Five Favourite Australian Novelists
I just can’t do this favourites thing, it’s too apples with oranges for me but there are some writers who have helped shape my consciousness over the nearly thirty years since I first came here, mapping the country’s interior and exterior contours, helping me navigate its topography, insinuating themselves into my consciousness so that now their language and imagery feel familiar enough to give me a sense of belonging which makes me feel very grateful.
I love the corporeal, saline quality of all of Robert Drewe’s writing, the way it makes me aware of the body as it propels itself through water and on land, as if he and we were amphibious. You get that in Our Sunshine, his telling of the Ned Kelly story.
Tim Winton’s Cloudstreet introduced me to a voice I would always want to hear, an understanding of humanity that went deep, was complex, loving, generous, humorous and tender, that embraced outsiders and misfits and those on the margins expressed in language that seemed freshly minted. He taught me the word chiack.
When I read Charlotte Wood’s The Submerged Cathedral the intensity of emotion compressed into the economy of language was so tension-inducing I think I forgot to breathe and then burst into tears. Every time I re-read it I find new layers to her acute observation of a very poetic, romantic relationship. She gets more astringent in The Children and Animal People, lacing her compassionate observation and intelligence with humour. Don’t make me choose. (Full disclosure: Charlotte is a friend.)
Martin Boyd is so forgotten now , so unfashionable, but I loved Lucinda Brayford because it was the first Australian fiction I read when I got here and despite being dated and colonial and preoccupied with upper class social niceties. I recognised my own ambivalence about transplanting myself from Britain to Australia in it, but maybe I wouldn’t now.
Shirley Hazzard has such a European sensibility that it’s tempting to forget she’s Australian but she’s an uncompromisingly elegant stylist, quiet, restrained, unshowy but every sentence shines with careful polish. The Transit of Venus deserves its classic status.
Caroline Baum is Booktopia’s Editorial Director. You can follow Caroline on twitter at @mscarobaum