If science fiction is the mythology of modern technology, then its myth is tragic.
– Ursula K. Le Guin, fantasy and science fiction writer.
The inaugural Stella Prize received close to 200 entries from which the judging panel selected a longlist of twelve books. Now the list has narrowed to just six books, representing some wonderful writers and six amazing pieces of work.
Which title will be the first ever Stella Prize winner on April 16th?
The Burial by Courtney Collins
Questions of Travel by Michelle de Kretser
The Sunlit Zone by Lisa Jacobson
Like a House on Fire by Cate Kennedy
Sea Hearts by Margo Lanagan
Mateship with Birds by Carrie Tiffany
The Wild Girl by Kate Forsyth
When Napoleon invaded the kingdom of Cassel in 1806, the townsfolk found themselves under French rule and law almost overnight. The change in circumstances galvanized the Grimm brothers into collecting old folk tales with the view to preserving them in print as a scholarly work. Whilst the idea was largely Jakob’s, it was Wilhelm who did most of the transcription; setting himself up in friends’ parlours and writing down verbatim the stories the women told him. Many of those original stories were told to Wilhelm by his next-door neighbour, Dortchen Wild.
Behind this tale is another story, the story of how Wilhelm and Dortchen fell in love against her father’s wishes and with no hope of marrying unless Wilhelm’s collection of stories became a publishing success. Dortchen’s father was a cruel man hiding his lusts behind a godly façade and using his daughters, especially Dortchen, most cruelly.
As each of her five sisters married, Dortchen was forced to stay and tend to her father’s every need. Sneaking moments with Wilhelm were fraught with danger but Dortchen never stopped telling Wilhelm stories. When his scholarly collection of folk tales met with academic and financial failure, she urged Wilhelm to turn the stories into tales suitable for children. It is Dortchen Wild who told Wilhelm such classic tales as Snow White, Hansel and Gretel and Rumpelstiltskin. Their love endured through war and death and they never ceased hoping that they too could eventually live happily ever after.
Set against the backdrop of the Napoleonic wars, The Wild Girl is a richly re-imagined history of the woman behind the famous Grimm Brothers and the fairytales that are the backbone of most Western children’s formative years.
This is territory Forsyth knows intimately and she is able to make vivid the historic and personal detail that not only brings the love affair between Dortchen and Wilhelm Grimm alive, but also provides a context for how these classic stories were preserved for posterity.
It is a deeply moving, personal story juxtaposed with an important period in human history about an event that is still culturally significant today. Lovers of historical novels, lovers of fairy tales and fantasy and lovers of great writing will be united by this accomplished, articulate novel.
Author Q&A | Therese Anne Fowler
Therese Anne Fowler was no different from everybody else in discounting Zelda Fitzgerald as F. Scott Fitzgerald’s “crazy, disruptive wife.” Casual research revealed that Zelda had died on the same day as her own mother (albeit in different years) and the more Fowler researched, the more amazing Zelda Fitzgerald turned out to be. Z is a reimagining of one of literature’s most important muses set against the backdrop of the Roaring Twenties, perhaps even more Gatsby than fiction could ever have created. Therese (pronounced ta-reece) Anne Fowler answered a few quick questions for The Hoopla.
What book(s) are you reading now?
Most of my reading at the moment is in service of the novel I’m working on; currently it’s Edith Wharton’s The Age of Innocence. For pleasure, I’ve got Billy Lynn’s Long Halftime Walk by Ben Fountain and Arcadia by Lauren Groff on deck, as well as an advance copy of Caroline Leavitt’s upcoming release Is This Tomorrow. I’ve just finished Cathy Marie Buchanan’s lovely historical The Painted Girls.
Who are your favourite authors or greatest literary influences?
I’ve long been an admirer of Ann Patchett, whose thoughtful, beautifully rendered prose makes any story she chooses to tell a pleasure to read. For sheer brilliance and remarkable storycraft, I love Nabokov. The Fitzgeralds have, of course, influenced me greatly.
In their best works, all of these writers capture the conflicts, tenderness, and essential humanity of their characters, which is what I strive to do as well.
In a nutshell, what’s your new book about?
Z is the memoir I imagined Zelda Fitzgerald might write if looking back on her marriage to F. Scott Fitzgerald from late 1940, more than twenty years after their first meeting.
Popular culture primarily sees Zelda as “F. Scott Fitzgerald’s demanding, insane wife.” She’s also, more favorably, “the First Flapper” and “Fitzgerald’s Jazz-Age muse,” but all of those labels reduce her to a caricature of one kind or another. She was a vibrant, intelligent, talented, conflicted woman whose devotion to Fitzgerald began when she was a teenage debutante and he was just an aspiring writer with big dreams.
Z is Zelda’s story of the carnival their marriage sometimes was, of her struggles and aspirations, of her enduring belief in the man who would become a preeminent writer and icon of his time. It’s based closely on established facts, which I’ve then imagined and represented in three-dimensional, full-color reality, you might say. The life these two led in New York, Paris, the French Riviera, Hollywood, needs no embellishment. Their truth is an impressive, moving story all on its own.
The Husband’s Secret by Liane Moriarty
Cecilia Fitzpatrick has the perfect life. She married one of the five gorgeous Fitzpatrick boys, John-Paul, they have three beautiful young daughters and between her role as President of the P&C and as a top-selling Tupperware sales person, Cecilia is busy to boot.
She is, in essence, the very picture of the perfect north shore mum and envied and admired in equal quantities by most of the other mums at St Angela’s Primary School.
Her daughter Isabel’s latest obsession is the Berlin Wall, (surely so much healthier than the previous obsession with the Titanic?) and Cecilia remembers she has a piece of the Wall somewhere in the attic. In her search, she knocks over a box of old tax records and in that box is an envelope marked, For my wife, Cecilia Fitzpatrick: To be opened only in the event of my death. John-Paul is in New York and Cecilia cannot resist telling him she found the letter, what she doesn’t expect, is for John-Paul to panic.
What can the letter possibly contain to make him react this way? And the question Cecilia should ask herself but doesn’t, is what will she do with the knowledge once she knows her husband’s secret?
Moriarty carefully lays out all the pieces and takes the reader along a narrative path that has such a familiar feel. However, Moriarty is full of surprises and it only begins with the content of John-Paul’s letter. Inspired by real life deathbed confessions, Moriarty explores the consequences of the decision to stay silent and the consequences of speaking up. Her ability to weave a narrative is superlative.
The Husband’s Secret is a brilliant piece of storytelling.
On My Bedside Table…
Krissy Kneen made a name for herself with clever, well-crafted, if not somewhat confronting, erotic writing. Steeplechase, however, marks Kneen’s first foray into “straight” fiction. The story centres around the relationship between estranged sisters, both artists.
The eldest, Emily, enjoys an international career from her base in Beijing whilst Bec teaches at a local University. After years of estrangement, Emily rings Bec to invite her to her next exhibition. Emily has paid for the air ticket and Bec has more annual leave accrued than she knows how to use, so why the reluctance to see her sister?
Why does Bec fear that the sinister power games of their unusual childhood are bound to resurface the minute she enters her sister’s orbit?Absorbing writing with a menacing undertow that drags the reader deep inside a dysfunctional, disturbing relationship.
Five Star Billionaire is the latest novel from award-winning Malaysian writer Tash Aw. In the twenty-first century, New York and London are no longer the place to make your mark, the money is in China in go-ahead cities like Shanghai. Leaving behind their lives in Malaysia, Aw’s characters arrive in Shanghai ready to seize their chance at wealth and success.
There is Justin, the son of a wealthy Malaysian property developer. Phoebe, who works in a garment factory that makes clothes for affluent Westerners. Gary, the teen pop sensation who blows it all in a bar room brawl. Yingyui owns a chain of successful lingerie boutiques but her shameful past haunts her. And lastly there is the enigmatic Walter, the five star billionaire of the title.
Beautiful writing sustains this twisting narrative keeping the reader in thrall to these complicated characters, their insecurities and fears.
Booktopia’s Bestselling Speculative Fiction
Are you feeling inspired to dip into some Speculative Fiction? Booktopia’s Top 5 might hold the answer.
Last Easter I read three books in four days and I’m looking forward to lolling about reading and eating chocolate bunnies all over again next weekend. I’ll have plenty of new books to inspire your own chokkie-fuelled reading binge or maybe you have already tucked a few books away to savour over the Easter break? Care to share? As always, leave a comment in the thread below.
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.