Award winners, future classics and some personal favourites are listed here in my top 10 new Australian books. In alphabetical order:
1. Common People by Tony Birch
I bought this recently, prompted by doing this blog post and realising I had no books by indigenous Australian authors. This is a gap I need to redress, especially given one of the joys of reading is to gain a different perspective from my usual sheltered existence. Tony Birch has won multiple awards and this short story collection has received rave reviews. I shall report back once I’ve read it!
2. The Strays by Emily Bitto
Inspired by the Heide artists, this perfectly evokes the time and place of 1930s Melbourne and captures their bohemian lives. Lily and Eva’s friendship feels like those of our teens, when a friend’s house was a wondrous playground, as they experience the thrills and risks of growing up. The dark side (lack of parenting) is explored too. Thoughtfully written with well-crafted characters, this won the 2015 Stella Prize for Australian women’s writing.
3. First Person by Richard Flanagan:
This is a bit of a cheat as it’s not released until October 2017, but I predict a 5-star read. I loved The Narrow Road to the Deep North (2014 Man Booker prize winner), a thoughtful but unputdownable read with vivid prose and great humanity. And his earlier novel Wanting, a story of Matthew Franklin (explorer and Tasmanian governor) and Charles Dickens, was a beautifully woven and original tale.
4. The Dry by Jane Harper
I really enjoyed this thriller. A smart protagonist and some realistic local characters, with a strong, well-paced story. Harper creates the atmosphere of a small Australian country town, both the sunburnt landscape and a community on edge. Some bleak aspects but it kept me guessing.
5. The Good People by Hannah Kent:
A widow in 1820s Ireland struggles with her deformed grandson. Doctors are beyond reach, the church no help so Nance offers to cure the boy with herbs & fairy rites. As in Burial Rites, Kent brings to life women forgotten by history. The language is full of vigour & poetry, she evokes the way of life & land beautifully & the characters, with little to hold onto but their beliefs, feel real. Mary the maid has dignity & resilience, Nora is unflinching & Nance is firm in her wisdom but lives in poverty. A little slow-paced for me, but thought-provoking and her prose is a treat.
6. An Isolated Incident by Emily Maguire
Shortlisted for this year’s Miles Franklin award. Another rural Australian thriller, this is distinctive for putting the women front & centre: Chris, whose sister was murdered, & journalist May. Maguire sustains the constant feeling of threat that men potentially pose to women, and the ambiguities & blurred lines in relationships. She also reflects on the sadness of women having to be on their guard, sometimes putting up defences against men who are trying to love them. None of the characters are simply good or bad though, and this attention to nuance is one of the strengths of the book. Chris is a memorable character and this is a strong, honest book.
7. Music and Freedom by Zoe Morrison
A beautiful debut, intelligently written. We follow Alice from her rural Australian youth to Oxford, then to old age. Her bad marriage is hard to read but so sympathetically described and much is left unsaid. Subtle and infused with music: Zoe Morrison is a pianist and her knowledge and love of music adds depth to the story. Brava!
8. Taboo by Kim Scott
This is the latest by Kim Scott, twice a winner of the Miles Franklin award, and looks wonderful (the cover, for a start!). The first page is strong and, like Common People, his voice has the ring of truth and authenticity.
9. The Boy Behind the Curtain by Tim Winton
Another 5 star prediction from one of my favourite authors and four-time Miles Franklin award winner. I loved Cloudstreet, an epic family saga and modern Australian classic, and the distilled perfection of Breath. Winton is a masterful writer and I highly recommend all of his books.
10. The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood
I will admit that this has been sitting in my shelf for two years now because I’m too scared to read it. Winner of the Stella Prize and Prime Minister’s Literary Awards 2016, it has been highly recommended as an important, thought-provoking read, and is described as ‘feminist horror’ story of women who are drugged and imprisoned in a broken-down property in the middle of nowhere. I promise to brave it and report back soon!
And that’s a list of ten, hopefully diverse, Australian books that we should all be reading this year. Who are your favourite Australian authors?