2017 Stella Prize, Literary prizes

Heather Rose wins the 2017 Stella Prize

Congratulations to Tasmanian writer Heather Rose, whose book The Museum of Modern Love has been named winner of the 2017 Stella Prize.

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

Apparently it took Rose 11 years to write this book. It’s a testament to her dedication and perseverance that it came to fruition, for this is a rather extraordinary novel, highly original and with a unique structure and with so much to say about art and its power to change our lives.

This is how the judges described it:

Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose

It is rare to encounter a novel with such powerful characterisation, such a deep understanding of the consequences of personal and national history, sch affection for a city and the people who are drawn to it, and such dazzling and subtle explorations of the importance of art in everyday life.

You can read the full judges’  report and more about the book on the Stella Prize website.

The Museum of Modern Love is currently only available in eBook format in the UK and North America.

2017 Stella Prize, Australia, Australian Women Writers Challenge, Author, AWW2017, Book review, crime/thriller, Emily Maguire, Fiction, literary fiction, Literary prizes, Picador, Publisher, Setting

‘An Isolated Incident’ by Emily Maguire

An Isolated Incident

Fiction – paperback; Picador; 343 pages; 2016.

An Isolated Incident by Emily Maguire is one of those novels that refuses to be boxed into a single category. It dances a fine line between crime thriller and literary fiction. Its focus is not on finding out who committed a horrendous murder in a small town but on the outfall on the victim’s family and local community. It’s this level of social commentary — think Norwegian crime queen Karin Fossum — that lends the novel a literary quality.

Murder in a small town

The story is set in the fictional country town of Strathdee, in the NSW Riverina, on the road between Sydney and Melbourne.

In this typical close-knit, largely working class community, 25-year-old Bella Michaels disappears one April afternoon after finishing her shift at the local nursing home. Her body is later found at a roadside picnic spot.

Her much older half-sister, Chris Rogers, is called to identify the body, and from there the story splits into two interleaved narratives: the slow unravelling of Chris’s mental state as she seeks answers for Bella’s murder, and the journalistic investigation by May Norman, a young crime reporter from Sydney intent on breaking a career-defining story.

Chris, who is a barmaid and occasionally brings people back to her home for paid sex, tells her side of the story in the first person. Her voice is immediate, unflinchingly honest and distinctly working class:

You know, I’ve often been told I’m too trusting, too generous, too open. I used to think these were compliments, but recently I’ve come to realise that they are not. They say ‘trusting’ and mean ‘stupid’, ‘generous’ and mean ‘easy’, ‘open’ and mean ‘shameless’. All of those things are true and not true. It depends on who you ask, doesn’t it? Ask old Bert at the pub if I’m easy or generous or any of that and he’ll say no. He’ll say, ‘The little bitch slaps my hand if it so much as brushes against her’. Ask my ex, Nate. He’ll tell you a different side.
Look, what I’m saying is that sometimes I am trusting and generous and open and stupid and easy and shameless. What I’m saying is, who isn’t?

Meanwhile, May’s narrative thread is told in the third person and includes all the stories she files for an online news site, giving the novel an authentic, too-close-to-the-bone feel, almost as if Bella’s murder was lifted from real headlines.

What results is a fascinating portrait of two troubled women — Chris is still grappling with the break-up of her marriage to a man with a criminal past; May is reeling from her married lover calling off their affair and falls into her past bulimic behaviour —  in a town caught up by the media’s fear mongering and perplexed by the murder of an innocent woman who deserved better.

Violence against women

What makes this book so effective is the spotlight Maguire shines on misogyny and every day violence against women without being too prescriptive or obvious. Bella’s murder might be the isolated incident of the title, but the thoughtful reader will soon understand that her death is just one in millions of similar incidents across Australia (and, indeed, the world) in which women are victims at the hands of men, many of whom they know personally.

Maguire’s examination of the media’s obsession with pretty young women who suffer violent deaths and the sometimes morally dubious practises of crime reporters  is also deftly handed. Maguire even raises an interesting issue about the ethics of well-meaning groups and activists who use murder cases to promote their own causes without seeking permission from the victim’s family first.

But from my own experience as a journalist, I found May’s news stories false, in need of some strong sub-editing and there was at least one that raised my libel hackles. Don’t let that put you off, though; poorly written journalistic stories in fiction are a pet bugbear of mine. I suspect many readers won’t even notice these minor failings.

The ending, too, is weak; not because it doesn’t tie up all the loose threads, but because it feels slightly rushed and not altogether believable. But on the whole, this is an excellent, deeply unsettling read that explores sex, marriage, prostitution, masculinity, criminality and violence. The strong undercurrent of a troubled society, in which innocent men fail to call out their mate’s misogynistic behaviour, seems timely, calling to mind last year’s Stella Prize winner, Charlotte Wood’s The Natural Way of Things. It deserves a wide audience.

Longlisted for the 2017 Indie Book Awards, commended for Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Fiction 2017 and shortlisted for the 2017 Stella PrizeAn Isolated Incident is currently only available in Australia. I ordered mine from Readings.com.au, which charges a flat — and affordable — rate for shipping to the UK.

For other reviews of this book, please see Lisa’s at ANZLitLovers and Kate’s at booksaremyfavouriteand best.

The winner of the 2017 Stella Prize will be announced tomorrow (Tuesday 18 April). I’ve read all but one of the books; you can see my reviews here.

This is my sixth book for #AWW2017.

2017 Stella Prize, Allen & Unwin, Australian Women Writers Challenge, Author, AWW2017, Book review, Fiction, Heather Rose, literary fiction, Literary prizes, New York, Publisher, Setting

‘The Museum of Modern Love’ by Heather Rose

Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose

Fiction – Kindle edition; Allen & Unwin; 296 pages; 2016.

What is art, and what is its purpose? These are the questions posed in The Museum of Modern Love, a fascinating book that blends fact with fiction, by Heather Rose.

In this highly original novel, Rose takes a real life event and peoples it with interesting fictional characters who interact with a particular work of art, are changed by it and come away from it having learned something of themselves and of others.

New York art world

The story is largely set in Manhattan in 2010. Arky is a composer who is lost, lonely and struggling to write his next film score. He has a strained relationship with his 22-year-old daughter, Alice, while his wife, with whom he is separated, is languishing in a health facility thanks to a devastating condition known as Thrombotic thrombocytopenia purpura.

My wife is in a nursing home, he imagined saying. She’s been in a coma but now she’s not. She’ll never walk again. Or talk again. She was the most energetic person when she was well. We knew it was coming. It’s genetic. No, I don’t see her regularly. I don’t see her at all. She wants it that way. She took out a court order. We were happily married. I think so.

But when he visits the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA) to see Marina Abramović in The Artist is Present, his life takes a more interesting turn. In the queue to see the performance he meets a varied cast of characters who take him out of himself, teach him the importance of “connection” and the beauty of art to sustain us through good times and bad.

Art as therapy

The Artist is Present was a real-life performance art exhibition staged at MOMA in 2010. It involved the artist Marina Abramović, who sat immobile in MOMA’s atrium while spectators queued up to take turns sitting opposite her. They could sit opposite her for as little or as long as they liked, but they had to make eye contact. The performance lasted 75 days, between March and May, and more than 1,500 people took part. (You can read about it on Wikipedia.)

This performance art is not merely a backdrop to The Museum of Modern Love; it forms a central element of the story.

The author was granted permission by the artist to include her in the book. “I have drawn extensively from interviews and performances given in the years leading up to her 2010 performance at MoMA,” Rose writes in her Author’s Note. “This does not mean that the thoughts I have attributed to the character of Marina Abramović at any time in this book are a true reflection of any event in history, nor how the real Marina Abramović thinks or feels. That is the risk the novelist takes, bringing to life what we can only imagine.”

The purpose of art

When I first heard about this novel I must admit it sounded pretentious. But somehow, in Rose’s very capable hands, it works. It’s a brilliant examination of how we interact with art and what we get from it.

As well as telling the story from Arky’s point of view, we also hear about Abramović and her varied and intriguing past.

And there are subsidiary characters — an art teacher from the mid-West, an art critic for NPR, a PhD candidate from Amsterdam — that help bring the performance alive from different perspectives — educational, spiritual, academic — as they all try to interpret Abramović’s work.

It’s a hugely engaging novel, written in an effortless, free-flowing style. It’s filled with a seemingly never-ending amount of highly quotable sentences, such as those I’ve highlighted below:

‘Still, what is she trying to say?’ Jane asked again. ‘What she’s been saying since the start, I think. That everything is about connection. Until you understand what connects you, you have no freedom.’

***

‘She simply invites us to participate,’ Healayas said. ‘It may be therapeutic and spiritual, but it is also social and political. It is multi-layered. It reminds us why we love art, why we study art, why we invest ourselves in art.’

***

All the great art makes us feel something quite indescribable. Perhaps it’s not the best word—but there doesn’t seem to be a better one to capture how art can be . . . transformative. A kind of access to a universal wisdom.’ ‘I’m going to use that,’ said Brittika, tapping away. ‘I mean, she’s using the audience to create this effect, but the audience has also created this experience by how seriously everyone has taken it.’

Longlisted  for the 2017 Australian Literature Society Gold Medal and shortlisted for the 2017 Stella Prize, The Museum of Modern Love is currently only available in eBook format in the UK and North America.

For other reviews, please see Lisa’s at ANZLitLovers and Kate’s at booksaremyfavouriteandbest.

This is my fifth book for #AWW2017.

UPDATE 18 April
Congratulations to Heather Rose — The Museum of Modern Love has won the 2017 Stella Prize!

2017 Stella Prize, Australia, Author, AWW2017, Book review, Fiction, Georgia Blain, literary fiction, Publisher, Scribe, Setting

‘Between a Wolf and a Dog’ by Georgia Blain

Between a wolf and a dog by Georgia Blain

Fiction – paperback; Scribe UK; 272 pages; 2016. Review copy courtesy of the publisher.

The late Georgia Blain’s last novel, Between a Wolf and a Dog, has been shortlisted for the 2017 Stella Prize. The author died in December 2016, just a few days before her mother, the broadcaster (and “Omo lady”) Anne Deveson, passed away.

A domestic novel set in Sydney on a single rainy day, it is undercut with a back story (told flashback style) set three years earlier.

It’s largely told from the viewpoint of Ester, a therapist, who is estranged from her older sister, April, a one-time pop star who has lost her mojo. Ester is also estranged from Lawrence, the father of her children — twin daughters Catherine and Laura — but is close to her mother, Hilary, a widowed film maker, who has decided not to tell her children she’s dying of a brain tumour.

This sounds melodramatic, right? It’s not. The emotion is restrained, almost aloof, in this novel; Blain is careful to keep things in check, yet it’s full of dramatic moments. Indeed, the story is a chronicle of grief and anxiety, betrayal and strained relations — and that’s just the troubled patients that Ester listens to day in, day out in her therapy room; her own family has its own problematic, complicated past, and her ex-husband is in crisis having twiddled the numbers in his lucrative job as a pollster.

Slow going

I admit that I struggled with this book. Mid-way through I began to wonder if it was ever going to end.

I’m not much a fan of domestic novels, though I do like explorations of the human heart — and this one does that superbly. Blain beautifully captures the stresses and strains between siblings, parents and children, and married couples.

But I was never able to fully lose myself in the story because the writing, which is too self conscious, too laboured, kept getting in the way. The prose style is showy and too heavily reliant on back story (for the smallest of details) and everything is over-explained. The endless references to rain also wears thin.

Outside, the rain continues unceasing; silver sheets sluicing down, the trees and shrubs soaking and bedraggled, the earth sodden, puddles overflowing, torrents coursing onwards, as the darkness slowly softens with the dawn.

The strong characterisation keeps the story afloat, however, even if no one appears to be terribly likeable or worthy of sympathy. These are artistic middle-class types, affluent, secure, complacent and a little bit annoying. Blain’s perceptive eye focuses on their every day sorrows and anxieties, and questions the role of forgiveness in easing heart-ache and pain. But for much of the time, I read this book wishing I could knock a few heads together. Get over yourselves, I wanted to yell, it’s not bloody worth it!

This is my fourth book for #AWW2017.

2017 Stella Prize, Australia, Australian Women Writers Challenge, Author, AWW2017, Book review, Hachette Australia, Literary prizes, Maxine Beneba Clarke, memoir, Non-fiction, Publisher, Setting

‘The Hate Race’ by Maxine Beneba Clarke

The Hate Race

Non-fiction – paperback; Hachette Australia; 272 pages; 2016.

Maxine Beneba Clarke is an Australian writer of Afro-Caribbean descent. Her memoir, The Hate Race, tells the story of what it is like to grow up black in white middle-class Australia. It has recently been shortlisted for the 2017 Stella Prize.

This unflinching account charts Clarke’s experiences at school, where she was routinely bullied for the colour of her skin and where teachers and other people in authority turned a blind eye. “It’s just a bit of teasing,” the school counsellor tells Clarke, who, by the time she was a teenager, had been subjected to endless  “teasing” for almost a decade. The ongoing verbal abuse had manifested itself in a rather alarming physical way: Clarke would scratch her face in her sleep, a psychological attempt to claw her way out of her skin, a form of self-harm that would leave her with nasty facial bruises.

At five and a half, racism had already changed me.
After a while you start to breath it. Another kid’s parents stare over at your family on the first day of school with that look on their faces. You make a mental note to stay away from that kid. When you have to choose working partners in numbers, you discreetly shuffle over to the opposite side of the room. You tell a teacher someone is calling you names. Blackie. Monkey girl. Golliwog. The teacher stares at you, exasperated, as if to say: Do you really expect me to do something about it? The next time you have a grievance, you look for a different teacher. This is how it changes us. This is how we’re altered.

Clarke and her two siblings — an older sister and a younger brother — were born in Australia. Her dad was born in Jamaica but emigrated to the UK in the late 1950s, where he gained a PhD in mathematics. Her mother, from Guyana in the West Indies, was a stage actress living in London. The married couple emigrated to Australia after Enoch Powell’s “Rivers of Blood” speech made them want to live somewhere more welcoming. They chose Australia on the basis Clarke’s dad had worked alongside a young Australian couple at Nottingham University who had recently returned home.

But from the get-go Clarke admits that her family were the only black people in the community and were regarded with a mixture of fascination and suspicion. It is only when Clarke goes to school and learns about Australian aboriginals that she realises the country has a long-established black community that has been usurped (and often massacred) by the whites.

Every day racism

A large part of the book documents Clarke’s experience of casual and not-so-casual racism, mainly in the classroom but also out in the real world, where less talented peers were often granted privileges for which she was overlooked.

In one instance, Clarke relates the story of how she missed out on winning a top award for a public speaking competition. The prize went to a less confident white girl whose father was greatly respected within the community. The father, to his credit, tells Clarke that she was the best speaker in the room — but he does nothing to change the outcome.

That’s one of the messages that runs throughout this story: that standing on the sidelines and saying nothing when wrong is being done makes you complicit in the act. This realisation comes early to Clarke, when her and her younger brother are confronted on their new bikes by a gang who call them names and start throwing stones at them. Clarke’s friends don’t help or defend them — they simply run away:

But the scene at the bike park just kept looping in my head. Her silence. The way they’d suddenly disappeared. I knew they were scared. I knew they were just kids. But so were we. My friend’s silence hurt more than the names we’d been called — more than seeing my brother’s bloody, grazed knee.

While The Hate Race is essentially a collection of anecdotes from Clarke’s childhood, all told in an entertaining and forthright style (and not without a smidgen of humour to lighten the despair), this catalogue of abuse makes for a damning indictment on Australian society in the 1980s and 1990s. Is it any better now, I wonder?

In her acknowledgements, Clarke states that she loves Australia but believes people could be kinder to one another:

I wrote this book because I believe stories like these need to be written into Australian letters. Stories like mine need to be heard, and seen, both by those outside of them and those with similar tales. I wanted to show the lasting impact of living in a brown body in Australia in the eighties and nineties on one child. I want to show the extreme toll that casual, overt and institutionalised racism can take: the way it erodes us all.

This is my third book for #AWW2017.

If you liked this, you might also like:

  • Talking to my Country by Stan Grant: a heartrending account of what it is like to be an indigenous person in Australia.
  • Black and Proud: The Story of an Iconic AFL Photo by Matthew Klugman and Gary Osmond (not reviewed on this site, but I read it in 2014): an eye-opening read about racism in sport.
2017 Stella Prize, Literary prizes

The 2017 Stella Prize shortlist

stella-prize-2017-shortlistThe book world is currently abuzz with news of the Baileys Prize longlist, but I’m here to talk about another literary award for women writers — and that’s the Stella Prize, the shortlist for which was announced in Australia yesterday.

The shortlisted titles are:

  • Poum and Alexandre by Catherine de Saint Phalle

The $50,000 prize is for Australian women writers and only books, both fiction and non-fiction, published in 2016 were eligible. You can read the full announcement on the official website.

I plan on reviewing all the titles. Do keep coming back to this post as I will update the hyperlinks above as and when I review each title.

The winner will be announced on 18 April.

2017 Stella Prize, Australia, Australian Women Writers Challenge, Author, AWW2017, Book review, Elspeth Muir, Literary prizes, memoir, Non-fiction, Publisher, Setting, Text

‘Wasted: A story of alcohol, grief and a death in Brisbane’ by Elspeth Muir

Wasted

Non-fiction – paperback; Text Publishing; 217 pages; 2016.

Billed as an investigation into Australia’s drinking culture, Elspeth Muir’s Wasted: A story of alcohol, grief and a death in Brisbane makes for uncomfortable reading.

Muir looks at the way alcohol abuse defines the lives of so many young Australians and asks why it is socially acceptable to get wasted on a regular basis. She uses the death of her own brother, 21-year-old Alexander Muir, who drowned in the Brisbane River after a night of sustained drinking, as a framing device.

In late 2009, Alexander had been out celebrating his last university exam. He kept drinking long after his friends had gone home. The next morning police found his shirt, thongs (flip-flops), phone and wallet on the Story Bridge; his body was discovered in the water a few days later. The coroner’s report said his blood alcohol reading was 0.238 — almost five times the legal limit for drivers.

When the book opens, Muir thrusts us right into the harsh reality of her brother’s funeral:

In the aisle the casket rested on a silver trolley with collapsible legs. Frangipani boughs from the tree outside my parents’ kitchen were wired into a messy funeral wreath. Beneath the lid was my brother’s soggy body — fresh from the refrigerator, pickled in embalming fluids, alcohol and river water. On once fertile plains of flesh, now flushed with chemicals and emptied of organs, dying parasites weakly tapped their tails. Later, corpse eaters would digest his freckled skin and rough hands.

From there, Muir traces her relationship with her brother — the younger of two — and, in turn, his relationship with drink. Alexander often drank to excess and experienced black outs. He would do stupid things and not come home. He would wake up and not know where he was, nor remember how he got there. His escapades became legendary and a sort of badge of honour.

Tellingly, when Muir asked her brother’s friends to share their memories of Alexander for this book, all their anecdotes were about things Alexander had done when drunk. Muir, who does not shy away from revealing her own troubling relationship with binge drinking, is shocked by this:

Like Patrick [Muir’s other brother], it never occurred to me that I had a problem with drinking or that Alexander had a problem with drinking or that anyone I knew had a problem with drinking, despite the many incidents that indicated we did. The way we drank was how everybody we knew drank. It certainly never occurred to me that my drinking might have influenced my brothers’ behaviour.
For the first time since Alexander died my anger had a worthy recipient, and it was uncomfortable. How might it have been different if, instead of laughing at my brother’s drunken exploits, I had been alarmed by them?

A wider problem

While Wasted is very much focused on Alexander’s death and the causes of it, there’s a parallel thread, which looks at Muir’s own relationship with alcohol. This lends the book the air of a memoir, for Muir recounts her teenage years and young adulthood — life in shared households, love affairs, travels abroad — reflecting all the time on the ways in which she abused alcohol. Her revelations are shocking (not least when she recounts how she lost her virginity) and eye-opening, and make for deeply unsettling reading.

Along the way she delves into the wider social context of alcohol abuse and the reasons for it — cheap alcohol, long opening hours, peer pressure, amongst others — and the horrific, often violent, consequences. It’s not particularly comprehensive though (there’s little or no discussion of the long-term impacts on health or domestic violence, for instance), but it does raise important issues about the way binge drinking has been normalised. (Her chapter on Schoolies Week, the tradition of high-school graduates going on celebratory holidays where heavy drinking is encouraged, is particularly alarming.)

This deeply personal book, written in a frank, forthright — and highly readable — manner should be a wake-up call to parents, teachers and policymakers. It’s a compelling and compassionate read, one that deserves a wide audience.

Wasted: A story of alcohol, grief and a death in Brisbane has been longlisted for the 2017 Stella Prize. Please note it is only available as an ebook in the UK and North America. I ordered my paperback edition direct from Australia.

If you liked this, you might also like:

Update: Australian Women Writers Challenge

Australian Women Writers Challenge 2017This review will count towards my aim of reading and reviewing 10 books by Australian women as part of this year’s Australian Women Writers Challenge.

You can find out more about the challenge via the official website.

This is my first book for #AWW2017.

2017 Stella Prize

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?