Earlier today Readings independent book store in Melbourne unveiled its shortlist for the Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction 2020.
There are six titles on the list: one novella, two novels and three short story collections.
Joe Rubbo, chair of the judges, described them as “a unique selection of reading – the first and second novels or short story collections by Australian writers. The books published over the year were innovative and challenging, and many shed light on aspects of Australian culture that have long remained in the dark.” (You can read his full comments here.)
The prize is for a book which must be the author’s first or second published work of fiction only. (You can read more about the history of the prize and the rules here.)
Below is a list of the books, in alphabetical order by author name, with the publisher’s synopsis underneath. I have read only one so far — click the pink hyperlinks to read my review in full.
‘Lucky Ticket’ by Joey Bui
“A highly original collection of stories by a talented young writer. In Lucky Ticket, Joey Bui introduces a diverse range of characters, all with distinctive voices, and makes us think differently about identity, mixed-race relationships, difficulties between family generations, war and dislocation.”
‘Dolores’ by Lauren Aimee Curtis
“On a hot day in late June, a young girl kneels outside a convent, then falls on her face. When the nuns take her in, they name her Dolores. Dolores adjusts to the rhythm of her new life – to the nuns with wild hairs curling from their chins, the soup chewed as if it were meat, the bells that ring throughout the day. But in the dark, private theatre of her mind are memories – of love motels lit by neon red hearts, discos in abandoned hospitals and a boy called Angelo. And inside her, a baby is growing.”
‘The House of Youssef’ by Yumna Kassab
“This debut collection of short stories by Yumna Kassab is remarkable for its minimalism. Set in the suburbs of Western Sydney, it portrays the lives of Lebanese immigrants, and their families. The stories revolve around their hopes and regrets, their feelings of isolation, and their nostalgia for what they might have lost or left behind.”
‘The Animals in That Country’ by Laura Jean McKay
“Hard-drinking, foul-mouthed, and allergic to bullshit, Jean is not your usual grandma. She’s never been good at getting on with other humans, apart from her beloved granddaughter, Kimberly. Instead, she surrounds herself with animals, working as a guide in an outback wildlife park. And although Jean talks to all her charges, she has a particular soft spot for a young dingo called Sue. As disturbing news arrives of a pandemic sweeping the country, Jean realises this is no ordinary flu: its chief symptom is that its victims begin to understand the language of animals – first mammals, then birds and insects, too. As the flu progresses, the unstoppable voices become overwhelming, and many people begin to lose their minds, including Jean’s infected son, Lee. When he takes off with Kimberly, heading south, Jean feels the pull to follow her kin.”
‘Smart Ovens for Lonely People’ by Elizabeth Tan
“Conspiracies, celebrities, and therapies underpin this beguiling short-story collection from Elizabeth Tan. A cat-shaped oven tells a depressed woman she doesn’t have to be sorry anymore. A Yourtopia Bespoke Terraria employee becomes paranoid about the mounting coincidences in her life. Four girls gather to celebrate their fabulous underwear. With her trademark wit and slicing social commentary, Elizabeth Tan’s short stories are as funny as they are insightful.”
‘A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing’ by Jessie Tu
“Jena Lin plays the violin. She was once a child prodigy and now uses sex to fill the void left by fame. She’s struggling a little. Her professional life comprises rehearsals, concerts, auditions and relentless practice; her personal life is spent managing the demands of her strict family and creative friends, and hooking up. And then she meets Mark – much older and worldly-wise – who consumes her. But at what cost to her dreams? When Jena is awarded an internship with the New York Philharmonic, she thinks the life she has dreamed of is about to begin. But when Trump is elected, New York changes irrevocably and Jena along with it. Is the dream over? As Jena’s life takes on echoes of Frances Ha, her favourite film, crucial truths are gradually revealed to her.”
I reckon this is an enticing list and I’m going to try to read all of the books on it before the winner is announced in October. Please feel free to join along with me. Have you read any of these books? Or have any piqued your interest? Note, you can buy the complete set from Readings directly, a great way to support an indie book store in lockdown Melbourne as well as lots of new Aussie writers.