Literary prize lists + winners – a load of hoo-ha?

Courtesy of sarsaparilla lite, the 2009 Miles Franklin Award long-list:

  • Addition by Toni Jordan (Text Publishing)
  • A Fraction of the Whole by Steve Toltz (Penguin Books)
  • Breath by Tim Winton (Hamish Hamilton)
  • Fugitive Blue by Claire Thomas (Allen & Unwin)
  • Ice by Louis Nowra (Allen & Unwin)
  • One Foot Wrong by Sofie Laguna (Allen & Unwin)
  • The Devil’s Eye by Ian Townsend (Harper Collins)
  • The Pages by Murray Bail (Text Publishing)
  • The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas (Allen & Unwin)
  • Wanting by Richard Flanagan (Alfred A Knopf)

It’s testament to how much I’ve fallen off the ‘literary’ wagon that I have read none of these novels. That said, while I loved Murray Bail’s Homesickness (the only book of his that I’ve read) and thought Christos Tsiolkas’ Loaded was a welcome change to the Aust.Lit scene, I don’t find myself particularly enamoured of much Australian literature. Or drawn to support it in specific ways. Hypocritically, I find myself championing it against charges of parochialism, but I can also be ambivalent about the use of ‘local colour’ in vernacular and setting for some narratives…

*waits for lightning bolt of outrage*

I worked on ‘Aust.Lit’ for many years. My theses (MA and PhD) were both engaged with the notion of what might constitute and/or challenge the Aust.Lit ‘establishment,’ positioning of ethnic minority authors on literary scene, and how notions of ‘Australian-ness’ were conveyed/examined/refuted in various narratives and personas.

I haven’t really worked with literary texts for about five years now, and have regained my love of reading as a hobby. Colleagues have pointed out to me that I have obviously ‘moved away’ from literary studies. I’m not entirely sure what that means, but I think it’s something to do with my more frequently verbalised and disparaging remarks about certain novels and types of writing. I used to be painfully wary of being un-judgemental about Literature, mostly because so many people out there were more than happy to sink the boot into anything that may require more thought and engagement than they were willing to give. Now, I fear that I have become one of ‘those people,’ especially when it comes to finding some books/writers consistently overrated and pretentious.

I don’t tend to read books just because they have nice gold stamps on the front declaring they’ve won some literary prize or other. In fact, I tend to swerve away from anything that won a Nobel Prize for Literature (worthy and D&M narratives have their place; that place just usually isn’t my couch at night when my brain is only partially active), but am happy to give Orange and Booker Prize winners and shortlisters a go. One of my all-time favourite books was an Orange Prize winner: Anne Michaels’ debut novel, Fugitive Pieces. Pulitzers normally don’t get a look-in and (I feel I should say this sotto voce) neither do Miles Frankliners.

My reading habits these days are highly variable, shifting from blockbuster genre fiction (usually crime/spy thrillers) to independent press ‘local’ novels to books that could be categorised as ‘International Literature.’ While I’m supportive of experimental writing and textual adventures in principle, I feel sometimes that I need to preface discussion about my reading with, “Hello, my name is X, and I like my books to have a narrative…”

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8 thoughts on “Literary prize lists + winners – a load of hoo-ha?

  1. uniqueschmuck 27/03/2009 / 3:39 pm

    >The list is not very inspiring! I was (still am) going to comment on how unfortunate it is that the list includes so many well-knowns (i.e why is Tim Winton on there again and overwhelmingly men. Then I had a look at the past Miles Franklins winners and see that Thea Astley (whom I think is brilliant) has won many times. And I don’t feel any annoyance because she won so many times. So, hmm, I am a hypocrite.Though I don’t consciously read gold-stickered books, shortlistings for awards helps me find more books (which is why I find well-knowns on shortlists a bit disappointing).E.G. I’ve just looked up Toni Jordan’s Addition and it sounds very interesting indeed. Definitely sounds narrative driven, too, if that’s your thing. :-PYou could start a support group: Narrative Novel-Readers Anon. Hi. I’m Oanh. I used to study literature and I haven’t told anyone else this, but… I like novels with narratives. Like, I read ‘good books’ and everything, I even read, you know, things that don’t have stories, and I enjoy them and everything, but the truth is I really prefer if they have a story. And I’m going to do that annoying thing that readers do … You’ve read Homesickness but not Eucalyptus? Oh, you should read Eucalyptus. It’s just lovely. (I’ve read both. Liked E more than H but definitely liked both.)ha – long comment. must stop now.

  2. scp 29/03/2009 / 5:40 am

    >Oh you’re such a red neck Tseen ;)I’m a bit pleb that way too. I like my books to have a narrative and my music to have a melody.God I’m so low brow.;)Though I hear that “THe Slap” has a really good story. Have to admit though as someone who is writing at the moment, I’m finding that everything I write has to be distilled and brought down 100 decibels because I’m so plot driven at the moment…that it reads like melodrama. Though I suppose every story can be rendered as either high brow literature or midday TV movie.I am going through a, i love reading about really screwed up people, sexual deviance and child molestors phase. Thus am enjoying Ian McEwan v. much. 😉

  3. tseen 30/03/2009 / 10:00 pm

    >Oanh – Yes, ppl keep telling me that Eucalyptus is worth reading, and a welcome new novel by Bail after all those years…it’s one of those ones on the Worthy To-Read list. Admittedly, this is the list that gets the poorest look-in when I’m hunting for something in a lull. I think I’ve become a genre ho. (:SCP – I’ve become so plebeian in my reading tastes. I’ve read (and even enjoyed) Tara Moss. Nuff said, really. Out of all the MF long-list, Tsiolkas’ is the one that I would most likely read. I’m halfway through _How To Be Good_ by Hornby at the moment, and having a good time with it. I hope your writing is going well – I always suffer from blank page phobia. Am currently on an aca-writing roll so am trying to capitalise on it while I can!

  4. Tom 01/04/2009 / 3:35 pm

    >I’m curious, Tseen – what kinds of traits can give you a sense that a book might be a work of international literature? On the topic of narrative…In terms of my creative writing practice, I’ve had a lot of changes in my own relationship with narrative over the years. For a while there, narrative and I were on the outs. These days, though, I’m not so controlling and forbidding of narrative – my ideas tend to form in even more unpredictable and lateral ways than they used to, and narrative just seems to come along for the ride and I’m happy to let it do this. Sometimes I’ve wondered whether working with narrative-driven texts like Hollywood films (Dirty Dancing, etc) helped create my now more harmonious relationship with narrative. What was also pleasing to me is that I was able to better ‘harmonise’ narrative with my own interest in experimentation. P.S. At one stage, I was actually going to ask Tara Moss if she would launch my book.

  5. tseen 02/04/2009 / 3:09 am

    >Tom – I guess I think of “international literature” as the stuff that gets multiply recced in major pubs like the NY Times, London Rev. of Books, Guardian’s book lists, etc. Often, these do overlap with gold-stickered-ness (e.g. Booker short-lists tend to get a pretty good look-in). It’s a facetious and imprecise category, really, and I guess signal texts that are considered of ‘global’ value (even though they may be quite place-specific stories/texts). I like people playing with narratorial expectations and being experimental on that front. It’s the texts that cut loose from narrative and ‘story’ altogether that I find hard to enjoy (though I can admire them for what they’re trying to do…unless they’re just kind of wanky and self-indulgent…). It’d be so cool if TM had launched your book. Then the next Moss novel could’ve been partly set in Melb, at a book launch, where Mac becomes the target of yet another psycho…!! 😀

  6. scp 02/04/2009 / 7:26 am

    >re: Tim Winton.Because he’s THE writer here in WA, I’m finding that now that I’m in a program I’m trying to emulate his style…but falling asleep and yawning as I create Aussie bogan sea-side characters who live in sleepy fishing towns and admire the seafood.Though am rather obssessed with marron at the moment. They live in dams though, not in the ocean.But seriously, I think one of the reasons I feel I have to distill everything I write 100 times is because I’ve been reading Winton

  7. tseen 03/04/2009 / 2:33 am

    >SCP – re Winton: I’ve never read a Tim Winton book. Ever. Very occasionally, I feel un-Australian about this. Mostly, I figure I can catch up on Wintonism at any given time and he’s not going away any time soon so what’s the rush… (great justification, no?).I think getting a full draft of something together is only 50% of the work (or even less sometimes). I find the really hard work is ‘distilling’ 1st/2nd drafts into something resembling a final text. This is true of for both fic and non-fic writing. While I do, in general, find fic writing ‘easier’ (in that I don’t feel the need to be tethered to a library to write…), fic-editing is something I find difficult. And the piles of unedited, first draft narratives that litter my life are testament to this!

  8. spc 03/04/2009 / 3:53 am

    >i guess with fiction i have the idea in mind but with non-fiction i might have an idea, but then I’ll read everything and my idea has gone out the window…this is what’s just happened this morning.I’m going to cyberstalk or database stalk you a bit..going through your bibliography.

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