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:

 

Quote-marks

‘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

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

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

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

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

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.

10 books, Book lists

10 of my favourite novels from Australia

10-booksDespite growing up in Australia and spending the first 29 years of my life there, I can’t say I’m very well read as far as Australian fiction is concerned. I do miss the “Australiana” sections that are found in pretty much every Aussie bookstore. This means I usually stock up on Aussie literature whenever I go home, because it’s often hard to get on this side of the world, unless, of course, the novelist pens international bestsellers.

Here’s my list of favourite Australian fiction books, written by Australian authors and set in Australia (in alphabetical order by author’s name):

Eucalyptus by Murray Bail (1998)

Eucalyptus by Murray Bail

This is a wonderful fable-like story, set in rural NSW, in which a man plants hundreds of different species of gum trees on his farm. When he announces that his 19-year-old daughter, Ellen, can marry the first man to name all the species correctly, a series of would-be suitors from around the world turn up, but many are more interested in the challenge than the prize. Set under the searing light of the unrelentless Australian sun, this story reads like a magical fairytale about love, destiny and nature.

This book won the 1999 Commonwealth Writers Prize and the 1999 Miles Franklin Award.

Oscar and Lucinda by Peter Carey (1988)

Oscar-and-lucinda

This unforgettable book set in mid-19th century Australia is a rollicking good adventure story that combines old-fashioned romance with history, humour and religious piety. The two characters — Oscar, an Oxford clergyman, and Lucinda, an orphaned heiress — both share a penchant for gambling. Together, they make the biggest gamble on earth: to transport a crystal palace of a church across the harsh and dangerous Australian bush without destroying it in the process.

I’ve read a handful of Carey books, but this one stands out in my memory the most. The characters are wonderfully realised, strong and believable, and the descriptions of the Australian bush and life at that time in history are pitch-perfect. The 1997 film, starring Ralph Fiennes and Cate Blanchett, is a very good adaptation.

This book won the 1988 Booker Prize, the 1988 Miles Franklin Award and the 1989 National Book Council’s Banjo Award.

The Second Bridegroom by Rodney Hall (1991)

The Second Bridegroom by Rodney Hall

Hall’s novel, the second in the Yandilli Trilogy, is a classic of the Australian convict genre. In this dark, but spellbinding book, a young convict escapes his captors and finds himself on the run in the unfamiliar Australian bush. He is adopted by a tribe of aboriginals, who revere him as a kind of mythical creature. But the narrator remains a solitary being who wanders dreamlike through the landscape for two years, before being recaptured.

I read this shortly after publication because it had attracted a lot of media publicity. The writing was poetic and lyrical, but the mood of the book was almost Gothic, dark and claustrophobic in places.

While this book did not win any awards, it was critically acclaimed for its exploration of universal themes: civilisation, exile, justice and our need for human companionship.

My Brother Jack by George Johnston (1964)

My Brother Jack by George Johnston

My Brother Jack is my favourite book of all time. As a person who never re-reads books (there’s too many other unread tomes to make my way through), I have made an exception for this one and have read it several times now. I first read it as a teenager (it was on my school syllabus), then again in my twenties and more recently in my thirties. I particularly identify with the narrator, David Meredith, because he is a journalist who becomes an expat Australian, which is kind of the story of my life too.

Essentially it’s a tale about two brothers who grow up in suburban Melbourne between World I and II. The elder brother, Jack Meredith, is the epitome of the macho Aussie male who is full of bravado and wants nothing more than to fight for his country, while David, the narrator, is more introverted, unsure of himself and lacks self esteem. Ironically, it is David who gets to see the frontline as a celebrated war correspondent
while Jack, through one misfortune after another, never passes his army medical.

This book has been described as a quintessential Australian novel which explores two Australian myths, that of the man who loses this soul as he gains wordly success, and that of tough, honest, Aussie battler, whose greatest ambition is to serve his country.

This book won the 1964 Miles Franklin Award. George Johnston died in 1970.

Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay (1967)

Picnic at Hanging Rock by Joan Lindsay

If you’ve ever seen the 1975 Peter Weir film of this book, then you will know this story is very atmospheric, if slightly creepy. It’s about a party of schoolgirls who go on a picnic to Hanging Rock, a real-life sacred aboriginal site near Mt Macedon in Victoria, on Valentine’s Day 1900. During the picnic four girls mysteriously disappear when they explore the rock.

Despite the fact that there is no satisfactory conclusion to this intriguing mystery, it’s a cracking read. One of the best things about this book is Lindsay’s evocative descriptions of the Australian landscape and wildlife.

A final “secret” chapter was published in 1987, which supposedly solved the mystery of the girls’ disappearance. But I never bothered to read it, because I quite liked the idea that it was up to the reader to figure out what happened; it was part of Picnic at Hanging Rock‘s charm.

1915 by Roger McDonald (1979)

1915 by Roger McDonald

This debut novel explores the seminal year in Australia’s history, the year that gave birth to the ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corp) legend that endures to this day. It’s essentially about two boys from the bush, shy Walter and extroverted Billy, who sign up to fight in the Great War on the other side of the world. It’s a moving and passionate story that mirrors Australia’s coming of age, and when I read this book as a 16-year-old I was completely smitten by the whole drama and romance of it.

It was made into a popular television mini-series in the mid 1980s.

The Great World by David Malouf (1990)

The Great World by David Malouf

The blurb on the back of this book sums it up better than I ever could: “Every city, town and village has its memorial to war.  Nowhere are these monuments more eloquent than in Australia, generations of whose young men have enlisted to fight other people’s battles — from Gallipoli and the Somme to Malaya and Vietnam.  In The Great World, his finest novel yet, David Malouf gives a voice to that experience.”

Essentially The Great World is about two men, Vic and Digger, who become POWs during the Second World War and how that soul-destroying experience affects the rest of their lives. It is, above all else, a tale of mateship and a study of human nature under extreme conditions.

When I read this in my mid-twenties the story stunned me. It was the first time I’d ever read a book about men living under such brutal conditions; these were the men of my grandfather’s generation, who still lived and walked among us. There’s one particular scene in this book which remains with me more than a decade after having read it: of a POW guiltily gulping down food that does not belong to him while eyeballing his mate who has caught him in the act. That one scene says so much about the human condition, it still makes me cringe with a kind of knowing embarrassment.

This book won the 1991 Miles Franklin Award, the 1991 Commonwealth Writers Prize and the 1991 Prix Fémina Etranger.


The Harp in the South
by Ruth Park (1948)

The Harp in the South by Ruth Park

This is one of those books every Australian teenager is made to read at school. Set at the end of the Second World War, it chronicles the ups and downs of an Irish Catholic family living in an inner-Sydney slum among the razor gangs, brothels and grog shops. The main character, Rosie Darcy, falls in love and makes something of herself despite the sadness, despair, violence and poverty that fills her existence.

I’ve included this on my list, because I think it provides an interesting glimpse of the immigrant experience at an important time in Australia’s history.

This book, which is a trilogy, was made into a mini-series. Ruth Park, a New Zealander by birth, was an incredibly prolific author, writing both adult and children’s fiction, including the much-loved Muddle-headed Wombat series.

Tree of Man by Patrick White  (1955)

Tree of Man by Patrick White

This is an extraodinary story about ordinary people living on the edge of the Australian wilderness at the turn of the 19th century. Stan Parker and his wife Amy are pioneers struggling to survive the harsh environment. The novel follows their ups and downs, highs and lows, their triumphs and disappointments. The great beauty of Tree of Man is that it provides the most enlightening glimpse of a past way of life and chronicles the achievements of Australia’s pioneers in a non-glorifed but totally real way.

I have to admit that when I read this circa 1990, it took me two goes because at almost 500 pages it seemed so impenetrable, the writing was also very dense and heavy, while the lack of plot was a challenge. But perserverance paid off, and when I eventually finished it I felt genuinely sad that this lovely family saga had come to an end.

Patrick White was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1973; he died in 1990.

Cloudstreet by Tim Winton (1991)

Cloudstreet by Tim Winton

Cloudstreet refers to a broken down house on the wrong side of the tracks in Perth, Western Australia, the most isolated city on earth. But when two rural families, the Lambs and the Pickles, move into the ricketty old structure they turn the place into a home against all odds.

The story follows their complicated soap-opera-ish lives over the course of 20 years, and it is, by turns, funny and heartbreakingly sad.

This book received huge publicity upon publication and Winton, who was born in 1960, was hailed as Australia’s new literary hero at a time when there didn’t seem to be any new, young writers around.

This book won the 1992 Miles Franklin Award.

Have you read any of these books? If so, what did you think of them? Do you agree/disagree with my choices? Are there any other Australian books that you think are worth including on this list?