THE HOOPLA LITERARY SOCIETY
“My life was transformed by winning the Orange Prize. I won it for The Idea of Perfection, a book that wasn’t shortlisted for a single important Australian prize. As a result, sales were dismal. A year later, it won what was then Britain’s richest literary prize. Suddenly everyone was reading it and assuring each other that they’d always known what a great book it was. It was the same book it had always been, but now it had the stamp of approval – a big prize.” Author, Kate Grenville
Anna Funder’s story of the Third Reich is the winner of the Miles Franklin.
This big news in Australian literature this week is the announcement of the winner of the 2012 Miles Franklin award.
The Miles Franklin has been in the spotlight for all the wrong reasons of late as industry insiders have questioned the poor representation of women writers on the long list let alone as prizewinners.
Who cares? Well the point is this, since the Miles Franklin prize was first awarded in 1957, women have won the prize 13 times; of those Thea Astley won it four times and Jessica Anderson twice.
The irony of this is that Miles Franklin, herself a celebrated Australian novelist, left a legacy in her will for a prize be set up in order to see Australian writing flourish. Therefore, that women writers are so poorly represented in the prize’s history is at best baffling. How can it be that women have only won the prize 24 percent of the time?
I used Kate Grenville’s quote about her winning the Orange Prize as a counterpoint to the fact she has never won the Miles Franklin, despite being widely regarded as one of Australia’s finest writers.
Perhaps then, the judge’s choice of Anna Funder’s All That I Am as the 2012 winner is a reflection on the intention of Miles Franklin’s legacy – that all Australian writing must flourish.
Funder on a roll
Anna Funder’s All That I Am – her debut novel – continues the themes from her international best seller Stasiland.
Funder tells the story of an elderly woman living in Sydney who spent the years leading up to World War II in the resistance movement against Hitler and the Nazi Party. The Miles Franklin is presented to the novel judged to be of the highest literary merit and “presents Australian Life in any of its phases”. As well as being the most prestigious Australian literary award, it comes with a $50,000 prize. Accepting the prize from London, Funder said, “It’s up to writers of all kinds to examine the inner-workings of the nation.”
Funder has been on a prize-winning roll, taking out several awards already year including the Australian Book Industry Awards for best debut fiction and best literary fiction, the Independent Australian Booksellers Award for best debut fiction and Indie Book of the Year and the Barbara Jefferis award which recognises “the best novel written by an Australian author that depicts women and girls in a positive way or otherwise empowers the status of women and girls in society”.
She is currently short listed for the Prime Minister’s Literary Award for fiction, which brings with it an $80,000 prize. Interestingly, given some of the criticism of the Miles Franklin, of five books shortlisted for the Prime Minister’s award, four are written by women. BUY THE BOOK
Seating Arrangements, Maggie Shipstead
“Though he never wished to indulge in nostalgia, Winn would not have been surprised to see shades of himself stretching down the railing: the boy beside his father, the collegian nipping from a flask passed among his friends, the bachelor with a series of dimly recalled women, the honeymooner, the young father holding one small girl and then two. He had been eight when his father first brought him across, and now he was fifty-nine. A phantom armada of memory ships chugged around him, crewed by his outgrown selves. But the water, as he stared down over the rail, looked like all other water; he might have been anywhere, on the Bering Strait or the river Styx. Without fail, every time he was out on the ocean, the same vision came to him: of himself lost overboard, floundering at the top of that unholy depth.”
Winn Van Meter; patriarch of the family, successful Ivy League graduate, member of the Ophidian club, keeper of a holiday shack on the New England island of Waskeke.
He is everything his father worked so hard to make him. His first daughter Daphne is marrying Greyson Duff and both sides of the family are descending on Waskeke for the wedding weekend. And apart from the fact that Daphne is seven months pregnant, there is nothing to suggest anything could possibly go wrong.
So why then does Winn feel so ill at ease? His wife Biddy has organised every expensive tiny detail to the nth degree. It is unfortunate that his daughter Livia’s ex, Teddy Fenn is also on the island, visiting family before he goes off to Iraq, but it also provides Winn the opportunity to pump Jack Fenn as to why his membership of the exclusive Pequod club has already taken three summers.
What makes this book especially delicious is that Winn is our window into this world. Despite having been considered a ladies’ man in his day, Winn is incapable of communicating with any woman, other than his long-suffering wife Biddy. Thrust into a situation where his daughters, the bridesmaids and his four-times-married, martini-loving sister-in-law Celeste are all under the same roof, Winn starts reacting in the oddest of ways.
This is gorgeous writing; evocative, crisp and witty.Shipstead has assembled a cast of characters who rub and pull at each other, create situations best left uncreated and somehow manage to muddle through to the end. How Winn survives his self-sabotaging behaviour is the real pleasure of this tale.
No spoilers from me, you’ll have to read it. BUY THE BOOK
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