We have many masters returning with long-awaited new works, including seven Miles Franklin award-winners, including Michelle de Kretser (whose last book was in 2012). Two of these authors (Kim Scott and Alex Miller) have won the Miles Franklin twice, while Peter Carey has won three times (and of course, Peter Carey and Richard Flanagan are also Man Booker Prize winners).
We've been lucky enough to have a sneak peek at these novels, and we absolutely love them.
Carey's A Long Way From Home is full of verve and vernacular, and is reminiscent of his much-loved Illywhacker. Michelle De Kretser's The Life to Come has been adored by all, with its exquisite prose and insightful examination of internal psyche, and is sure to eclipse her wondrous book Questions of Travel.
Chris Womersley brings his best work yet with City of Crows, a gritty tale of fate and trust in plague-ridden Paris that is almost cinematic in description, yet full of heart. Sofie Laguna's Choke is a stunning portrayal of rural hardship, tension and love.
Richard Flanagan's First Person tells of a ghost-writer whose biographical subject becomes rather unwieldy, and Alex Miller's most autobiographical work, The Passage of Love, shows the author striving to define his very life and cultural contribution.
These works are profoundly beautiful, and will touch you deeply.
Look for these tall poppies as they appear over the warmer months - they are sure to bring colour into your reading life.
Set in Sydney, Paris and Sri Lanka, The Life to Come is a mesmerising novel about the stories we tell and don't tell ourselves as individuals, as societies and as nations. It feels at once firmly classic and exhilaratingly contemporary.
Pippa is a writer who longs for success. Celeste tries to convince herself that her feelings for her married lover are reciprocated. Ash makes strategic use of his childhood in Sri Lanka but blots out the memory of a tragedy from that time. Driven by riveting stories and unforgettable characters, here is a dazzling meditation on intimacy, loneliness and our flawed perception of other people.
Profoundly moving as well as wickedly funny, The Life to Come reveals how the shadows cast by both the past and the future can transform, distort and undo the present. This extraordinary novel by Miles Franklin-winning author Michelle de Kretser will strike to your soul.
This book is a glorious piece of virtuosity that is unlike anything I have ever read. It is provocative, tragicomic, and full of the most wonderfully descriptive writing you'll see this year. More valuably though, this book may actually change you.
The Life to Come is a series of mini-narratives entwined to produce a rich and colourful tapestry. Like in her 2012 MIles Franklin Award-winning novel Questions of Travel, there is no dominant narrative arc here - it is the details that make up the whole. Those expecting a grand plot may be confounded at first, but if you let yourself go with the novel's small episodes, a more valuable picture emerges. This novel delves into the stories we tell both others and ourselves. It explores how we make excuses for our bad behaviour and highlight our aspirations, always with our best times and deeds just before us, in the life to come. Ultimately, De Kretser highlights how we are the heroes of our own stories.
It is mostly set in Inner West Sydney, in a world of politically aware creatives who are forever bumping against each other. Each of her characters is a kind of vignette, carrying defined ideas of who they are and where they are going. Some have cast themselves as grand writers, charitable neighbours, or great liberal supporters of refugees and the marginalised. These ideals are soon revealed as the hypocritical constructs they are, with De Kretser deftly pinning each one to the board with glorious wit - her character observations are so acute that you are often left breathless.
Thankfully, De Kretser’s authorial compassion offsets the social shortcomings of her characters, as we realise they are full of human frailty, just like us. Moving and evocative, intellectual and pointed, and all written in brilliant prose, this book is a rich delight that is so uniquely of its time, and my pick of 2017 so far. Take your time reading it, and watch how it colours even the smallest social interactions in your life. You'll ask yourself questions. You may change how you act. Certainly you will want to re-read it.
'I so much admire Michelle de Kretser's formidable technique - her characters feel alive, and she can create a sweeping narrative which encompasses years, and yet still retain the sharp, almost hallucinatory detail.' Hilary Mantel
'Michelle de Kretser knows how to construct a gripping story. She writes quickly and lightly of wonderful and terrible things…A master storyteller.' A.S. Byatt
'...one of those rare writers whose work balances substance with style. Her writing is very witty, but it also goes deep, informed at every point by a benign and far-reaching intelligence.' Kerryn Goldsworthy, Sydney Morning Herald
'...a dazzlingly accomplished author who commands all the strokes. Her repertoire stretches from a hallucinatory sense of place to a mastery of suspense, sophisticated verbal artistry and a formidable skill in navigating those twisty paths where history and psychology entwine.' Boyd Tonkin, Independent
Irene Bobs loves fast driving. Her husband is the best car salesman in western Victoria. Together they enter the Redex Trial, a brutal race around the ancient continent over roads no car will ever quite survive.
With them is their lanky fair-haired navigator, Willie Bachhuber, a quiz show champion and failed school teacher whose job it is to call out the turns, the grids, the creek crossings on a map that will finally remove them, without warning, from the lily-white Australia they know so well.
This thrilling, high-speed story starts in one way and then takes you someplace else. It is often funny, the more so as the world gets stranger, and always a page-turner, even as you learn a history these characters never knew themselves. Set in the 1950s amid the consequences of the age of empires, this brilliantly vivid and lively novel reminds us how Europeans took possession of a timeless culture the high purpose they invented and the crimes they committed along the way.
Peter Carey has twice won the Booker Prize for his explorations of Australian history. A Long Way from Home is his late-style masterpiece.
Growing up in inland Australia, Judy, a young teacher, has rarely seen the sea. But when she flees a rioting classroom one dismal Friday, a dud and a failure, she gets drunk and wakes up on a boat. Overnight her life changes; she is in love with being on the water and in love with Wes Bannister who lives on the boat. Sailing was not something Judy had ever thought about wanting, but now she craved it. Wind was the best teacher she’d had, by far…
From then on, Judy believes that the one trusted continuation of herself is with Wes, and always will be, but then events at sea challenge their closeness. Must they become competitors against each other in the push to be equals? It seems they must.
A Sea-Chase is a novel that vividly tracks ambition, self-realisation, and lasting love tied up in a sea story. The idea that nobody who sets off to do something alone, without family, friends, rivals, and a pressing duty to the world, ever does so alone, finds beautiful, dramatic expression in Roger McDonald's tenth, and most surprising novel.
'The natural world that shone through the power of the ocean with the absolute freedom of the characters and the politics. All bobbing away together on the horizon and like all great literary novels these somewhat disparate parts sit together wonderfully and make sense.' Christopher Grierson
Sitting in a New York park, an old man holds a book and tries to accept that his contribution to the future is over. Instead, he remembers a youthful yearning for open horizons, for Australia, a yearning he now knows inspired his life as a writer. Instinctively he picks up his pen and starts at the beginning...
At twenty-one years, Robert Crofts leaves his broken dreams in Far North Queensland, finally stopping in Melbourne almost destitute. It's there he begins to understand how books and writing might be the saving of him. They will be how he leaves his mark on the world. He also begins to understand how many obstacles there will be to thwart his ambition.
When Robert is introduced to Lena Soren, beautiful, rich and educated, his life takes a very different path. But in the intimacy of their connection lies an unknowability that both torments and tantalises as Robert and Lena long for something that neither can provide for the other.
In a rich blend of thoughtful and beautifully observed writing, the lives of a husband and wife are laid bare in their passionate struggle to engage with their individual creativity.
Alex Miller is magnificent in this most personal of all novels filled with rare wisdom and incisive observation.
I never had words to ask anybody the questions, so I never had the answers.
Abandoned by her mother and only occasionally visited by her secretive father, Justine is raised by her pop, a man tormented by visions of the Burma Railway. Justine finds sanctuary in Pop's chooks and The Choke, where the banks of the Murray River are so narrow it seems they might touch - a place of staggering natural beauty. But the river can't protect Justine from danger. Her father is a criminal, and the world he exposes her to can be lethal.
Justine is overlooked and underestimated, a shy and often silent observer of her chaotic world. She learns that she has to make sense of it on her own. She has to find ways to survive so much neglect. She must hang on to friendship when it comes, she must hide when she has to, and ultimately she must fight back.
The Choke is a brilliant, haunting novel about a child navigating an often dark and uncaring world of male power and violence, in which grown-ups can't be trusted and comfort can only be found in nature. This compassionate and claustrophobic vision of a child in danger and a society in trouble celebrates above all the indomitable nature of the human spirit.
Sofie Laguna, winner of the 2015 Miles Franklin Literary Award for The Eye of the Sheep, once again shows she is a writer of rare empathy, originality and blazing talent.
'It is quite a feat to write characters with such nuance . . . in harnessing her storytelling facility to expose the flaws in the system with what is becoming trademark empathy, Laguna is an author proving the novel is a crucial document of the times.' Louise Swinn, The Australian
Kif Kehlmann, a young penniless writer, is rung in the middle of the night by the notorious con man and corporate criminal, Siegfried Heidl. About to go to trial for defrauding the banks of $700 million, Heidl offers Kehlmann the job of ghostwriting his memoir. He has six weeks to write the book, for which he’ll be paid $10,000.
But as the writing gets under way, Kehlmann begins to fear that he is being corrupted by Heidl. As the deadline draws closer, he becomes ever more unsure if he is ghostwriting a memoir, or if Heidl is rewriting him his life, his future. Everything that was certain grows uncertain as he begins to wonder: who is Siegfried Heidl and who is Kif Kehlmann?
As time runs out, one question looms above all others: what is the truth?
By turns compelling, comic, and chilling, this is a haunting journey into the heart of our age.
A woman's heart contains all things. Her heart is tender and loving, but it has other elements.
Shipwreck and all that has ever happened in the world. Murder, if need be...1673. Desperate to save herself and her only surviving child Nicolas from an outbreak of plague, Charlotte Picot flees her tiny village in the French countryside. But when Nicolas is abducted by a troop of slavers, Charlotte resorts to witchcraft and summons assistance in the shape of a malevolent man.
She and her companion travel to Paris where they become further entwined in the underground of sorcerers and poisoners - and where each is forced to reassess their ideas of good and evil. Before Charlotte is finished she will wander hell's halls, trade with a witch and accept a demon's fealty. Meanwhile, a notorious criminal is unexpectedly released from the prison galleys where he has served a brutal sentence for sacrilege...
Taboo takes place in the present day, in the rural South-West of Western Australia, and tells the story of a group of Noongar people who revisit, for the first time in many decades, a taboo place: the site of a massacre that followed the assassination, by these Noongar's descendants, of a white man who had stolen a black woman.
They come at the invitation of Dan Horton, the elderly owner of the farm on which the massacres unfolded. He hopes that by hosting the group he will satisfy his wife's dying wishes and cleanse some moral stain from the ground on which he and his family have lived for generations.
But the sins of the past will not be so easily expunged.
We walk with the ragtag group through this taboo country and note in them glimmers of re-connection with language, lore, country. We learn alongside them how countless generations of Noongar may have lived in ideal rapport with the land.
This is a novel of survival and renewal, as much as destruction; and, ultimately, of hope as much as despair.
Why do some nights feel as though they were always waiting to happen? Or have already happened and will again? And why don't we know it then? Why is it only afterwards we say, yes, that was when my life turned?
1965. The great poet, TS Eliot, is dead. Hearing the news, the seventy-two year old Emily Hale points her Ford Roadster towards the port of Gloucester, where a fishing boat will take her out to sea, near the low, treacherous rocks called the Dry Salvages, just off Cape Ann, Massachusetts.
Over the course of that day, clutching a satchel of letters, Emily Hale slips between past and present, reliving her life with Eliot - starting with that night in 1913, the moment when her life turned, when the young Tom Eliot and Emily Hale fell deeply in love with each other. But Tom moved to London to fulfil his destiny as the famous poet `TS Eliot', and Emily went on to become his muse - the silent figure behind some of the greatest poetry of the 20th century - his friend and his confidante. But never did she become his lover or his wife.
From Steven Carroll, one of our most brilliant, award-winning authors, A New England Affair is the third novel in his acclaimed Eliot Quartet, a companion novel to The Lost Life and A World of Other People. It is a deeply moving, intense and poignant novel of a love that never finds the right moment, and so becomes the ghost of what could have been, of what never quite was, and never quite will be.
When Anne suffers a psychotic breakdown, Katerina is left alone on a ship full of strangers who span classes and stations, all of whom carry their ambitions, fears and obsessions with them. For a seventeen-year-old girl, the daughter of an ambassador, it’s an exciting, frightening world to navigate.
Atlantic Black is a psychologically intense and affecting story of unexpected familial betrayal, of a mother and daughter's relationship, of a brother and father whose voices resonate from afar. Personal loneliness, love and loss, are tightly bound to the wider reality of a world set on a fateful course. The legacy of violence, and of how the First World War precipitated the Second World War reverberates as if ‘tolling on the inside of a church bell’. Through the eyes of Katerina and her own family’s place within a fracturing world, we see the way damage, yet also hope, are passed from one generation to another. A.S. Patrić's writing is achingly tender, the tone merciless but heartbreaking in its compassion.
The story takes place over one day and night, New Year's Eve, 1939. The RMS Aquitania steams across the Atlantic Ocean. On the horizon, the world is about to explode.
A.S. Patric’s followup to his Miles Franklin-winning novel Black Rock White City is a captivating achievement in storytelling. Claustrophobic in feel yet colossal in emotional scale, Atlantic Black is an unsettling glimpse at how the echoes of past violence ring through into the present.
Patric sets his story in 1939, where young Katerina Klova is aboard a passenger ship heading towards the tumult of pre-war Europe. Her mother lies below deck, sedated and strapped down as she retreats into a hallucinogenic hell, leaving her daughter to face the uncertainties of the ship alone. In Patric’s hands, this ship feels like a liminal space devoid of the trappings of reality that are anchored by dry land, in which many strange and unearthly things happen. The story unfolds as a series of episodes that seem shallowly innocuous but which carry malevolent undertones, over which the threat of impending war hangs like fog.
The result is an atmospheric book that will wrap itself around your mind, slowly filling you with a sense of foreboding that seeps in before it floods.
‘I am still walking the slick decks of Atlantic Black, looking for a way out for both myself and Katerina. She is a singular character such a perfect and excruciating balance of acting and being acted upon. A brilliant and devastating novel that will not let me go.’ ~ Myfanwy Jones, author of Leap
‘A powerful and mesmerising voyage into darkness. Atlantic Black creates an indelible portrait of humanity sailing towards war.’ ~ Heather Rose, Winner of the 2017 Stella Prize
In this unforgettable new collection, Tony Birch introduces a cast of characters from all walks of life. These remarkable and surprising stories capture common people caught up in the everyday business of living and the struggle to survive.
From two single mothers on the most unlikely night shift to a homeless man unexpectedly faced with the miracle of a new life, Birch’s stories are set in gritty urban refuges and battling regional communities. His deftly drawn characters find unexpected signs of hope in a world where beauty can be found on every street corner a message on a T-shirt, a friend in a stray dog or a star in the night sky.
Common People shines a light on human nature and how the ordinary kindness of strangers can have extraordinary results. With characteristic insight and restraint, Tony Birch reinforces his reputation as a master storyteller.
‘The Ghost Train’, ‘Harmless’, ‘Colours’, ‘Joe Roberts’, ‘The White Girl’, ‘Party Lights’, ‘Paper Moon’, ‘Painted Glass’, ‘Frank Slim’, ‘Liam’, ‘Raven and Sons’, ‘The Good Howard’, ‘Sissy’, ‘Death Star’, ‘Worship’.
Kungadgee, Victoria, Australia. A weekend in late November, 2014. At Hugh and Christine Cleary’s new vineyard, Whipbird, six generations of the Cleary family are coming together from far and wide to celebrate the 160th anniversary of the arrival of their ancestor Conor Cleary from Ireland.
Hugh has been meticulously planning the event for months a chance to proudly showcase Whipbird to the extended clan. Some of these family members know each other; some don’t.
As the wine flows, it promises to be an eventful couple of days.
Comic, topical, honest, sharply intelligent, and, above all, sympathetic, Robert Drewe’s exhilarating new novel tells a classic Australian family saga as it has never been told before.
Giramondo's publication of Border Districts, and the retrospective volume Collected Short Fiction (early next year) is a collaboration with the distinguished New York publisher Farrar Straus Giroux.
Conceived as Gerald Murnane's last work of fiction, Border Districts was written after the author moved from Melbourne to a small town on the western edge of the Wimmera plains, near the border with South Australia. The narrator of this fiction has made a similar move, from a capital city to a remote town in the border country, where he intends to spend the last years of his life. It is a time for exploring the enduring elements of his experience, as these exist in his mind, images whose persistence is assured, but whose significance needs to be rediscovered.
Readers of Murnane's earlier work will recognise some of these images: the dark-haired young woman at a window; the ancestral house set in grasslands; coloured glass, marbles, goldfish, the outfits of jockeys. Murnane's images often draw their power from the light that falls upon them from a distant or mysterious source. But he also considers the possibility that the mind casts its own light, imbuing the images in the observer's mind with the colours of his soul.
As Murnane's narrator declares, `the mind is a place best viewed from borderlands'. In this work, Border Districts also refers to the border country between life and death; and there is another meaning, in the narrator's discovery of others who might share his world, even though they enter it from a different direction, across the border districts which separate, or unite, two human beings.
`a genius on the level of Beckett' - Teju Coleâ
`The emotional conviction...is so intense, the somber lyricism so moving, the intelligence behind the chiseled sentences so undeniable, that we suspend all disbelief.' - J.M. Coetzee
There simply isn't enough room to showcase all of the stand-out literary works this year, and it’s clear that our country is overflowing with literary talent.
Here's a hand-picked bunch of some of the more thoughtful and captivating books we’ve enjoyed so far. It's a rich and varied bouquet too: Dennis Glover imagines George Orwell's life as fiction in The Last Man in Europe and Cass Moriarty explores family trauma in Parting Words. Luke Slattery places Elizabeth and Lachlan Macquarie in a beautifully wrought love triangle with architect Francis Greenway in Mrs M, and Jess Blackadder finds that the certainty of family life can change abruptly in Sixty Seconds.
These are remarkable creations, and they are sure to reward your reading time well.
Dazzling debuts are arriving thick and fast this year, all of them strong new voices with vivid narratives that are accomplished with style. We highly recommend the new crowd to you. Many are shortlisted for prizes or winning awards already, like Wimmera by Mark Brandi, The Lost Pages by Marija Pericic, and Dancing Home by Paul Collis. Collis also joins Claire G.Coleman (Terra Nullius) in the new wave of indigenous authors writing passionately about their country.
You'll be glad you got on to these authors early, as these stars are on the rise!
“None of these novels draws on familiar tropes of Australian literature, yet each brings a distinctive pitch of truth and insight into the Australian experience. (They) explore the restorative power of love, the pernicious influence of the past on the present, the tragedy of the present avoiding the past, the challenge of unconventional identities, the interweaving of lives across communities, the devastation of grief, and the war zone that is the media, masculinity and a small country town.”
-State Library of NSW Mitchell Librarian Richard Neville said on behalf of the judges, The Australian
The Miles Franklin Award 2017 went to Josephine Wilson for her splendid novel, "Extinctions".