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 And my unpublished and unreadable historical epic, Untitled.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


My top books for 2011 by Toni Whitmont

For a person who spends at least 50% of her working hours meeting with publishers about up coming books, I spend a lot of time talking about the next big thing.

Want to know what the run away hit single is going to be for next March? I’m your person. Unless of course it’s not because, well,  readers are a fickle lot, and that’s before the media juggernaut rolls into town and changes everyone’s minds about what they want and what they don’t want.

Right now a heart beat away from Christmas, you may be making yours lists and checking them twice, but I am being sold in books for Valentine’s Day, and, heaven help me, key titles for Mother’s Day 2012.

This is not a job where you can live in the moment. But there are some advantages of being so focused on where the action might be. I can justify ignoring all the big, bossy, Christmas books that quite frankly are going to be taken up in droves whether I get behind them or not. Readers don’t need me to convince them to try Matthew Reilly’s Scarecrow and the Army of Thieves or Di Morrissey’s The Opal Desert. If that is your sort of book, you are going to find it anyway just by driving Continue reading

Elliot Perlman chats to Toni Whitmont about his new book, The Street Sweeper

The Street Sweeper by Elliot Perlman

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.

Entirely fortuitously, Charles McCray’s wife’s cousin, Lamont, recently released from prison and working as a hospital janitor, strikes up an unlikely friendship with a patient, an elderly Jewish Holocaust survivor and former member of the Sonderkommando (those prisoners forced to work in the gas chambers and crematoria of the Nazi extermination camps).

Two very different paths – Adam’s and Lamont’s – lead to one greater story as The Street Sweeper, in dealing with memory, racism, genocide and the human capacity for guilt, resilience, astonishing heroism and unexpected kindness, spans the 20th Century to the present and the globe from New York to Melbourne, Chicago, Warsaw, Berlin and Auschwitz.

Pre-order your copy of The Street Sweeper from Booktopia, Australia’s No.1 Online Bookshop – click here

Elliot Perlman, author of The Street Sweeper, answers Ten Terrifying Questions

 The Booktopia Book Guru asks

Elliot Perlman

author of Seven Types of Ambiguity, Three Dollars, The Reasons I Won’t Be Coming and now, The Street Sweeper

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 in Melbourne and spent my earliest years in the south-east suburb of East Brighton.  In primary school I went to Gardenvale State School.  In secondary school I went to Mount Scopus College.  After school I did an honours degree in economics with a double major in politics and economics and a sub-major in economic history.  Then I did a law degree.  Both degrees are from Monash University in Clayton, Melbourne.

2. What did you want to be when you were twelve, eighteen and thirty? And why?

From memory, at 12 I think I wanted to be a kind of Australian Bob Dylan who played football for Carlton and was the kind of footy-playing troubadour who was also a doctor.  At 18 I probably had more-or-less the same aspirations I had at 30, although at 30 I was no longer playing in bands.  I wanted to be a barrister and a writer.  Why?  They both involve working with language and can involve arguing a point of view.  They both permit working for yourself.  They both have the potential to help people.

3. What strongly held belief did you have at eighteen that you do not have now?

I’m not sure what it says about me (although I’m sure it’s not good) but I think that at 18 I probably had pretty much the same views on important issues that I have now.

4. What were three works of art – book or painting or piece of music, etc – you can now say, had a great effect on you and influenced your own development as a writer?

It’s hard to limit it to 3 but I’ll try.  As a kid I didn’t enjoy the same kind of books as my older sister and my parents were worried about my lack of enthusiasm for reading the book she’d liked.  Then at about Continue reading

The Street Sweeper by Elliot Perlman: review by Toni Whitmont

It is not often that a book give me goosebumps but by the second page of The Street Sweeper I was covered in them. I had an inkling on page one with the opening paragraph.

Memory is a wilful dog. It won’t be summoned or dismissed but it cannot survive without you. It can sustain you or feed on you. It visits when it is hungry, not when you are. It has a schedule all of its own that you can never know. It can capture, corner you or liberate you. It can a leave you howling and it can make you smile.

A page later I knew I was in the hands of a master – someone whose deliberately crafted prose, stunning ability to weave a story, intelligently thought through issues leaves the reader humbled, in a state of grace, in awe.

I don’t know about his career as a barrister, but in his writing, Elliot Perlman has rarely hit a wrong note. Known for Three Dollars, and then for the very satisfying Seven Types of Ambiguity, The Street Sweeper will certainly cement the reputation of man already described as having “traces of Dickens’ range and of George Eliot’s generous Continue reading

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