm of science fiction, which is used to grant what initially appears to be a straightforward if slightly allegorised story of colonial opppression, dehumanisation and resistance an additional scourging layer of dramatic irony.”
The Life to Come by Michelle de Kretser (Fiction; Allen & Unwin)
“A novel that explores vast and varied terrain, both physical and psychological, examining many places – Sydney, Paris, Sri Lanka – and the people who move within them. The central character, Pippa, is a shamelessly ambitious young writer, who influences the lives of others through her words; the novel plays out in five parts that sweep through themes of loneliness, vanity and apathy. De Kretser asks deep questions about responsibility: to ourselves, to each other, and to our national identity.”
This Water: Five Tales by Beverley Farmer (Fiction; Giramondo)
“The five stories that make up This Water draw on familiar tropes from fairy tales and classical mythology, but fashion them into distinct and evocative fictional worlds. Beverley Farmer’s protagonists confront the universal problems of love, desire, loyalty and loss; but the contexts in which they face these problems also compel us to consider the ways in which the constraints imposed upon them by virtue of their social positions as women have conspired to shape their experiences, conflicts and sufferings.”
The Green Bell: A Memoir of Love, Madness and Poetry by Paula Keogh (Non-fiction; Affirm Press)
“Set in Canberra in 1972–73, The Green Bell is centered around the time Paula shared with the poet Michael Dransfield, following their meeting in the psychiatric ward of Canberra Hospital. It is also an important illustration of the social and cultural changes of the times, and a recent history of psychiatric care in Australia and controversial DST and ECT treatment.”
An Uncertain Grace by Krissy Kneen (Fiction; Text Publishing)
“An Uncertain Grace is a formally ingenious and often amusing novel that combines eroticism and science fiction with a playful spirit of intellectual inquisitiveness. Its imaginative conceits and clever manipulations of point of view are used to explore the themes of mismatched desires, mortality, the looming prospect of environmental disaster, and the post-human implications of technological advances.”
The Choke by Sofie Laguna (Fiction; Allen & Unwin)
“The Choke is a compassionate work of fiction focusing on the plight of a disadvantaged child finding her way in the world despite poverty, absent parents and a dysfunctional family. Sofie Laguna writes evocatively of the Australian landscape, and paints an isolated, desperate world with much clarity and sensitivity.”
Martin Sharp: His Life and Times by Joyce Morgan (Non-fiction; Allen & Unwin)
“Martin Sharp was an unusual character who lived an uncommon life. The only son of a wealthy Sydney family, he became immersed in the great social and cultural upheavals of the 1960s by virtue of his calling as an artist. His irreverent cartooning prompted the notorious obscenity trials over Oz Magazine, which became a flashpoint in the generational conflict between a conservative and censorious establishment and the era’s burgeoning spirit of creativity, liberation and openness. Joyce Morgan has written an exemplary cradle-to-grave biography of her intriguing subject, one that takes stock of his flaws and idiosyncrasies as well as his talents.”
The Fish Girl by Mirandi Riwoe (Fiction; Seizure)
“Compelling and evocative, The Fish Girl follows Mina, a shy Indonesian village girl who commences work in the kitchen of a Dutch merchant, only to discover her life continuing to unfold at the mercy of men who do not necessarily have her best interests in mind. The story draws on Sundanese mythology, with Mina finding solace in visiting a nearby beach at night, where she communes with the Ocean Queen, Nyai Loro Kidul, a goddess of the sea.”
Tracker by Alexis Wright (Non-fiction; Giramondo)
“In this remarkable biography, Alexis Wright follows an Aboriginal tradition of storytelling that she describes as a ‘practice for crossing landscapes and boundaries, giving many voices a part in the story’. Tracker is a collective memoir of Tracker Tilmouth, charismatic Aboriginal leader, thinker, entrepreneur, visionary and provocateur. Tilmouth worked tirelessly for Aboriginal self-determination, creating opportunities for land use and economic development in his many roles including Director of the Central Land Council.”
The winner of the $50,000 prize will be named on Tuesday 12 April.
Have you read any of these books? Or have any piqued your interest?