The 50 Must Read Australian Novels (30 to 21) (The Popular Vote 2010)

by |December 24, 2010

We are counting down The 50 Must Read Australian Novels as voted by our good and learned friends on twitter and facebook – today we move from 30 to 21.

The list creation process was fairly simple – I asked for nominations and hundreds of titles were suggested. I then made a list and asked people to vote for their favourites. The response was vigorous. And we soon had the makings of a good list.

A clever twitter chap suggested I allow one novel per author and I made it law. The highest ranking title by that author is the one included in the top fifty.

A very democratic process, don’t you think?

Well, if you don’t like my list – you only have yourselves to blame. However, if you do like my list, as adjudicator, you have me to thank. 🙂

(The story so far 40 to 31 50 to 41 )


9780207197406

30. Ride On Stranger

Kylie Tennant

“Civilization is mad and getting madder every day”.

So says Shannon Hicks in Kylie Tennant’s marvellous, harsh, satiric 1943 novel. Arriving in Sydney just before WWII, Shannon, a dreamer and idealist takes on the world of politics, business, religion and men.

The consequences are challenging and unpredictable.


978073228224029. The Thorn Birds

Colleen McCullough

Treasured by readers around the world, this is the sweeping saga of three generations of the Cleary family.

Stoic matriarch Fee, her devoted husband, Paddy, and their headstrong daughter, Meggie, experience joy, sadness and magnificent triumph in the cruel Australian outback. With life’s unpredictability, it is love that is their unifying thread, but it is a love shadowed by the anguish of forbidden passions. For Meggie loves Father Ralph de Bricassart, a man who wields enormous power within the Catholic church …

As powerful, moving and unforgettable as when it originally appeared, The Thorn Birds remains a novel to be read … and read again.


the-secret-river28. The Secret River

Kate Grenville

In 1806 William Thornhill, a man of quick temper and deep feelings, is transported from the slums of London to New South Wales for the term of his natural life. With his wife Sal and their children he arrives in a harsh land he cannot understand.

But the colony can turn a convict into a free man. Eight years later Thornhill sails up the Hawkesbury to claim a hundred acres for himself.

Aboriginal people already live on that river. And other recent arrivals—Thomas Blackwood, Smasher Sullivan and Mrs Herring—are finding their own ways to respond to them.

Thornhill, a man neither better nor worse than most, soon has to make the most difficult choice of his life.

Inspired by research into her own family history, Kate Grenville vividly creates the reality of settler life, its longings, dangers and dilemmas. The Secret River is a brilliantly written book, a ground-breaking story about identity, belonging and ownership.


the-boat27. The Boat

Nam Le

Nam Le is . . . a disturber of the peace.

Consider the subjects of his stories: a child assassin in Colombia (‘Cartagena’), an ageing New York artist desperate for a reconciliation with his daughter (‘Meeting Elise’), a boy’s coming of age in a rough Victorian fishing town (‘Halflead Bay’), before the first atomic bomb falls in Japan (‘Hiroshima’), The suffocations of theocracy in Iran (‘Tehran Calling’). This astonishing range is topped and tailed by accounts of the uneasy reunion of a young Vietnamese writer in America with his ex-soldier father, and by the title story – the escape of a group of exhausted refugees from the Vietcong in a wallowing boat.

One might be permitted to think, after all this high seriousness and intensity, Nam Le can’t do funny. But this criminally talented 29-year-old can do that as well. BARRY OAKLEY, Australian Literary Review


978014320473226. Shiralee

Darcy Niland

Everyone has their cross to bear – their swag, their shiralee – and for Macauley, walking across New South Wales in search of work, it is his young daughter who has to suffer his resentment at having her in tow. But then, he discovers that the ties that bind can be as much a comfort as a burden, and what he thought of as his Shiralee could be the one thing that will save him from himself.

This classic Australian novel perfectly captures the spirit of the bush and the tough, resilient people of the outback.


978033035971925. Tirra Lirra By the River

Jessica Anderson

Liza used to say that she saw her past life as a string of roughly-graded balls, and so did Hilda have a linear conception of hers, thinking of it as a track with detours. But for some years now I have likened mine to a globe suspended in my head, and ever since the shocking realisation that waste is irretrievalbe, I have been careful not to let this globe spin to expose the nether side on which my marriage has left its multitude of images.

Nora Porteous has spent most of her life waiting to escape. Fleeing from her small-town family and then from her stifling marriage to a mean-spirited husband, Nora arrives finally in London where she creates a new life for herself as a successful dressmaker.

Now in her seventies, Nora returns to Queensland to settle into her childhood home.

But Nora has been away a long time, and the people and events of her past are not at all like she remembered them. And while some things never change, Nora is about to discover just how selective her ‘globe of memory’ has been.

Tirra Lirra by the River is a moving account of one woman’s remarkable life, a beautifully written novel which displays the lyrical brevity of Jessica Anderson’s award-winning style.


978014318024124. The Bodysurfers

Robert Drewe

Set among the surf and sandhills of the Australian beach – and the tidal changes of three generations of the Lang family – this bestselling collection of short stories is an Australian classic. The Bodysurfers vividly evokes the beach, with the scent of the suntan oil, the sting of the sun and a lazy sensuality, all the while hinting at a deep undercurrent of suburban malaise.

From first publication, these poignant and seductive stories marked a major change in Australian literature.

‘These stories breathe. Taut yet teeming with life, they are shot through with gritty phrases that catch at one’s throat.’ – Sydney Morning Herald


978174166762223. We of the Never Never

Jeannie/Aeneas Gunn

In 1902 Jeannie Gunn, a Melbourne schoolteacher, went with her new husband to live on the remote Elsey cattle station near the Roper River in the Northern Territory. Though she spent little more than a year there, her experiences in the outback and her contact with the local Aborigines impressed her deeply, and on her return to Melbourne she set down her recollections in two books, We of the Never Never and the Little Black Princess.

These books have become classics of Australian literature, beloved by generations. They are presented her in a special condensed edition for the enjoyment of today’s readers.


978192165677422. The Broken Shore

Peter Temple

Joe Cashin was different once. He moved easily then; was surer and less thoughtful. But there are consequences when you’ve come so close to dying. For Cashin, they included a posting away from the world of Homicide to the quiet place on the coast where he grew up. Now all he has to do is play the country cop and walk the dogs. And sometimes think about how he was before.

Then prominent local Charles Bourgoyne is bashed and left for dead. Everything seems to point to three boys from the nearby Aboriginal community; everyone seems to want it to. But Cashin is unconvinced. And as tragedy unfolds relentlessly into tragedy, he finds himself holding onto something that might be better let go.

Peter Temple’s gift for compelling plots and evocative, compassionately drawn characters has earnt him a reputation as the grand master of Australian crime writing. The Broken Shore is Temple’s finest book yet; a novel about a place, about family, about politics and power, and the need to live decently in a world where so much is rotten. It is a work as moving as it is gripping, and one that defies the boundaries of genre.


9781741667639

21. True History of the Kelly Gang

Peter Carey

‘I lost my own father at 12 yr. of age and know what it is to be raised on lies and silences my dear daughter you are presently too young to understand a word I write but this history is for you and will contain no single lie may I burn in Hell if I speak false.’

In TRUE HISTORY OF THE KELLY GANG, the legendary Ned Kelly speaks for himself, scribbling his narrative on errant scraps of paper in semi-literate but magically descriptive prose as he flees from the police. To his pursuers, Kelly is nothing but a monstrous criminal, a thief and a murderer.

To his own people, the lowly class of ordinary Australians, the bushranger is a hero, defying the authority of the English to direct their lives. Indentured by his bootlegger mother to a famous horse thief (who was also her lover), Ned saw his first prison cell at 15 and by the age of 26 had become the most wanted man in the wild colony of Victoria, taking over whole towns and defying the law until he was finally captured and hanged.

Here is a classic outlaw tale, made alive by the skill of a great novelist.


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About the Contributor

John Purcell (aka Natasha Walker) is the author of The Secret Lives of Emma trilogy published by Random House Australia. The Secret Lives of Emma: Beginnings reached the top ten on the Australian fiction charts and Natasha/John was the tenth highest selling Australian novelist and third highest selling Australian debut author in 2012. The trilogy has since sold over 50,000 copies in print and ebook and has been translated into French and Polish. John has worked in the book industry for the last twenty years. While still in his twenties he opened John’s Bookshop, a second-hand bookshop in Mosman in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Now he is the Head of Product and Chief Buyer at booktopia.com.au.

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