Book review, Literary prizes, News

2022 Miles Franklin Literary Award winner named

Congratulations to Jennifer Down whose novel Bodies of Light has been named the winner of this year’s Miles Franklin Literary Award.

I haven’t actually read the book myself but according to the blurb from the publisher, it sounds intriguing.

I didn’t really follow the award this year and only made a passing reference to the longlist in this post which I wrote at the end of May.

For the record, the titles on the shortlist were as follows:

  • The Other Half of You by Michael Mohammed Ahmad (Hachette Australia)
  • Scary Monsters by Michelle de Kretser (Allen & Unwin)
  •  Bodies of Light by Jennifer Down (Text Publishing)
  •  One Hundred Days by Alice Pung (Black Inc. Books)
  •  Grimmish by Michael Winkler (Puncher and Wattmann)

You can read more about the winner via this article published on The Guardian.

Book lists

Books that Made Us: Episode Two

Picture credit: ABC / The Books that Made Us

The second episode in the three-part TV series ‘Books that Made Us’ was screened on ABC TV tonight. (If you live in Australia and missed it, you can catch up on iView. You can also read my thoughts on Episode One here.)

This episode, called ‘Place’, was themed around cities and landscapes that have featured so strongly in Australian fiction, but it could easily have been called ‘History’ because it covered Aboriginal dispossession and our convict past, among other changes in Australian society over the years.

There were lots of wonderful interviews with most of the authors name-checked below, including footage of the late Patrick White, after he won the Nobel Prize for Literature (the first and only Australian to achieve that honour).

The books covered in episode two

Here is a list of the books mentioned in this episode. They have been arranged in alphabetical order by author’s surname. As ever, hyperlinks take you to my reviews.

The next episode, entitled ‘Power’, will be screened next Tuesday at 8.30pm.

2021 Miles Franklin Literary Award, Literary prizes

The 2021 Miles Franklin Literary Award shortlist

The shortlist for the 2021 Miles Franklin Literary Award was announced yesterday. It’s a strange mix of mainly new-to-me authors writing about diverse — and topical — subjects, including illegal immigration, immigration and environmental disaster.

As per usual, I have only read one title on this list — Amanda Lohrey’s rather beautiful and contemplative novel, Labyrinth — but there’s a couple here (The Rain Heron and The Inland Sea) that are already on my TBR and which I might read as part of #20BooksofSummer.

Here are the nominees in alphabetical order by author’s surname. The summaries are from the Miles Franklin website. I’ve included availability information for international readers where possible:

Amnesty by Aravind Adiga (Pan Macmillan)
Danny – Dhananjaya Rajaratnam – is an illegal immigrant in Sydney having fled Sri Lanka. For three years he’s been trying to create a new identity for himself, but then one morning he learns a female client of his has been murdered. Should Danny come forward with knowledge he has about the crime and risk getting deported, or saying nothing? Over the course of a single day, he must wrestle with his conscience and decide if a person without rights still has responsibilities.
This book is available in the UK and USA in paperback and ebook editions.

The Rain Heron by Robbie Arnott (Text Publishing)
Robbie Arnott’s second novel is equal parts horror and wonder, and utterly gripping. Ren lives alone on the remote frontier of a country devastated by a coup. High on the forested slopes, she survives by hunting and trading – and forgetting. But when a young soldier comes to the mountains in search of a local myth, Ren is inexorably drawn into an impossible mission.
This book is available in the UK and USA in paperback and ebook editions.

At the Edge of the Solid World by Daniel Davis Wood (Brio Books)
In a village in the Swiss Alps, a husband and wife find their lives breaking apart following the death of their firstborn. On the other side of the world, in their hometown of Sydney, a man commits an act of shocking violence that captures international attention. As the husband recognises signs of his own grief in both the survivors and the perpetrator, his fixation on the case feeds into insomnia, trauma and an obsession with the terms on which we give value to human lives.
This book does not appear to be published outside of Australia.

The Labyrinth by Amanda Lohrey (Text Publishing)
This deeply meditative book follows Erica Marsden, who, in a state of grief, retreats to a quiet hamlet near the prison where her son, an artist, has been imprisoned for homicidal negligence. Living in a rundown shack, she obsesses over creating a labyrinth by the ocean. To build it, Erica will need the help of strangers. This is a hypnotic story of guilt and denial as well as a meditation on how art can be both ruthlessly destructive and restorative.
This book is available in the UK and USA in ebook format.

Lucky’s by Andrew Pippos (Pan Macmillan)
The book centres around Lucky, a second-generation Chicago-born clarinet-playing Greek man who finds himself in wartime Australia in the ’40s, escaping service by impersonating “king of swing” Benny Goodman. Lucky comes into money through personal tragedy and uses it to run a successful franchise of cafe diners. Spanning decades, this unforgettable epic tells a story about lives bound together by the pursuit of love, family, and new beginnings.
This book does not appear to be published outside of Australia.

The Inland Sea by Madeleine Watts (Pushkin Press)
This debut novel is about coming of age in a dying world and exploring our capacity for harming ourselves, each other and the world around us. Facing the open wilderness of adulthood, our young narrator finds that the world around her is coming undone. She works part-time as an emergency dispatch operator, tracking the fires and floods that rage across Australia during an increasingly unstable year. Drinking heavily, sleeping with strangers, she finds herself wandering Sydney’s streets late at night as she navigates a troubled affair with an ex-lover. Reckless and adrift, she begins to contemplate leaving.
This book is available in the UK and USA in hardcover and ebook editions.

The winner of the $60,000 prize will be named on 15 July, which doesn’t leave that much time to read the entire shortlist, if that’s what you plan on doing!

You can read the official press release here. And read what The Guardian has to say about it here.

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

Triple Choice Tuesday

Triple Choice Tuesday: Joy Rhoades

Welcome to Triple Choice Tuesday. This is where I ask some of my favourite bloggers, writers and readers to share the names of three books that mean a lot to them. The idea is that it might raise the profile of certain books and introduce you to new titles, new authors and new bloggers.

Today’s guest is the Australian writer Joy Rhodes.

Joy, a lawyer, was born in a small town in rural Queensland, Australia, but has worked all around the world, including Sydney, Hong Kong, Singapore, Tokyo and New York. She now lives in London with her husband and their two young children.

Her debut novel, The Woolgrower’s Companion, was published in Australia earlier this year and will be published in the UK later this week. Set on a sheep station in the Australian outback during the Second World War, the story draws on the experiences of Joy’s paternal grandmother who spent much of her life on a farm in rural New South Wales.

Without further ado, here are Joy’s choices:

A favourite book: The Great Gatsby by F. Scott Fitzgerald

I find I’m a bit disloyal to my favourite books, in that there’s some moving on that’s a feature of the list. I’ve loved The Great Gatsby since I was a kid. I still do. And it does everything in a book I’d love to do: a strong sense of place and time; characters who are complex and whose imperfections drive the gripping story but make it no less tragic. Plus great moral questions about life and choices. Magic.

I loved Sula by Toni Morrison for the writing, and for drawing me to its world. It’s a remarkable book. And I’m currently a big fan of Anthony Doerr’s All The Light We Cannot See. I loved the story — and the writing craft! I’m in awe.

A book that changed my life: My Brilliant Career by Miles Franklin

My brilliant careerMy Brilliant Career was a very important book to me when I was a teenager. I grew up in a small country town in western Queensland, and I had a wonderful childhood: a stable, loving family in a true community. But I knew early on I didn’t want to stay; I wanted to see the world that was out beyond the horizon. And that was a bit unusual, then. Seeing Sibylla feel those same urges to get away, to see places and do things, was a great and secret validation of what I was feeling. So that story hooked me completely.

As I get older, I can see too, it’s a beautifully crafted book, made all the more remarkable given it was published when Miles Franklin was 21.

A book that deserves a wider audience: Mullumbimby by Melissa Lucashenko

MullumbimbyMelissa is an award-winning Aboriginal writer of Goorie heritage. Mullumbimby is a novel of belonging, and of identity. The beautiful prose cuts deep. Jo Breen buys a piece of land in Bundjalung country, returning to the country of her forefathers. It’s set in a fictional town in the hinterland of northern NSW, and Jo attempts to tame her land — to fight the lantana—while trying to stay out of competing claims for native title. The book puts you right there. I could see and smell the lantana, and the rich, green of those lush hills. And it’s funny and poignant, too.

Melissa recently won the Copyright Agency Author Fellowship, adding to a list of earlier prizes. She’s a remarkable writer whose beautiful and compelling writing deserves a wide audience.

Thanks, Joy, for taking part in my Triple Choice Tuesday.

I, too, love The Great Gatsby, and My Brilliant Career, which I only read a few years ago, impressed me with its strong feminist streak, despite being written in 1901. While I haven’t read Mullumbimby it has been on my wishlist for quite a while. I saw Melissa Lucashenko speak in London a couple of years ago and loved her forthright attitude.

What do you think of Joy’s choices? Have you read any of these books?

Triple Choice Tuesday

Triple Choice Tuesday: the Australian Legend

Triple-Choice-TuesdayWelcome to Triple Choice Tuesday. This is where I ask some of my favourite bloggers, writers and readers to share the names of three books that mean a lot to them. The idea is that it might raise the profile of certain books and introduce you to new titles, new authors and new bloggers.

Today’s guest is Bill, who blogs at The Australian Legend.

His blog looks at the way literature represents Australians, and at alternatives to the myth of the laconic, independent bushman.

Bill dropped out of uni (Engineering) in 1970 to become a truck driver and has never looked back. He has owned trucks, gone broke, driven all round Australia, gone back to uni seven times over 40 years — for degrees in accountancy, logistics and most recently, literature.

He currently lives in Perth, WA, where he swims, blogs, drives road trains out into the desert, and does handyman stuff at the homes of his ex-wife and youngest daughter.

Without further ado, here are Bill’s choices:

My Career Goes Bung by Miles FranklinA favourite book: My Career Goes Bung by Miles Franklin

I could easily have chosen Black Beauty by Anna Sewell, which I read repeatedly as a child, and which when I last read it before making a gift of my old copy to a grandchild, still had the power to make me cry; or Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice in which I always find something new; but My Career Goes Bung, published in 1946 but written in 1902, is a special book for me.

Franklin wrote it as a “corrective” to the popular view that the very successful My Brilliant Career was autobiography. It is cleverly written as the mock autobiography of a mock autobiography writer, and as a (young) adult with some experience of the Sydney literary and suffragist scene, Franklin is much more clearly able to articulate her passionate feminism than in the earlier attempt which she wrote as a teenager. Sadly, her savage portrayals of prominent figures were too easily recognisable and no publisher would touch it. The two books together are stunningly “post-modern” in their questioning of ‘who is the author’ and may have been the stepping-stone to a glittering career. Alas, it was not to be.

An Australian Girl by Catherine MartinA book that changed my world: An Australian Girl by Catherine Martin

In the 1990s my then local library, Nunawading, in Melbourne created a special section for early Australian women writers. This arose directly out of the pioneering work of Dale Spender who wrote Writing a New World: Two Centuries of Australian Women Writers (1988) and who was the editor behind the republishing around that time of early Australian women novelists by Pandora and Penguin. So, I was introduced to a whole world of writing which is still largely ignored by Australian literary history.

The Bulletin ruled the 1890s with writers like Banjo Paterson, Henry Lawson and Steele Rudd, but in the years immediately prior, in which we are generally told the only writers were Marcus Clarke and Rolf Boldrewood, the most popular and prolific writers were all women – Catherine Helen Spence, Ada Cambridge, Rosa Praed, “Tasma” (Jessie Couvreur), Mary Gaunt,  Catherine Martin.

I have selected An Australian Girl (1890) — which is both a story of love gone wrong and a long dissertation on marriage, independence and the beauty of the Australian bush — because it marks the beginning of the reading which led eventually to my M.Litt thesis, The Independent Woman in Australian Literature.

The Pea-PickersA book that deserves a wider audience: The Pea Pickers by Eve Langley

Patrick White carried The Pea Pickers with him during WWII because it “reminded him of Australia”. I studied The Pea Pickers, and its sequel White Topee, because its heroines Eve and June – calling themselves Steve and Blue – are the very archetypes of the Independent Woman. But I re-read them because Eve Langley’s is the most beautiful prose in Australian literature.

Steve, the narrator, is torn between her need as a woman to find love, and her need as a person and a poet to assert her independence, to be a Lawson-esque lone hand in the Australian bush. The two dress in men’s clothes, not because they are asexual but because that was the only practical way to live as itinerant farm workers in the 1920s. When a police sergeant bails them up for being dressed as men (which was illegal at the time) Steve is defiant: “You ask … are we masquerading as boys. No, we are masquerading as life. We are in search of a country … the promised land …” Their fellows have no doubt they are women – they often dress ironically, mixing items of women’s clothing with their boots and trousers, and in any case are “amply feminine” – and treat them with respect and affection in what is a period of often terrible poverty.

Over the course of two years they journey around Gippsland and north-eastern Victoria, picking peas and hops, “ready, as the picker is always, to leap out of our tailored clothes and mutilate anything in exchange for a hut and a few shillings a week.” Steve falls in love with the gawky “Macca”, but keeps him at arm’s length, and when the novel ends, Blue has gone home, Macca is off in the Alps, droving, and as for Steve, “I was alone.”

Thanks, Bill, for taking part in my Triple Choice Tuesday!

This is such an interesting trio of books, probably the most intriguing selection ever chosen here. The last two are new names to me, but I’ve been able to buy both An Australian Girl by Catherine Martin (who also uses the pseudonym Mrs Alick MacLeod) and The Pea Pickers by Eve Langley on Kindle for £1.99 and £5.99 respectively. I’m looking forward to reading them!

What do you think of Bill’s choices? Have you read any of these books?

5 books, Book lists

5 classic ANZ authors to discover — a guest post by Sue from Whispering Gums

5-books-200pixThis isn’t a strictly “5 books” post but a “5 authors” post, but that’s all semantics. I thought it might be nice to look at writers from Australia and New Zealand who have been around for a long time. Who are the classic authors from these countries that we should know about?

Sue, who lives in Australia and blogs at Whispering Gums, seemed the perfect person to ask:



‘A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say.’ (Italo Calvino)

Most readers I’ve noticed – and I include myself in this – mostly read recent books. That’s not surprising, I suppose. We all like to be in touch with what’s going on around us, and be able to join in the conversation about current books. But, what about older books – those that have stood the test of time, and that have laid the foundation for contemporary literature? They are worth including in our reading diet.

So, when Kim asked me to write a post on classics (or, older books, as how do we define “a classic”), I jumped at the chance. We agreed that I’d do it by naming some authors rather than by simply listing a few books. Even so, it is a very select list. There are many, many great “older” Aussie books. This list just gets your toes in the water!

So, here goes, in order of the author’s birth!


Miles Franklin (1879-1954)

Any list like this has to start with Franklin — she  endowed our most important literary award, the Miles Franklin. Moreover, one of her middle names, Stella, has been adopted for our new women-only literary prize. Miles Franklin wrote many books of fiction and non-fiction, but by far her most famous is My Brilliant Career (1901). It’s heavily autobiographical and tells the story of a young woman from a grazing family who is desperate to become a writer. It is still relevant as an account of a feisty, independent young woman who is prepared to buck her family’s expectations to follow her dream.


Christina Stead (1902-1983)

Stead is, possibly, one of Australia’s most under-appreciated writers. She is best known for her novels The Man Who Loved Children and For Love Alone. Instead of arguing for her myself, I’ll let American author Jonathan Franzen speak:

Although “The Man Who Loved Children” is probably too difficult (difficult to stomach, difficult to allow into your heart) to gain a mass following, it’s certainly less difficult than other novels common to college syllabuses, and it’s the kind of book that, if it is for you, is really for you. I’m convinced that there are tens of thousands of people in this country who would bless the day the book was published, if only they could be exposed to it.

I rest my case – read her if you dare!


Patrick White (1912-1990)

This list of course has to include Patrick White, Australia’s only Nobel Laureate for Literature. He was a rather irascible soul, and absolutely refused for his first novel, Happy Valley, to be published again in his lifetime. Fortunately, Text Publishing released it as part of its Australian Classics series, letting us all see where this writer started. It’s a good read, and is a readable introduction to some of White’s main preoccupations – lives frustrated by the inability (or refusal) to rise above the restrictions of their circumstances. My absolute favourite White, though, is Voss, his re-imagination of the tragic Australian explorer (we have many of those!), Leichhardt.


George Johnston (1912-1970)

In discussions about that problematical question, “the great Australian novel”, one of the books regularly put forward is George Johnston’s My Brother Jack, the first in his trilogy of semi-autobiographical novels. In the novel, the narrator, a successful journalist, contrasts his life with his brother, Jack, a “typical” Aussie bloke, uneducated, hardworking, a good mate, and more interested in things physical than intellectual. Johnston was married to author Charmian Clift and they remain one of Australia’s best-known literary couples.


Ruth Park (1917-2010)

New Zealand born Ruth Park made her literary career in Australia, after marrying Australian writer D’Arcy Niland. She won the 1977 Miles Franklin Award with her moving and very readable saga, Swords and Crowns and Rings, but she is best known for her Harp in the South trilogy about the Darcy family. The first two published novels (Harp in the South and Poor Man’s Orange) chronicle the family’s struggles to survive in the slums of Sydney, while Missus, which was published much later, tells the story of the parents before they came to Sydney. I love Park for the warmth of her writing about real characters, who struggle to cope with hard times in hard places. She’s still relevant for this very reason – and is, besides, a darned good read.

Thanks, Whispering Gums, for composing this wonderful list. I’m especially pleased to see George Johnston on it because I’ve read all his work and My Brother Jack is my favourite book of all time! Also delighted to see Ruth Park here. Her trilogy is highly recommended. I would also add her husband, D’Arcy Niland, to the list, as his novel The Shiralee, which I reviewed a few years back, is an absolute classic. I loved it so much I sourced all his other books online (they were all out of print) and I have a tidy little pile here ready to explore when the mood strikes!

Has anyone read any of these authors? Or can you suggest other classic writers from Australia and New Zealand worth looking out for?

NB: All pictures are taken from Wikipedia/GoodReads and reproduced under the relevent Creative Commons licence.

Australia, Author, Book review, Fiction,, Miles Franklin, pre-20th Century classic, Publisher, Setting

‘My Brilliant Career’ by Miles Franklin


Fiction – Kindle edition;; 252 pages; 2004.

Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin (1879-1954) was an Australian feminist and writer. If her name sounds familiar it’s because she bequeathed her estate to set up the prestigious Miles Franklin Literary Award, which is given to a novel of  “the highest literary merit and presents Australian life in any of its phases” every year.

Her novel, My Brilliant Career, first published in 1901, is widely regarded as a fully fledged Australian classic.

Headstrong teenager

The book tells the story of a headstrong teenage girl, Sybylla Melvyn, growing up in rural Australia in the 1890s. She shuns the conventions of her time and strives to become a woman of independent means. Her greatest dream is to become a writer, but not everything goes her way.

The eldest child of a large family struggling to make ends meet, she is sent away to live with her aunt and maternal grandmother. It is here that she first meets Harold Beecham, a wealthy young pastoralist, who proposes to her. But Sybilla, who believes she is ugly and undeserving of a man’s attentions, is reluctant to accept his hand in marriage.

Then life takes a turn for the worst, when she is sent away to work as a governess in order to pay off one of her father’s gambling debts. She finds this life exceedingly dull and monotonous, and falls into a serious depression. When Harold reappears on the scene, Sybilla is confronted with a dilemma: marry him and live a life of comfort, or fulfil her “fixed determination to write a book — nothing less than a book”.

Hiding her brains

Reading My Brilliant Career, I was struck by how angry I became on Sybilla’s behalf, forced to live her life as second fiddle to a man simply because of her gender. She is clearly intelligent and full of potential, but feels she has to hide her brains for fear of being misunderstood and shunned by society. Even her mother denies her the chance to pursue a career of her own, telling her she’s “a very useless girl for your age”.

And her grandmother, who is more kindly and more forgiving of Sybilla’s tom-boyish ways, believes her only goal is to get married:

My grandmother is one of the good old school, who believed that a girl’s only proper sphere in life was marriage; so, knowing her sentiments, her purpose to get me married neither surprised nor annoyed me. But I was plain. Ah, bosh! Oh! Ah! I cannot express what kind of a feeling that fact gave me. It sank into my heart and cut like a cruel jagged knife–not because it would be a drawback to me in the marriage line, for I had an antipathy to the very thought of marriage. Marriage to me appeared the most horribly tied-down and unfair-to-women existence going. It would be from fair to middling if there was love; but I laughed at the idea of love, and determined never, never, never to marry.

While Sybilla clearly understand’s society’s double standards (she makes reference to men being allowed to sow their wild oats while women must remain chaste and “proper”), there’s not much she can do about it except be true to her own self: determined to find happiness in work and a career rather than in someone of the opposite sex.

A romantic tale

Despite this emphasis on feminist values, the book does read very much like a classic romance — will she or won’t she agree to marry Beecham, will he or won’t he find her too difficult and pursue someone else? (Think an Australian version of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.)

And it’s written in an over-wrought style, mirroring the scattered, often unformed, thoughts of a rebellious teenager, who is quick to anger and make judgements on her seniors. Sometimes it feels a bit repetitive and “flabby”, and Sybilla isn’t always easy to like, but it provides an important insight into the boom-and-bust lifestyle of life on the land and the ways in which women were expected to fall into line.

Fans of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre will find a lot to like here. Like that classic English novel, My Brilliant Career celebrates the idea that everyone should be valued for simply who they are, not what they are or how much money they have in the bank. It’s highly emotive, frank and forthright. Sometimes it’s melodramatic, but as a glimpse of life in the bush — where danger and beauty often go hand-in-hand — it’s a hugely evocative read.