Five Favourite Australian Novelists
I’ve been lucky enough to have a bit to do with our ‘Australia’s Favourite Novelist poll. At the start of the month we sat around a table, discussing it’s potential popularity with a degree of trepidation. Today, with less than 48 hours until the polls close and thousands upon thousands of votes counted, I’m ecstatic with the interest it has spawned.
All of the writers featured, from the nominations to the shortlist, are wonderful. It’s incredible that such a small country can produce so many exquisite novelists. Looking down the shortlist reminds me of all those wonderful books that helped me develop from a boy into a man. The whispers from the page resonated so strongly with me, was it simply because we were from the same patch of dirt?
Australians will always have differences but invariably it’s in literature where our hearts beat in unison, if only for a moment.
And so it’s with great joy and constant whittling that I’m able to present my Five Favourite Australian Novelists. Here we go.
Let me get Patrick out of the way, because while he’s a divisive figure in ‘popularity’ contests, he’s not exactly a surprise nomination. Reclusive, pro-British, aloof, and hardly an accessible writer, White has divided opinion for years. I didn’t read a Patrick White novel until my final year of school when someone told me to read Tree Of Man. As a young man growing up in the country, sent away to school in the city, my life would never be the same after reading it. I still watch his awkward interview with Mike Charlton after word filtered through of his Nobel Prize win at least once a fortnight.
Ah yes, I hear you say. First Patrick White, then Tim Winton. Jumping on the obvious bus, first stop safe picks. But my relationship with Winton was prickly for a time. Truth be told the first of his I read was the Bugalugs Bum Thief, which had a Portnoy’s Complaint effect throughout my year 2 schoolyard, it was the scandalous book you had to read. It was wholly Australian, rude, and very funny. Cloudstreet was thrust upon me as a 15 year-old. I didn’t like it. We studied it syllable by syllable for a year and magic of the story had been lost for me. Then before my first overseas trip as a school leaver I flung it into my backpack for the trip. And from the first moment I reopened it, I understood it. I was a little older, a little wiser, and little more homesick. And it spoke to me. If I had to teach someone about Australian’s I’d throw Cloudstreet at them, enough said.
Timing is everything when it comes to your favourite novels. Monkey Grip got me at the right time and I’ve never looked back. It found me at Uni, struggling through an arts degree, balancing study with cheap beer and apathy. Her voice struck a chord with me and it was the first time I felt as though someone was speaking to me from an earlier point in their life, at a similar junction in mine. As though her experiences and thoughts and twists and turns were frozen in time for me to discover. Helen Garner is an extraordinary writer and I was stoked to see her do so well in the voting in the heats for Australia’s Favourite Novelist.
Putting aside his bestseller The Slap which continues to grow in popularity and acclaim over the years. Christos Tsiolkas has been a wonderful writer for a long time now. His first novel Loaded, is still one of my favourite Australian Novels. I admit it’s strange that a novel about a teenage homosexual Greek-Australian man raised in Melbourne would strike such a chord with a teenage heterosexual Irish-Australian man raised in South-West New South Wales, but it’s undeniable. Loaded, like so many of Tsiolkas‘ novels, cares little for pretence and throws you into the eye of the storm, pulling you towards conflict and the darkness amongst the light. Dead Europe is also an absolute cracker.
Now, now, hear me out. When I put this list together I thought to myself, what makes a favourite novelist? Is it a body of work? Perhaps. Is it for guidance? Possibly. But I think one of the biggest marks of someone being your favourite novelist is when you put ‘their name+new+novel’ into google on a weekly basis, such is your eagerness to read more of them. So since reading Nick Cave’s delightfully macabre sophomore novel The Death of Bunny Munro I’ve been hanging out for more of his words ever since. Cave, the product of a librarian and an English teacher, is an extremely gifted writer with a dark wit and an ability to keep a story flowing despite the many odd pit stops along the narrative. I wait with baited breath for his next novel, if there ever will be one, so I suppose he has to make it onto the list.
Andrew Cattanach is a contributor to the Booktopia Blog. You can follow Andrew’s ramblings on twitter at @andrew__cat