The shortlists for the 2014 Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards have been announced, with some old favourites mixing with some exciting new authors.
In fiction one of Australia’s brightest new stars Hannah Kent joins established names Tim Winton, Alex Miller and Alexis Wright while 2013 Miles Franklin winner Michelle de Kretser finds herself in the same field as the early favourite for the 2014 gong Richard Flanagan.
Check out the full lists below.
In northern Iceland, 1829, Agnes Magnusdottir is condemned to death for her part in the brutal murder of two men.
Agnes is sent to wait out the time leading to her execution on the farm of District Officer Jon Jonsson, his wife and their two daughters. Horrified to have a convicted murderess in their midst, the family avoids speaking with Agnes. Only Toti, the young assistant reverend appointed as Agnes’ spiritual guardian, is compelled to try to understand her, as he attempts to salvage her soul.
When Richard Flanagan produces a new book, you know it will come freighted with Big Themes. As an essayist, Flanagan is political, provocative, passionate. As a novelist, he is capable of shape-shifting across genres, from high literary gothic to popular psychological thriller.
His latest novel is as eloquent and powerful an affirmation of his empathy and understanding of humanity as anything he’s ever written.
Miller’s exquisite depictions of the country of the Queensland highlands form the background of this simply told but deeply significant novel of friendship, love, loyalty and the tragic consequences of misunderstanding and mistrust. Coal Creek is a wonderfully satisfying novel with a gratifying resolution.
It carries all the wisdom and emotional depth we have come to expect from Miller’s richly evocative novels.
The Swan Book is set in the future, with Aboriginals still living under the Intervention in the north, in an environment fundamentally altered by climate change. It follows the life of a mute teenager called Oblivia, the victim of gang-rape by petrol-sniffing youths, from the displaced community where she lives in a hulk, in a swamp filled with rusting boats, and thousands of black swans driven from other parts of the country, to her marriage to Warren Finch, the first Aboriginal president of Australia, and her elevation to the position of First Lady, confined to a tower in a flooded and lawless southern city.
Tom Keely’s reputation is in ruins. And that’s the upside.
Divorced and unemployed, he’s lost faith in everything precious to him. Holed up in a grim highrise, cultivating his newfound isolation, Keely looks down at a society from which he’s retired hurt and angry. He’s done fighting the good fight, and well past caring.
But even in his seedy flat, ducking the neighbours, he’s not safe from entanglement…
A mesmerising literary novel, Questions of Travel charts two very different lives. Laura travels the world before returning to Sydney, where she works for a publisher of travel guides. Ravi dreams of being a tourist until he is driven from Sri Lanka by devastating events.
Around these two superbly drawn characters, a double narrative assembles an enthralling array of people, places and stories – from Theo, whose life plays out in the long shadow of the past, to Hana, an Ethiopian woman determined to reinvent herself in Australia.
In 2009, as the Black Saturday wildfires swept through the state of Victoria, Australia, writer and historian Robert Kenny defended his home in Redesdale. His fire plan was sound and he was prepared. But, the reality of the fire was more ferocious and more unpredictable than he could have imagined. By the end of the day, Kenny’s house and the life contained within were gone.
The years that followed were marked by grieving, recovering, and eventually rebuilding – a process starkly framed by the choice between remembering and forgetting.
One bright day in December 2001, sixty-two-year-old Germaine Greer found herself confronted by an irresistible challenge in the shape of sixty hectares of dairy farm, one of many in south-east Queensland that, after a century of logging, clearing and downright devastation, had been abandoned to their fate.
She didn’t think for a minute that by restoring the land she was saving the world. She was in search of heart’s ease. Beyond the acres of exotic pasture grass and soft weed and the impenetrable curtains of tangled Lantana canes there were Macadamias dangling their strings of unripe nuts, and Black Beans with red and yellow pea flowers growing on their branches … and the few remaining White Beeches, stupendous trees up to forty metres in height, logged out within forty years of the arrival of the first white settlers.
Kristina Olsson’s mother lost her infant son, Peter, when he was snatched from her arms as she boarded a train in the hot summer of 1950. Yvonne was young and frightened, trying to escape a brutal marriage, but despite the violence and cruelty she’d endured, she was not prepared for this final blow, this breathtaking punishment. Yvonne would not see her son again for nearly forty years.
Kristina was the first child of her mother’s subsequent, much gentler marriage and, like her siblings, grew up unaware of the reasons behind her mother’s sorrow, though Peter’s absence resounded through the family, marking each one.
Forgotten War – Henry Reynolds
Australia is dotted with memorials to soldiers who fought in wars overseas. Why are there no official memorials or commemorations of the wars that were fought on Australian soil between Aborigines and white colonists? Why is it more controversial to talk about the frontier war now than it was one hundred years ago?
Forgotten War continues the story told in Henry Reynolds seminal book The Other Side of the Frontier, which argued that the settlement of Australia had a high level of violence and conflict that we chose to ignore.
This powerful book makes it clear that there can be no reconciliation without acknowledging the wars fought on our own soil.
Madeleine: A Life of Madeleine St John – Helen Trinca
Helen Trinca has captured the troubled life of Madeleine St John in this moving account of a remarkable writer. After the death of her mother when Madeleine was just twelve, she struggled to find her place in the world.
Estranging herself from her family, and from Australia, she lived for a time in the US before moving to London where Robert Hughes, Germaine Greer, Bruce Beresford, Barry Humphries and Clive James were making their mark.
In 1993, when The Women in Black was published, it became clear what a marvellous writer Madeleine St John was.
Now that the cricketer who dominated airwaves and headlines for twenty years has turned full-time celebrity, his sporting conquests and controversies are receding into the past. But what was it like to watch Warne at his long peak, the man of a thousand international wickets, the incarnation of Australian audacity and cheek?
Gideon Haigh lived and loved the Warne era, when the impossible was everyday, and the sensational every other day. In On Warne, he relives the highs, the lows, the fun and the follies.
Jennifer Maiden’s poems are like verse essays, subjecting the political issues of our time and the figures who dominate them to a fierce scrutiny, while allowing the personal aspects of experience to be portrayed in the most delicate and imaginative ways.
This is the quality of liquid nitrogen which gives the book its title – the frozen suspension which is risky, but also fecund. It is a substance which permits the most intense and heated interactions, and at the same time, the survival of delicate organisms.
Michael Brennan’s third collection of poetry tunes into the feedback loops of consciousness in these fluid modern times. It develops the surrealism of his earlier poetry with an anarchic openness to experience underwritten by anxiety, dysfunction and the endless hunger for community.
Set in a radically changed but recognizable Australia, one that has evolved through the collapse of the West and the rise of Asia, Autoethnographic jaunts into late capitalism, following six characters who struggle to imagine their place in this brave new world.
Travelling Through the Family bring rural Australia to life through a clear-eyed and provocative vision of the way the land and our treatment of animals moulds the people who work with them.
Family, its histories, inheritances and bonds form a powerful core to the collection. There are homages to fathers and daughters as well as self-portraits where the influence of a country upbringing is rendered in sobering, resonant style. Travelling Through the Family is an assured and beautifully crafted new book from one of Australia’s finest contemporary poets.
Seventeen-year-old Friday Brown is on the run – running to escape memories of her mother and of the family curse. And of a grandfather who’d like her to stay. She’s lost, alone and afraid.
Silence, a street kid, finds Friday and she joins him in a gang led by beautiful, charismatic Arden. When Silence is involved in a crime, the gang escapes to a ghost town in the outback. In Murungal Creek, the town of never leaving, Friday must face the ghosts of her past. She will learn that sometimes you have to stay to finish what you started – and often, before you can find out who you are, you have to become someone you were never meant to be.
Wildlife – Fiona Wood
“In the holidays before the dreaded term at Crowthorne Grammar’s outdoor education camp two things out of the ordinary happened. A picture of me was plastered all over a twenty-metre billboard. And I kissed Ben Capaldi.” Boarding for a term in the wilderness, sixteen-year-old Sibylla expects the gruesome outdoor education program – but friendship complications, and love that goes wrong? They’re extra-curricula.
Enter Lou from Six Impossible Things – the reluctant new girl for this term in the great outdoors. Fragile behind an implacable mask, she is grieving a death that occurred almost a year ago. Despite herself, Lou becomes intrigued by the unfolding drama between her housemates Sibylla and Holly, and has to decide whether to end her self-imposed detachment and join the fray.
My Life as an Alphabet – Barry Jonsberg
This isn’t just about me. It’s also about the other people in my life – my mother, my father, my dead sister Sky, my penpal Denille, Rich Uncle Brian, Earth-Pig Fish and Douglas Benson From Another Dimension. These are people [with the exception of Earth-Pig Fish, who is a fish] who have shaped me, made me what I am. I cannot recount my life without recounting elements of theirs. This is a big task, but I am confident I am up to it.
Introducing Candice Phee: twelve years old, hilariously honest and a little … odd. But she has a big heart, the very best of intentions and an unwavering determination to ensure everyone is happy. So she sets about trying to ‘fix’ all the problems of all the people [and pets] in her life.