The Miles Franklin Literature Award Longlist 2012

From where I sit the 2012 Miles Franklin Literature Award longlist seems right. The names I expected to see are listed, Elliot Perlman, Kate Grenville, Gail Jones, Alex Miller, as are some of the names I hoped to see, Charlotte Wood, Charlotte Wood and Charlotte Wood. There are a few disastrous exclusions,  though. The Life by Malcolm Knox, for one. Kylie Ladd’s Last Summer, is another. And my unpublished and unreadable historical epic, Untitled.

That said, I find it an attractive list. And an encouraging list. For the most part these literary titles are readable and sold quite well. And when literature sells you know you’re living in promising times.

(Pssst… just look at how many of the longlisted authors have answered my Ten Terrifying Questions. Cool.)


Charlotte Wood – Animal People

On a stiflingly hot December day, Stephen has decided it’s time to break up with his girlfriend Fiona. He’s 39, aimless and unfulfilled, he’s without a clue working out how to make his life better. All he has are his instincts – and unfortunately they might just be his downfall . . .

As he makes his way through the pitiless city and the hours of a single day, Stephen must fend off his demanding family, endure another shift of his dead-end job at the zoo (including an excruciating teambuilding event), face up to Fiona’s aggressive ex-husband and the hysteria of a children’s birthday party that goes terribly wrong. As an ordinary day develops into an existential crisis, Stephen begins to understand – perhaps too late – that love is not a trap, and only he can free himself. Click here to read more…

Charlotte answered the Ten Terrifying Questions – read her answers here
Click here to order your copy of Animal People

Read my review of Animal People


Tony Birch – Blood

From the moment he saw her, wrapped in a blanket at the hospital, Jesse knew that he’d be the one to look after his little sister, Rachel. Mum was always on the move and always bringing home trouble.

When his mum’s appetite for destruction leads the little family into the arms of Ray Crow, beneath the charm and charisma, Jesse sees the brooding violence and knows that, this time, the trouble is real.

But Jesse’s just a kid and even as he tries to save his sister, he makes a fatal error that exposes them to the kind of danger he has sworn to protect Rachel from. As their little world is torn to pieces, the children learn that, when you are lost and alone, the only thing you can trust is what’s in your blood. Click here to read more…

Click here to order your copy of Blood


Steven Carroll – Spirit of Progress

The thing that makes you, it never goes.

A sleek high-speed train glides silently through the French countryside, bearing Michael, an Australian writer, and his travelling world of memory and speculation.

Melbourne, 1946, calls to him: the pressure cooker of the city during World War II has produced a small creative miracle, and at this pivotal moment the lives of his newly married parents, a group of restless artists, a proud old woman with a tent for a home, a journalist, a gallery owner, a farmer and a factory developer irrevocably intersect. And all the while the Spirit of Progress, the locomotive of the new age, roars through their lives like time′s arrow, pointing to the future and the post-war world only some of them will enter. Click here to read more…

Click here to order your copy of Spirit of Progress


Mark Dapin – Spirit House

Long ago, Jimmy Reubens was a POW on the Thai-Burma Railway. For more than four decades, he has staved off the ghosts of his past by drinking too much, outstaying his welcome at his local RSL, and bickering with his three closest mates. But the past won’t stay buried forever.

When his thirteen-year-old grandson comes to stay after his parents marriage breaks up, Jimmy has a chance to finally begin to lay his ghosts to rest, but first he has to tell their stories. Click here to read more…

Mark answered the Ten Terrifying Questions – read his answers here
Click here to order your copy of Spirit House


Virginia Duigan – The Precipice

Thea Farmer, a reclusive and difficult retired school principal, lives in isolation with her dog in the Blue Mountains. Her distinguished career ended under a cloud over a decade earlier, following a scandal involving a much younger male teacher. After losing her savings in the financial crash, she is forced to sell the dream house she had built for her old age and live on in her dilapidated cottage opposite.

Initially resentful and hostile towards Frank and Ellice, the young couple who buy the new house, Thea develops a flirtatious friendship with Frank, and then a grudging affinity with his twelve-year-old niece, Kim, who lives with them. Although she has never much liked children, Thea discovers a gradual and wholly unexpected bond with the half-Vietnamese Kim, a solitary, bookish child from a troubled background.

Her growing sympathy with Kim propels Thea into a psychological minefield. Finding Frank’s behaviour increasingly irresponsible, she becomes convinced that all is not well in the house. Unsettling suspicions, which may or may not be irrational, begin to dominate her life, and build towards a catastrophic climax. Click here to read more…

Click here to order your copy of The Precipice


Anna Funder – All That I Am

Ruth Becker, defiant and cantankerous, is living out her days in the eastern suburbs of Sydney. She has made an uneasy peace with the ghosts of her past – and a part of history that has been all but forgotten.

Another lifetime away, it’s 1939 and the world is going to war. Ernst Toller, self-doubting revolutionary and poet, sits in a New York hotel room settling up the account of his life.

When Toller’s story arrives on Ruth’s doorstep their shared past slips under her defences, and she’s right back among them – those friends who predicted the brutality of the Nazis and gave everything they had to stop them. Those who were tested – and in some cases found wanting – in the face of hatred, of art, of love, and of history. Click here to read more…

Anna answered the Ten Terrifying Questions – read her answers here
Click here to order your copy of All That I Am


Kate Grenville – Sarah Thornhill

From the beginning Jack and I was friends. Somehow our way of looking at things fitted together. He never called me Dolly, the way the others did, only my full and proper name.

Sarah Thornhill is the youngest child of William Thornhill, convict-turned-landowner on the Hawkesbury River. She grows up in the fine house her father is so proud of, a strong-willed young woman who’s certain where her future lies.

She’s known Jack Langland since she was a child, and always loved him.

But the past is waiting in ambush with its dark legacy. There’s a secret in Sarah’s family, a piece of the past kept hidden from the world and from her. A secret Jack can’t live with. A secret that changes everything, for both of them. Click here to read more…

Kate answered the Ten Terrifying Questions – read her answers here
Click here to order your copy of Sarah Thornhill


Gail Jones – Five Bells

On a radiant day in Sydney, four adults converge on Circular Quay, site of the iconic Opera House and the Sydney Harbour Bridge. Crowds of tourists mix with the locals, enjoying the glorious surroundings and the play of light on water.

But each of the four carries a complicated history from elsewhere; each is haunted by past intimacies, secrets and guilt: Ellie is preoccupied by her sexual experiences as a girl, James by a tragedy for which he feels responsible, Catherine by the loss of her beloved brother in Dublin and Pei Xing by her imprisonment during China’s Cultural Revolution.

Told over the course of a single Saturday, Five Bells describes four lives which chime and resonate, sharing mysterious patterns and symbols. A fifth figure at the Quay, a barely glimpsed child, reminds us that some patterns are imprecise and do not resolve. By night-time, when Sydney is drenched in a rainstorm, each life has been transformed. Click here to read more…

Click here to order your copy of Five Bells


Gillian Mears – Foal’s Bread

The sound of horses’ hooves turns hollow on the farms west of Wirri. If a man can still ride, if he hasn’t totally lost the use of his legs, if he hasn’t died to the part of his heart that understands such things, then he should go for a gallop. At the very least he should stand at the road by the river imagining that he’s pushing a horse up the steep hill that leads to the house on the farm once known as One Tree.

Set in hardscrabble farming country and around the country show high-jumping circuit that prevailed in rural New South Wales prior to the Second World War, Foal’s Bread tells the story of two generations of the Nancarrow family and their fortunes as dictated by the vicissitudes of the land. Click here to read more…

Gillian answered the Ten Terrifying Questions – read her answers here
Click here to order your copy of Foal’s Bread


Alex Miller – Autumn Laing

Autumn Laing has long outlived the legendary circle of artists she cultivated in the 1930s. Now ‘old and skeleton gaunt’, she reflects on her tumultuous relationship with the abundantly talented Pat Donlon and the effect it had on her husband, on Pat’s wife and the body of work which launched Pat’s career. A brilliantly alive and insistently energetic story of love, loyalty and creativity.

Autumn Laing seduces Pat Donlon with her pearly thighs and her lust for life and art. In doing so she not only compromises the trusting love she has with her husband, Arthur, she also steals the future from Pat’s young and beautiful wife, Edith, and their unborn child.

Fifty-three years later, cantankerous, engaging, unrestrainable 85-year-old Autumn is shocked to find within herself a powerful need for redemption. As she begins to tell her story, she writes, ‘They are all dead and I am old and skeleton-gaunt. This is where it began…’ Click here to read more…

Alex answered the Ten Terrifying Questions – read his answers here
Click here to order your copy of Autumn Laing


Frank Moorhouse – Cold Light

It is 1950, the League of Nations has collapsed and the newly formed United Nations has rejected all those who worked and fought for the League. Edith Campbell Berry, who joined the League in Geneva before the war, is out of a job, her vision shattered. With her sexually unconventional, husband, Ambrose, she comes back to Australia to live in Canberra.

Edith now has ambitions to become Australia’s first female ambassador, but while she waits for a Call from On High, she finds herself caught up in the planning of the national capital and the dream that it should be ‘a city like no other’.

When her communist brother, Frederick, turns up out of the blue after many years of absence, she becomes concerned that he may jeopardise her chances of becoming a diplomat. It is not a safe time to be a communist in Australia or to be related to one, but she refuses to be cowed by the anti-communist sentiment sweeping the country. Click here to read more…

Frank answered the Ten Terrifying Questions – read his answers here
Click here to order your copy of Cold Light


Favel Parrett – Past the Shallows

Harry and Miles live with their father, an abalone fisherman, on the south-east coast of Tasmania. With their mum dead, they are left to look after themselves. When Miles isn’t helping out on the boat they explore the coast and Miles and his older brother, Joe, love to surf. Harry is afraid of the water.

Everyday their dad battles the unpredictable ocean to make a living. He is a hard man, a bitter drinker who harbours a devastating secret that is destroying him. Unlike Joe, Harry and Miles are too young to leave home and so are forced to live under the dark cloud of their father’s mood, trying to stay as invisible as possible whenever he is home. Harry, the youngest, is the most vulnerable and it seems he bears the brunt of his father’s anger. Click here to read more…

Favel answered the Ten Terrifying Questions – read her answers here
Click here to order your copy of Past the Shallows


Elliot Perlman – The Street Sweeper

From the scars of the civil rights struggle in the United States to the crematoria of Auschwitz-Birkenau, there are even more stories than there are people passing each other every day on the crowded streets of any major city. Only some of these stories survive to become history.

Adam Zignelik, an almost 40-year-old untenured academic historian at New York’s Columbia University, is the son of a prominent American civil rights lawyer and an Australian mother. One of his late father’s closest friends had been the African American civil rights activist, William McCray. Since the death of Adam’s parents it is the McCray family – William, his son Charles (Chair of History at Columbia) and Charles’ wife – that has become Adam’s adopted family.

With Adam’s career and his relationship with his long-time girlfriend in crisis, he gets a suggestion for a promising research topic from William McCray, who is a World War II veteran, that just might save him professionally and even personally. Click here to read more…

Elliot answered the Ten Terrifying Questions – read his answers here
Click here to order your copy of The Street Sweeper


Charlotte Wood : Five Fiction Favourites for 2011

Charlotte Wood

author of Animal People,
The Children
and more…

reveals…

The 5 best novels I read this year are… Continue reading

My personal picks for 2011: Novels you can give as gifts with confidence

This year I read more novels by living, breathing writers than by stone cold dead writers. This is a first for me.

However, if the truth be told, many of the contemporary novels I started were left unfinished. It’s partly due to the nature of the job. Publishers throw box loads of fiction at us to review and I can’t read them all. And, it is partly due to the state of modern fiction – I expect a lot from the books I read and very few contemporary writers deliver.

That said, when I do fall for a novel, I fall hard.

The books of 2011 I recommend you read yourself and give as gifts to others are:


Australian Fiction


Last Summer by Kylie Ladd

By the simple act of telling a story a good book can carry a light into the dark and unexamined corners of a reader’s life. The darkest of these unexamined corners is occupied by the single irrefutable truth of our existence, death. Left in the shadows this stark fact can take on all of the attributes of a nightmarish spectre. Left unexamined we may be left entirely unprepared when death intrudes upon our own lives. Something it will do, eventually.

Last Summer by Kylie Ladd, begins with the sudden death of Rory Buchanan, captain of the local cricket team, a man in the prime of his life. We immediately enter the lives of those Rory left behind – his wife, Colleen, his sister, Kelly, her husband, Joe, and Rory’s friends and team-mates, Nick, James and Pete, and their wives, Laine, Anita and Trinity as they, in their various ways, cope with Rory’s death and face up to the fact that life does, and will, go on without him.

Last Summer is told from the points of view of these nine characters with full chapters from one point of view only. This method of storytelling requires strong characterisation so that each individual point of view provides a unique perspective on the events. By choosing suburban Melbourne as her setting, and the cricket club as her focal point, Ladd has made things difficult for herself. There is much that is necessarily shared by all of these nine characters. They are all white, they are all Continue reading

Why I can’t review Animal People by Charlotte Wood

I read Charlotte Wood’s novel Animal People twice. I think it’s one of the best contemporary novels I have read. But I cannot review it. I tried a number of times and failed each time. I only recently realised why this is. I don’t want to review Animal People. I want to recommend it.

The trouble is, I can’t recommend it to just anybody.

Sure, some part of me wants to help encourage complacent book club readers the world over to read it. I would like to think it would do them good (and Charlotte Wood’s bank balance good). But, if the truth be told, I don’t want them to.

If they read it they may want to discuss it, as few people these days can understand a book without first discussing it with their peers. They may take the central character of Animal People, Stephen, and compare him with people they know. They may debate whether he is a sympathetic character or not. They may ask what the significance of the dog might be, what the title means, what the ending means. I don’t want them to do any of these things. I want them to wander away from the safety of the group. I want them to let their guard down. I want them to be smacked in the face by Animal People. If they’re not willing to take a few hits, I don’t think they deserve to read Animal People.

So who can I recommend it to?

I felt I had been dismantled, cleaned and reassembled by the novel. The novel did not change me. It reintroduced me to the important parts that make up who I am.

And this is why I have had such difficulty writing about Animal People.

To write a review is to accept that this book is like the last book I reviewed. That Charlotte Wood’s reason for writing is much like any other novelist’s reason for writing – to tell a story. Well I can’t do that. I feel that Charlotte Wood is an artist, a thinker, an observer, a chronicler, a radical whose work has great value above and beyond the standardised judgements of our day. Wood is writing literature of the kind which hopes to hit upon universal truths using only the simplest and most delicate tools.

Animal People is not a long novel. It follows one man as he makes his way through a single day. But even so, within these pages Wood examines some of the loudest issues of our time – terrorism, materialism, social inequality, social welfare, animal cruelty, isolation – and the quietest – love, despair, commitment, loneliness, honesty. In brief, her little novel stalks the greatest of subjects, the human condition. How we live, how we love and how we communicate. And she does so with prose that is spare, considered, beautiful and graceful.

After I finished the novel I opened it again and  read the first line – and was drawn right back in again. I might even have read it a third time had it not occurred to me to read The Children, an earlier novel by Wood, where Stephen the main character, makes his first appearance.

I don’t read many novels twice, but there was something extremely attractive to me about Stephen and his day.  Integrity is attractive.  It is something that requires effort to gain and, in this shoddy world, almost superhuman strength to retain. And it is rare. Stephen, has integrity.

But by every one of today’s standards, Stephen is a failure. He is not married, he hasn’t any kids of his own, owns nothing, he is bright but has no career, no ambition. When we first meet him he’s as naked as the day he was born. It is my contention that he is in the predicament we find him in because he has integrity. He just wants to live an authentic life. And all paths forward seem paved with falsehoods.

And this is Stephen’s problem. How is he to proceed through life if he can’t express himself honestly, truly and simply? In the first few pages we are told he intends to break up with girlfriend, Fiona, that evening. But he can’t really say why. It is just something he feels he must do. The very idea of it oppresses him. He cannot fault his girlfriend or their relationship. And throughout the passage of his day Wood gives us glimpses of their relationship together in mini-flashbacks. But something has changed. At some point in the preceding days or weeks there has been a violent collision of ideas in Stephen’s head and he can’t seem to work out which of the ideas should have been given right of way.

Animal People walks us into the very heart of Stephen’s dilemma. To love or not to love. At times he seems ready to love, and Wood recounts his more intimate thoughts about Fiona beautifully – For the first time in his life he found himself wanting to live up to something – to meet her, to take this beautiful risk – and it made the wave of his need for her crest and break again, unashamed and glorious.

And yet, in the next moment, when life and love seems to require something he does not think he can give, Stephen turns from Fiona in his mind and determines not to make what he now thinks is a great mistake.

These fluctuations between doubt and belief, as Stephen moves inexorably towards Fiona, give the novel a tension which held me tight through two reads.

Animal People is certainly critical of the way many of us live and love, it was certainly critical of the way I live, but unlike many novels which find fault, this novel offers real and quite beautiful remedies, ones which I have already embraced.

—————-

Well, you’ve read this far. I think we’ve answered my earlier question. Who can I recommend Animal People to? The answer is – You.

So, let me end by saying – I really recommend that you read Animal People.

Charlotte Wood, author of Animal People, The Children and more, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Charlotte Wood

author of Animal People, The Children and more

Ten Terrifying Questions

 ————————–

1. To begin with why don’t you tell us a little bit about yourself – where were you born? Raised? Schooled?

I was born, like those famous poets AD Hope, John Tranter and Steve Liebmann, in the mighty town of Cooma, Gateway to the Snowy Mountains. I went to primary school at Our Lady Help of Christians (most hurtfully referred to by the public school Proddies as the Old Ladies’ Hockey Club), St Patrick’s and Monaro High Schools, and eventually went to uni at Charles Sturt in Continue reading

Animal People by Charlotte Wood (review coming soon)

‘He could not find one single more word to say. I just want to be free. He could not say those words. They had already withered in his mind, turned to dust. He did not even know, he marvelled now, what the hell those words had meant.’

A sharply observed, 24-hour urban love story that follows Stephen Connolly – a character from the bestselling novel The Children – through one of the worst days of his life. The day he has decided to dump his girlfriend.

On a stiflingly hot December day, Stephen has decided it’s time to break up with his girlfriend Fiona. He’s 39, aimless and unfulfilled, he’s without a clue working out how to make his life better. All he has are his instincts – and unfortunately they might just be his downfall . . .

As he makes his way through the pitiless city and the hours of a single day, Stephen must fend off his demanding family, endure another shift of his dead-end job at the zoo (including an excruciating teambuilding event), face up to Fiona’s aggressive ex-husband and the hysteria of a children’s birthday party that goes terribly wrong. As an ordinary day develops into an existential crisis, Stephen begins to understand – perhaps too late – that love is not a trap, and only he can free himself.

Hilarious, tender and heartbreaking, Animal People is a portrait of urban life, a meditation on the conflicted nature of human-animal relationships, and a masterpiece of storytelling.

Animal People invites readers to question the way we think about animals – what makes an ‘animal person’? What value do we, as a society, place on the lives of creatures? Do we brutalise our pets even as we love them? What’s wrong with anthropomorphism anyway? Filled with challenging ideas and shocks of recognition and revelation, Animal People shows a writer of great depth and compassion at work.
CHARLOTTE WOOD ON HOW ANIMAL PEOPLE ORIGINATED

I wrote Animal People as both a reaction against and continuation of my last novel. I started out wanting – this is going to sound odd, but I wanted to write a romantic comedy. Without being too extravagant about it, for me writing The Children involved a lot of hard thinking about suffering – what it means to witness the suffering of strangers, on the television news and so on, what our moral obligations are in relation to that. As it turns out, this new book ended up entering into a similar question in a different area, but at first I wanted to do something light. I also wanted to try writing something funny, because I’d never really risked doing comic writing. And I wanted to keep exploring the character of Stephen, because I felt I hadn’t quite finished with him in the previous book – unlike the other characters, my understanding of him remained unresolved at the end of that book. I wanted to understand him more.

I decided (very early) on the single-day timeframe as a kind of structural challenge, and it went from there. Only after writing it for a couple of years did I start to see the larger possibilities of the animal-human relationships, and themes of captivity and freedom which arose from the zoo setting for part of the book. I had thought I simply plucked that setting out of the air (an old boyfriend of mine once worked as a sandwich hand at the zoo, and I thought it had comic potential) but in fact it was the old subconscious doing its work, laying down some nice subterranean layers of meaning for the larger world of the novel.

So I soon realised that I didn’t simply want to write a comic novel, because once you start writing a portrait of a city and examining these relationships between humans and animals, you start to see just how poignant much of this material is. But I think just as beautiful writing somehow can alleviate the harshness of dark material, a sense of comic timing, and a sense of absurdity, allow one as a writer to really delve into the tender and difficult material without leaving the reader marooned in bleakness. I like to think the comedy – if it’s done sharply enough and compassionately and truthfully enough – might help ease the way through some of the more challenging intellectual and emotional terrain.
BBGuru: I will be reviewing Animal People shortly. (Pssst… I love it.)

About the Author: 

Charlotte Wood is an Australian fiction writer.

Her fourth novel, Animal People, will be released by Allen & Unwin in October 2011. Her most recent work was to edit Brothers & Sisters, a collection of short stories and non-fiction about siblings by 12 of Australia’s finest writers.

Her last novel, The Children, was described by Australian Book Review as “a graceful and empathetic portrayal of one family seeking to understand itself,” and The Australian described her as “a captivating, questing writer whose work is well worth watching”.

The Children was shortlisted for the Australian Book Industry Association’s literary fiction book of the year. Charlotte’s previous novel, The Submerged Cathedral, was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award and the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize in its region 2005. Her first book, Pieces of a Girl, was also shortlisted for several prizes.

She writes a cookery blog at http://www.howtoshuckanoyster.com. She lives in Sydney with her husband Sean and is working on a non-fiction book about food.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 982 other followers

%d bloggers like this: