10 favourite Australian novels of the 21st century

Earlier today — thanks to @wtb_Michael and @frippet — I discovered that the Australian Book Review is conducting a poll to discover the nation’s favourite Australian novel published in the 21st century. (You can find out more, and nominate your favourite, here.)

Taking Michael’s lead, I thought it would be fun to put together a list of my top 10 favourite Australian novels published since 2000. I published that list on Twitter, but because I know not everyone who follows this blog follows me on social media, I thought it might be helpful to publish it here.

So here is my list. The books have been arranged in chronological order, from the most recent book published. As ever, hyperlinks will take you to my reviews.

Storyland by Catherine McKinnon

Storyland by Catherine McKinnon (2017)
Cleverly constructed tale that weaves together five interlinking stories set on one tract of land to show how humans have impacted the environment over four centuries.

The Hands by Stephen Orr

The Hands by Stephen Orr (2015)
Charming, funny and deeply moving story about three generations of the one farming family eking out a living on a remote cattle station in the Australian outback.

The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood

The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood (2015)
Thought-provoking take on a dystopian world in which women are imprisoned for their involvement in sexual “crimes” and misdemeanors.

Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan

The Narrow Road to the Deep North by Richard Flanagan (2013)
Booker Prize-winning novel about an Australian surgeon, haunted by a clandestine love affair, who becomes a  Japanese POW on the Burma Death Railway during the Second World War.

Floundering by Romy Ash

Floundering by Romy Ash (2012)
A woman “kidnaps” her two sons from the grandparents who are raising them and takes them on holiday by the sea one hot Australian summer — but everything isn’t quite as it seems.

Foal’s Bread by Gillian Mears (2011)
Set in the 1920s and 30s, this historical novel traces the fortunes (and misfortunes) of two generations of a legendary showjumping family in rural NSW.

Five Bells by Gail Jones

Five Bells by Gail Jones (2010)
Ambitious novel comprised of several interwoven narrative threads, focussed on four individual characters as they criss-cross Sydney on a fine summer’s day.

Utopian Man by Lisa Lang

Utopian Man by Lisa Lang (2009)
Deliciously entertaining award-winning debut novel based on the true-life story of  Edward William (E.W.) Cole, a legendary eccentric who built an amazing retail emporium in Melbourne during the 1880s.

The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas (2009)
Middle-class angst fest following the fall out when a man slaps a child, who is not his, for misbehaving at a family barbecue.

Of a Boy by Sonya Hartnett (2003)
A beautiful, melancholy tale about a lonely, timid nine-year-old boy being raised by his grandmother.

Have you read any of these books? Or care to share your own list of favourite Australian novels from the 21st century? 

29 thoughts on “10 favourite Australian novels of the 21st century

  1. I really must get around to reading The Hands! The Narrow Road to the Deep North and Foal’s Bread would both be on my list too. I don’t know that I could come up with a top ten, but some the ones that really stand out for me are Roger McDonald’s The Ballad of Desmond Kale (I loved that book!) Christopher Koch’s final novel Lost Voices, Matthew Condon’s The Trout Opera, Elliot Perlman’s The Street Sweeper, and a couple of Alex Miller novels: Journey to the Stone Country and Conditions of Faith. Those are the ones I’ve read that I thought were really exceptional, though there are plenty of others I’ve liked a lot. I have no idea why that is entirely a list of male authors(!), since I read pretty much 50/50 men and women, but those are the books that have left the biggest impression.

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  2. I loved Floundering – Ash did that rare thing of capturing a child’s voice beautifully. I’ve not read Five Bells but I enjoyed both Sixty Lights and The Death of Noah Glass, A Guide to Berlin not so much.

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    • Floundering is pitch-perfect in my view. Sixty Lights is a favourite but Five Bells stands out more in my memory. And I agree re: A Guide to Berlin; I was a little disappointed with that one.

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  3. just when I was thinking I hadn’t read a single one of these, you list Richard Flanagan, one of my favourite Booker winners. The other 9 you list sound pretty good too.

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    • I’m not sure how many of these have been published outside of Australia… though I know Foal’s Bread, The Slap and The Natural Way of Things all has UK releases.

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  4. I only recognise the Flanagan and haven’t read any of these, although I have read and very much enjoyed Tsiolkas’ Barracuda, which makes me want to read more of his. Thanks for putting this list together, Kim. I’m going to see if I can get hold of some of these and get to know a few more Australian writers.

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  5. I would love to read all of these (with the exception of The Slap which I tried reading years ago but it made me too mad). The one that appeals the most right now is Storyland. What a beautiful cover!

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    • Ha! The Slap is a proper Marmite book: you either love or loathe it. I hope you can find Storyland… it was only published in Australia as far as I know. It’s the kind of universal story that would benefit from a worldwide audience.

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  6. The Natural Way of Things? No, no, no! Beautiful book cover, but contents are just hideously cruel, and in places, gratuitous. (Could not bring myself to review.) BTW, where’s Winton? (A: In Scotland, and I shall meet him tomorrow! 😁😍😍)

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    • Charlotte Wood can do no wrong in my eyes; I love that her last book provoked such a strong reaction in people. I thought about including Tim Winton’s Eyrie in this list but opted for lesser-known writers. Say hello to him for me; I keep expecting to bump into him around town as I know he has a place in Fremantle but am yet to spot him 😉

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  7. I’ll second Storyland being top of the list, it’s a book that deserves more attention than it’s had. And I’m pleased to see Utopian Man there too, I really enjoyed that one…
    But I’m with Lizzy about The Natural Way of Things, and I’m with Naomi about The Slap. I’d replace them with Dustfall by Michelle Johnston (about a doctor’s struggle to warn of the dangers of asbestos mining, though it’s about more than that) and Book of Colours by Robyn Cadwallader (a gorgeous book about a woman who works in the theoretically male domain of creating illuminated manuscripts).

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    • The list is ranked chronologically so I’m not sure I’d put Storyland at the top but it’d probably be in the top 5. Utopian Man is soooooo underrated. I’ve only ever seen it mentioned on your blog! I know how you feel about Natural Way of Things and The Slap, so I’m not surprised you wouldn’t include them. I’ve just borrowed Dustfall from the library. I bought a copy on my last trip but it’s still on the shelf in London. And Book of Colours wasn’t published in The UK, as far as I know, hence I haven’t read it. Might have to hunt it out..

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      • That’s really surprising about Book of Colours… the UK being a place where illuminated manuscripts were actually made I would have guessed that an historical novel about that would have ready-made market.

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  8. I agree with Storyland and The Natural Way of Things. I disagree with The Hands and with Richard Flanagan, well not disagree, but they wouldn’t make any list of mine. I would have a heap of Indigenous authors, especially Kim Scott, That Deadman’s Dance and Alexis Wright. The Swan Book may well be THE book of the C21st. And my favourite, a quirky Perth book, Elizabeth Tan’s Rubik

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    • Can’t believe you disagree with The Hands…I absolutely love that book! I wanted to include Kim Scott’s Benang but it was published in 1999 so doesn’t qualify. I attempted The Swan Book but abandoned it; I think it was a case of me simply not having the bandwidth at the time to cope with it. I’m on a mission to hunt out Rubik!

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  9. Oh dear – I’ve only read The Natural Way of Things, which I found really powerful. I do have The Slap and The Narrow Road to the Deep North in the TBR pile, I’ll have to dig them out & get reading!

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    • I always worry slightly about Brits reading The Slap as the language doesn’t quite translate and so many people get offended by it because they don’t understand the context (the word “wog” for instance was reclaimed by Italian and Greek second generation immigrants here in much the same way as “queer” was reclaimed by gay people, but if you don’t know that its use seems abhorrent). Anyway, that’s just a little warning if you try to read that first. You won’t have any problem with Narrow Road which is a beautifully romantic but harrowing read. I loved it so much I couldn’t bring myself to review it.

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