This year has been great for readers of Australian fiction. I was so pleased that Kim Scott’s That Deadman Dance won the Miles Franklin. What an extraordinary novel! He weaves history, language, discussions of national identity and belonging with poetry and a killer story that just keeps evolving in complexity. This remarkable work of fiction cracks open a space for us all to re-think what being Australian means. It is a true classic and needs to be read widely.
My second favorite is Foal’s Bread by Gillian Mears. It is set in northern NSW from the Second World War onwards and takes us through the lives of three generations of the Nancarrow family, famous for their horse jumping at country shows. Mears’ clear-eyed unsentimentality for her characters, their tough lives and the changes wrought by war and progress is a breath of fresh air and the lyricism she brings to the landscape (and the way the horses’ hooves pound the hard earth of One Tree, the Nancarrow property) has stayed with me a long time after finishing the book. I’ve just given it to my mother for her birthday and she is loving it.
Favel Parrett’s debut novel Past the Shallows was a complete surprise. Yes, it is a story we have heard before – three brothers, a bitter father, a dead mother, and the remoteness of far south Tasmania and Bruny Island. But, Parrett tells her story with an emotional authenticity and clarity that kept me reading the whole book in one sitting. It is also suitable for the more mature 16+ readers who want something a bit real and dark.
I know I’m late to the party, (and yes, he is a New Zealander) but I discovered Lloyd Jones this year. His latest, Hand Me Down World, is a cracker of a read. Jones sets us up for a straightforward crime novel but weaves in a story of a woman searching for her baby son against the contemporary geopolitics of Europe and refugees in general. It is on my list to re-read over summer.
And the book that is going to be the Christmas present for each of my family members this year is Thirty Australian Poets, edited by Felicity Plunkett. This collection of poets born since 1968 is elegant, sophisticated and crackles with energy, ideas and a worldliness that will inspire you. Australian poetry is clearly in good hands!