“Novels give you the matrix of emotions, give you the flavour of a time in a way formal history cannot.”
- Doris Lessing, novelist, poet, and winner of the Nobel Prize for Literature (2007)
The Easter Bunny came early for lots of writers with this week’s announcements of both the Miles Franklin longlist and the Indie Book of the Year.
On Tuesday the longlist for the 2013 Miles Franklin Literary Award was released. From an original list of 73 novels, an unprecedented half of which were written by women, the Judges selected 10 novels. They are:
The shortlist will be announced on April 30 at the State Library of New South Wales.
You can read my reviews by clicking on the link next to the appropriate title, or you can go to the Miles Franklin website here and access a biography, synopsis and reader notes for every longlisted book.
Fully prepared, you then might want to enter the Miles of Reading Challenge. Readers across the country are being asked to support Australian literature by reading at least one novel from the longlist. As an added incentive, post a review on the discussion forum for a chance of to win a set of Miles Franklin’s most famous books every week until 30th April. That’s pretty cool!
Jellybird by Lezanne Clannachan
Jessica has every reason to believe in her future. She is married to the beautiful Jacques, her jewellery designs are a commercial and critical success and her troubled past seems safely locked behind her. But the arrival of the charismatic intense Libby tilts Jessica’s world on its axis.
Libby’s determination to be Jessica’s best friend and artistic advocate is flattering but Jacques and Libby at first seem wary of each other and then far too intimate. The past swoops over Jessica. Growing up, she endured a mother struck down by jealousy, her once loving father eradicated from their lives along with all the furniture and any love.
The final straw comes when her mother Birdie decides to sell the family home and summons Jessica home to collect the last of her belongings.
Relieved to escape London and the claustrophobic relationship with Libby, Jessica returns to her childhood home to collect her treasures. Amongst her effects is a red notebook that Birdie says she found slipped through the letterbox. It contains a transcript of counselling sessions with Jessica’s childhood sweetheart Thomas Quennell who tragically died in a boating accident at only 17.
As Jessica starts to read it, she is transported back to when she was thirteen, abandoned by her father, ignored by her mother and desperate for the kind of reassurance teenage girls seek.
The wild, dangerous Thomas Quennell provided the attention and emotional spark Jessica craved. She is his Jellybird and Thomas is her first love. Emotionally vulnerable again, the red notebook provides Jessica with a single clue that maybe Thomas is still alive and that maybe he is her one true love after all.
This is a book of shadows and light, pretence versus reality and all the truths that lie in between. It explores friendships founded on false premises and how all relationships based on a false construct will ultimately fail.
Lezanne Clannachan has captured the intense troubled soul of Jessica so well; this is a woman who was forged by disturbing and troubling events and emerged in adulthood as a fearful melancholy soul. It seems inevitable then that though Jessica may find the answers she seeks, she may also have turned out to be more like her mother than she realised.
Clannachan is a brilliant new voice. Her characters are as crisply drawn as their motives are shadowy and the intricate plot is delivered without sentimentality. A wonderful read.
Author Q&A | Kate Atkinson
Life is full of ‘what ifs’ and Kate Atkinson’s new novel, Life After Life explores this theme in the most fascinating of ways. Ursula Todd is born in 1910 and dies before she even draws her first breath. Ursula Todd is born in 1910 and goes on to live through the last century again and again, constantly able to revisit her life’s choices.
Hilary Mantel has this to say, “Kate Atkinson’s new novel is a box of delights. Ingenious in construction, indefatigably entertaining, it grips the reader’s imagination on the first page and never lets go. If you wish to be moved and astonished, read it. And if you want to give a dazzling present, buy it for your friends.”
Kate Atkinson kindly answered a few questions for The Hoopla.
What book(s) are you reading now?
I am just back from holiday so I have been reading more than usual. Michael Chabon’s Telegraph Avenue (I love all his books) and Billy Lynn’s Long Half-Time Walk by Ben Fountain which I can pretty much guarantee will be my favourite book of 2013.
Who are your favourite authors or greatest literary influences?
Well, Jane Austen, always. E M Forster, Ford Madox Ford. I did my doctoral thesis on the postmodern American Short Story and I always feel the playful influence of those writers like Ronald Sukenick, Robert Coover and Donald Bartheleme.
They saw no limits where fiction was concerned and, of course, the grandfather of them all – Lewis Carroll. And a big shout out for Richmal Compton, the author of the Just William books, if I could be as tenth as funny I would die happy.
In a nutshell, what’s your new book about?
Writers hate that question! Two years of your life, five hundred pages in a nutshell? Go read the book! It’s ‘about’, in a nutshell, love, disappointment, war, history – the usual stuff of novels.
The Indie Book of the Year Award 2013
On Monday night, the independent booksellers of Australia announced The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman as their favourite Australian book from last year and the winner of The Indie Book of the Year Award 2013.
M. L. Stedman’s debut novel is a bestseller in Australia, Italy, Denmark and America, where it reached No. 4 on The New York Times hardback fiction list. It has also been long-listed for the prestigious Women’s Prize for Fiction (previously known as the Orange Prize).
BEST FICTION: Nine Days by Toni Jordan
BEST NON-FICTION: QF32 by Richard de Crespigny
BEST DEBUT FICTION: The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman
BEST CHILDREN’S & YA BOOK: Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan
THE INDIE BOOK OF YEAR 2013: The Light Between Oceans by M.L. Stedman
In the YA Spotlight: Infinite Sky (ages 14 plus)
This books is a delight from its beautiful packaging (hardback with an old-fashioned design of birds on the inside cover AND a map of the location in which it is set) to its heartbreaking story. It is hard to find out much about the author C.J. Flood as this is her debut novel except for the fact that she was thrown out of sixth form for lack of attendance and once owned a pet owl!
Thirteen year old Iris lives on a farm with her older brother Sam and her dad. They are all still coming to terms with the departure of her mother who is somewhere in Tunisia in a sky blue Ford Transit ‘finding herself’. Since she left, the house is a mess, there are never any clean clothes and meal times are a haphazard affair. Her father is so absorbed by this rudderless existence that Iris is pretty much left to her own devices.
Into this world arrives a family of Irish gyspies. Iris is fascinated by their nomadic lifestyle and spends hours watching them from the comfort of her father’s armchair in the upstairs room.
Then she meets the gypsy boy Trick, a year older than her, kind, intelligent but also handy with his fists. When work tools go missing from her father’s shed, he automatically blames the gypsies and inevitably this is the catalyst that ends in a disaster beyond anything any of them could have imagined.
C.J. Flood has written a coming of age story set against an endless summer of childhood. Her storytelling is restrained and compassionate which makes the big moments even bigger. All the characters are well drawn and it’s hard not to have a soft spot for Iris as she comes to terms with growing up, love and loss.
On My Bedside Table
Amaranth flees the scene of a suspicious fire with her two daughters, Amity and Sorrow bound together in the back seat of the car. For four days, she drives without stopping until she falls asleep at the wheel and crashes into a tree.
Behind her is the compound of a man of God, his wives and offspring. She knows he’ll come searching for her, his first wife, and that she and her teenage girls are not safe whilst Zacariah walks this earth.
Her saviour is the unlikely Bradley, an impoverished farmer and his offsider, Dust. Trapped in this no man’s land, Amaranth recalls the freedoms she once enjoyed long ago, Amity finds a whole new world free of scriptures and prayer and Sorrow plots to return. Amity & Sorrow is a remarkable, poignant tale of hope in the face of suffering.
Letters to the End of Love is an extraordinary debut from Western Australian writer Yvette Walker. Using the epistolary form, Walker weaves the lives and loves of three couple in three different decades.
In 1969, a Russian painter and his Irish novelist wife use letter writing as a way of sharing the sadnesses and fears they cannot give voice to. The doctor retired to Bournemouth who spent the 1930s living in Vienna with his gay lover only to be separated by the Nazi regime.
Now in 1948, all he can do is writes letters overflowing with grief and longing. In current day Perth, a bookshop owner resorts to letter writing to find some way to reengage with her estranged girlfriend hoping to repair a relationship damaged by the loss of her brother in Iraq. All these stories are linked thematically by loss but also by the emotional connection to be found through the arts.
Booktopia’s Favourite Easter Reads
Still wondering what to read over Easter? Here’s Booktopia’s Top 5 fiction reads for a long break.
That should keep you busy over the Easter long weekend! So what do you think about all these longlists, shortlists and prize winners? Do you agree with the judging? Did they leave out the best book you read last year?
As always, share your thoughts in the thread below.
On a final note, March 23rd was the first anniversary of The Bookshelf. I can’t believe it’s been one whole year of books. I plan to celebrate by reading some of next year’s prize winners (you never know). Thanks you to all for the support, the “Likes” and the great comments.
Until next week! Mx
*The Hoopla’s books editor Meredith Jaffe is a book reviewer and blogger. She lives in Sydney with her husband and four children. You can follow her on Twitter: @meredithjaffe.