When I challenged myself to spend the year reading Australian literature, it seemed logical to also sign up to the 2016 Australian Women Writers’ Challenge — to kill two birds with one stone, as it were.
I thought I should give myself a serious target and aimed to read 30 books by Australian women.
Now that the year is drawing to a close, I’m happy to report I exceeded that self-imposed target: I read 35 books by women — and I loved (almost, but not quite) every one of them.
As well as reading all the titles on the 2016 Stella Prize shortlist, I read a wonderful mix of newly released books and old ones that had been lingering in my TBR for years. These included non-fiction and fiction — mainly literary fiction, with a side order of short stories (I read four collections) and a couple of crime novels.
I really loved taking part in this challenge. It introduced me to some wonderful writers — hello Romy Ash, Jen Craig and Lucy Treloar — and reacquainted me with “old familiars” such as Thea Astley, Marion Halligan and Charlotte Wood.
Here is my comprehensive list. The books have been arranged in alphabetical order by author’s name (click the title to see my full review):
‘Floundering’ by Romy Ash
Heartbreaking novel about two brothers “kidnapped” by their cash-strapped mother one hot summer.
‘Drylands’ by Thea Astley
This Miles Franklin winner looks at the humdrum nature of small town life and what happens when its inhabitants stop reading.
‘It’s Raining in Mango’ by Thea Astley
A no holds-barred fictional story of one Australian family from the 1860s to the 1980s.
‘Six Bedrooms’ by Tegan Bennett Daylight
Collection of short stories about teenage girls growing up in the 1980s.
‘The Other Side of the World’ by Stephanie Bishop
A deeply melancholy novel about emigration, marriage and motherhood set in Perth, Australia in the early 1960s.
‘Panthers & The Museum of Fire’ by Jen Craig
A bold experimental novel set on a summer’s afternoon as the narrator walks across Sydney to deliver a manuscript to a bereaved family.
‘Elemental’ by Amanda Curtin
Gripping historical novel about a Scottish fisherwoman who escapes her circumstances to start a new life on the other side of the world.
‘Aunts Up the Cross’ by Robin Dalton
An outrageously funny memoir about Dalton’s childhood in the 1920s and 1930s in Sydney’s Kings Cross.
‘Viral’ by Helen FitzGerald
A confronting revenge thriller about sexual shaming online.
‘Hope Farm’ by Peggy Frew
Fictional tale of a 13-year-old girl and her single mother living in a hippy commune in the 1980s.
‘Everywhere I Look’ by Helen Garner
Collection of essays spanning 15 years of Garner’s journalistic career.
‘What Came Before’ by Anna George
Disturbing psychological thriller about a woman murdered by her husband.
‘Goodbye Sweetheart’ by Marion Halligan
Unexpectedly charming tale about one man’s untimely death and the effect it has on his loved ones.
‘The Dry’ by Jane Harper
Compelling crime story set in rural Australia during the height of the worst drought in living memory.
‘A Few Days in the Country and Other Stories’ by Elizabeth Harrower
Collection of exquisitely written short stories mostly about women trying to find their place in the world.
‘Snake’ by Kate Jennings
Deeply affecting portrait of a marriage between two incompatible people in postwar Australia.
‘The Landing’ by Susan Johnson
Delightfully funny and poignant story about a newly divorced man trying to recalibrate his life.
‘A Guide to Berlin’ by Gail Jones
Unusual tale about six Vladimir Nabokov fans from around the world who gather in Berlin to share stories about themselves.
‘The Family’ by Chris Johnson and Rosie Jones
An eye-opening work of investigative journalism looking at a cult led by a woman who believed she was the female reincarnation of Jesus Christ.
‘Leap’ by Myfanwy Jones
A story about grief, marriage and parkour set in Melbourne’s inner suburbs.
‘The World Without Us’ by Mireille Juchau
Beautifully constructed novel about family secrets, love, loss, parenthood and community set in rural NSW.
‘The Golden Age’ by Joan London
Story set in a children’s convalescent home during a polio outbreak in the mid-1950s.
‘The Mint Lawn’ by Gillian Mears
Award-winning novel about a young woman trapped in a small town with a husband she no longer loves.
‘The Latte Years’ by Philippa Moore
Frank and engaging memoir about Moore’s struggle to lose weight, build self-confidence and live what she calls an “authentic life”.
‘When the Night Comes’ by Favel Parrett
Two intertwined stories about grief, kindness and life on an Antarctic supply ship.
‘Wild Man’ by Alecia Simmonds
A compelling true crime story that follows the coronial inquest into the death of a mentally unstable man shot dead by police on a remote farm.
‘A Pure Clear Light’ by Madeleine St John
A domestic black comedy about middle-class life in 1990s London.
‘Reckoning’ by Magda Szubanski
Extraordinary memoir about Szubanksi’s life lived in the shadows of her father’s war-time activities in Poland.
‘Dying: A Memoir’ by Cory Taylor
Heartfelt and brutally frank memoir by a leading Australian author diagnosed with terminal cancer.
‘Salt Creek’ by Lucy Treloar
Superb historical novel about one family’s attempt to settle a remote area on the South Australian coast and the dreadful, heartbreaking repercussions that follow.
‘Hush, Little Bird’ by Nicole Trope
Deliciously suspense-filled tale about two women sent to prison for two separate but shocking crimes.
‘Hot Little Hands’ by Abigail Ulman
Effortlessly readable collection of short stories about teenage girls or young women trying to find their way in the world.
‘The Media and the Massacre’ by Sonya Voumard
A hard-hitting look at the relationship between journalists and their subjects in the context of Tasmania’s Port Arthur massacre.
‘The Natural Way of Things’ by Charlotte Wood
Award-winning dystopian novel set in a remote prison for women who have been sexually shamed.
‘Small Acts of Disappearance’ by Fiona Wright
Surprisingly gripping collection of 10 essays about the author’s struggle with an eating disorder.
Have you read any of these books? Or care to share a great read by an Australian woman writer? Or any woman writer, regardless of nationality?
By the way, I plan on signing up for the 2017 Australian Womens’ Writers Challenge in the New Year. If you want to join me, you can sign up via the official website.