It’s never too late to recommend good reads. So there it is for this year’s important literary award in Australia.
This year Miles Franlin longlist has listed these authors for their wonderful works
Peter Carey – A Long Way From Home
SYNOPSIS: Irene Bobs loves fast driving. Her husband is the best car salesman in western Victoria. Together they enter the Redex Trial, a brutal race around the ancient continent over roads no car will ever quite survive.
With them is their lanky fair-haired navigator, Willie Bachhuber, a quiz show champion and failed schoolteacher whose job it is to call out the turns, the grids, the creek crossings on a map that will finally remove them, without warning, from the lily-white Australia they know so well.
This thrilling, high-speed story starts in one way and then takes you someplace else. It is often funny, the more so as the world gets stranger, and always a page-turner, even as you learn a history these characters never knew themselves. Set in the 1950s amid the consequences of the age of empires, this brilliantly vivid and lively novel reminds us how Europeans took possession of a timeless culture – the high purpose they invented and the crimes they committed along the way.
Felicity Castagna – No More Boats
It is 2001. 438 refugees sit in a boat called Tampa off the shoreline of Australia, while the TV and radio scream out that the country is being flooded, inundated, overrun by migrants.
Antonio Martone, once a migrant himself, has been forced to retire, his wife has moved in with the woman next door, his daughter runs off with strange men, his deadbeat son is hiding in the garden smoking marijuana. Amid his growing paranoia, the ghost of his dead friend shows up and commands him to paint ‘No More Boats’ in giant letters across his front yard.
The Prime Minister of Australia keeps telling Antonio that ‘we will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come’. Antonio’s not sure he wants to think about all the things that led him to get on a boat and come to Australia in the first place. A man and a nation unravel together.
Michelle de Kretser – The Life to Come
Set in Sydney, Paris and Sri Lanka, The Life to Come is a mesmerising novel about the stories we tell and don’t tell ourselves as individuals, as societies and as nations. It feels at once firmly classic and exhilaratingly contemporary.
Pippa is a writer who longs for success. Celeste tries to convince herself that her feelings for her married lover are reciprocated. Ash makes strategic use of his childhood in Sri Lanka but blots out the memory of a tragedy from that time. Driven by riveting stories and unforgettable characters, here is a dazzling meditation on intimacy, loneliness and our flawed perception of other people.
Profoundly moving as well as wickedly funny, The Life to Come reveals how the shadows cast by both the past and the future can transform, distort and undo the present. This extraordinary novel by Miles Franklin-winning author Michelle de Kretser will strike to your soul.
Lia Hills – The Crying Place
After years of travelling, Saul is trying to settle down. But one night he receives the devastating news of the death of his oldest friend, Jed, recently returned from working in a remote Aboriginal community. Saul’s discovery in Jed’s belongings of a photo of a woman convinces him that she may hold the answers to Jed’s fate. So he heads out on a journey into the heart of the Australian desert to find the truth, setting in motion a powerful story about the landscapes that shape us and the ghosts that lay their claim.
The Crying Place is a haunting, luminous novel about love, country, and the varied ways in which we grieve. In its unflinching portrayal of the borderlands where worlds come together, and the past and present overlap, it speaks of the places and moments that bind us. The myths that draw us in. And, ultimately, the ways in which we find our way home.
Eva Hornung – The Last Garden
The settlement of Wahrheit, founded in exile to await the return of the Messiah, has been waiting longer than expected. Pastor Helfgott has begun to feel the subtle fraying of the community’s faith.
Then Matthias Orion shoots his wife and himself, on the very day their son Benedict returns home from boarding school.
Benedict is unmoored by shock, severed from his past and his future. Unable to be inside the house, unable to speak, he moves into the barn with the horses and chooks, relying on the animals’ strength and the rhythm of the working day to hold his shattered self together.
The pastor watches over Benedict through the year of his crazy grief: man and boy growing, each according to his own capacity, as they come to terms with the unknowable past and the frailties of being human.
Wayne Macauley – Some Tests
It begins with the normally healthy Beth—aged-care worker, wife of David, mother of Lettie and Gem—feeling vaguely off-colour. A locum sends her to Dr Yi for some tests. ‘There are a few things here that aren’t quite right,’ says Dr Yi, ‘and sometimes it is these little wrongnesses that can lead us to the bigger wrongs that matter.’
Beth is sent on to Dr Twoomey for more tests. Then to another specialist, and another…Referral after referral sees her bumped from suburb to suburb, bewildered, joining busloads of people all clutching white envelopes and hoping for answers.
But what is actually wrong with Beth—is anything, in fact, wrong with her? And what strange forces are at work in the system? As the novel reaches its stunning climax, we realise how strange these forces are.
Unnerving and brilliant, Some Tests is about waking up one morning and finding your ordinary life changed forever.
Catherine McKinnon – Storyland
In 1796, a young cabin boy, Will Martin, goes on a voyage of discovery in the Tom Thumb with Matthew Flinders and Mr Bass: two men and a boy in a tiny boat on an exploratory journey south from Sydney Cove to the Illawarra, full of hope and dreams, daring and fearfulness.
Set on the banks of Lake Illawarra and spanning four centuries, Storyland is a unique and compelling novel of people and place – which tells in essence the story of Australia. Told in an unfurling narrative of interlinking stories, in a style reminiscent of David Mitchell’s Cloud Atlas, McKinnon weaves together the stories of Will Martin together with the stories of four others: a desperate ex-convict, Hawker, who commits an act of terrible brutality; Lola, who in 1900 runs a dairy farm on the Illawarra with her brother and sister, when they come under suspicion for a crime they did not commit; Bel, a young girl who goes on a rafting adventure with her friends in 1998 and is unexpectedly caught up in violent events; and in 2033, Nada, who sees her world start to crumble apart. Intriguingly, all these characters are all connected – not only through the same land and water they inhabit over the decades, but also by tendrils of blood, history, memory and property.
Gerald Murnane – Border Districts
Conceived as Gerald Murnane’s last work of fiction, Border Districts was written after the author moved from Melbourne to a small town on the western edge of the Wimmera plains, near the border with South Australia.
The narrator of this fiction has made a similar move, from a capital city to a remote town in the border country, where he intends to spend the last years of his life. It is a time for exploring the enduring elements of his experience, as these exist in his mind, not as an integral landscape now, but as image-fragments; so that there is an urgency in his attempts to gather them together. Often it is the way the light falls that makes the image memorable. At the end of the work, Murnane quotes the poet Shelley, ‘Life, like a dome of many-coloured glass,/ Stains the white radiance of Eternity’. But if Border Districts suggests the border land between life and death, it also refers to the narrator’s discovery of someone else who might share his world, though she enters it from another direction, across the distance which separates them as human beings.
Jane Rawson – From the Wreck
From the Wreck is about loss, loneliness, seeking refuge, and our relationship with other species. It is set in Port Adelaide, South Australia, in the late 19th century. There are four main characters. George Hills is a young ship’s steward who survives the sinking of the steamship Admella by clinging to the wreck for eight days. (George is based on my great-great-grandfather, who survived the real-life wreck of the Admella.) Ten years later, George is running a sailors’ home and is married with three boys. Henry, aged 10, is the oldest. He is a strange child who falls into trances and is obsessed with life underwater. Their neighbour is Beatrice Gallwey, a free-spirited widow in her 40s who is raising her infant grandson against her will. The fourth character is an unnamed shape-shifting creature who fled her home planet when it was destroyed by human-like invaders, ending up in the South Australian ocean. Shortly after we first meet her she takes the shape of shipwreck survivor, Bridget Ledwith. Minor characters are George’s wife, Eliza, her sister Sarah and husband William, and a younger Hills son, Georgie.
Michael Sala – The Restorer
After a year apart, Maryanne returns to her husband, Roy, bringing their eight-year-old son Daniel and his teenage sister Freya with her. The family move from Sydney to Newcastle, where Roy has bought a derelict house on the coast. As Roy painstakingly patches the holes in the floorboards and plasters over cracks in the walls, Maryanne believes, for a while, that they can rebuild a life together.
But Freya doesn’t want a fresh start—she just wants out—and Daniel drifts around the sprawling, run-down house in a dream, infuriating his father, who soon forgets the promises he has made.
Some cracks can never be smoothed over, and tension grows between Roy and Maryanne until their uneasy peace is ruptured—with devastating consequences.
Kim Scott – Taboo
Taboo takes place in the present day, in the rural South-West of Western Australia, and tells the story of a group of Noongar people who revisit, for the first time in many decades, a taboo place: the site of a massacre that followed the assassination, by these Noongar’s descendants, of a white man who had stolen a black woman. They come at the invitation of Dan Horton, the elderly owner of the farm on which the massacres unfolded. He hopes that by hosting the group he will satisfy his wife’s dying wishes and cleanse some moral stain from the ground on which he and his family have lived for generations. But the sins of the past will not be so easily expunged.
We walk with the ragtag group through this taboo country and note in them glimmers of re-connection with language, lore, country. We learn alongside them how countless generations of Noongar may have lived in ideal rapport with the land. This is a novel of survival and renewal, as much as destruction; and, ultimately, of hope as much as despair.