If your bookshelf is like mine, it isn't heaving with Australian fiction. So let's put that right with the help of this list of 10 Aussie novels that demand a place on it.
Paul Drinkwater | 29 January 2012
At our recent party celebrating Australian literature, novelist T.D. Griggs told us that when one Australian writer was asked who the greatest poet in Australia was, he replied “Shakespeare.”
While that writer was trying to make the point that we all speak the same language and is there really any point in categorising, it’s hard to deny that Australian fiction does have a style, atmosphere and sense of place all of its own.
However, on the evidence of the paltry Australian literature quiz scores at our party, not many of us have truly explored Antipodean fiction. So we thought we’d better put that right by spreading the word about these 10 Australian novels that demand your attention.
1 Breath – Tim Winton
A divorced, middle-aged paramedic reminisces about his friendship with local wildboy Ivan ‘Loonie’ Loon in 1970s Western Australia. Described by the Sunday Telegraph as “A love letter to the sea and a moving coming-of-age story . . . Rapturous.”
2 Joan Lindsay – Picnic at Hanging Rock
Sinister 1967 tale about a group of girls from an Australian boarding school in the year 1900, who vanish during a Valentine’s Day picnic at the site of an enormous rock formation. Famed for its ambiguous ending.
3 David Malouf – The Great World
Multi-prize winning, poetic novel about an intense and uneasy relationship between two men who met and endured life together in a Japanese prison camp during World War II. Spans over 60 years and recommended by none other than T.D.Griggs.
4 Ben Rice – Pobby and Dingan
Ben Rice might be from Devon, but has crafted a short but perfectly formed novella about a girl in a small Outback mining town whose imaginary friends go missing. Quizmistress Fiona McPherson’s Oxford Reading Group were “charmed by this surreal child-like tale.”
5 The Songlines – Bruce Chatwin
Beautiful and controversial travelogue in which the author travels to Australia to trace the invisible pathways of Austrialian Aborigines to research his thesis. Chatwin muses on Australia’s dusty interior, the nomadic lifestyles of man and how language began as song.
6 Kate Grenville – The Secret River
Dickens goes to Australia? A 19th century Englishman is transported to Australia for theft and then stakes a claim on ancient Aboriginal lands – with tragic consequences. Inspired by the author’s desire to understand how her ancestor “started the business of ‘settling.’”
7 Robert Drewe – The Bodysurfers
Iconic collection of “Australia in minature” short stories set among the surf and sandhills of the Australian beach and three generations of the Lang family. Regarded as having marked a seismic shift in Aussie literature.
8 Andrew McGahan – Praise
Frank and darkly humorous debut about a doomed drug and alcohol fuelled relationship in 1990s Brisbane. This cult bestseller held a mirror up self-destructive youth in Australia in a similar way that ‘Trainspotting’ did in the UK.
9 Thomas Keneally – The Chant of Jimmie Blacksmith
Tragic tale about an Aboriginal man of part European descent who rejects his tribal ways and tries to adapt to mainstream Australian life. Booker-nominated novel that painted a shocking picture of the plight of the native Australians 100 years ago, and which resonated in the less racially tolerant times of its publication in 1972 .
10 Patrick White – Voss
The Nobel Prize winning author’s dense and powerful story of the secret passion between an early explorer of Australia and a naïve young woman. Based on the life of a 19th Century Prusssian explorer who disappeared whilst on an expedition into the Outback.
Do you know a ‘must-read’ Australia-set novel that stands alongside the above? Please share with us below…
Got a story for us?