What a remarkable read-fest of Australian literature I’ve been lucky enough to be immersed in over the past couple of months or so: J. M. Coetzee’s The Childhood of Jesus, Hannah Kent’s Burial Rites, Alex Miller’s Coal Creek, currently Richard Flanagan The Narrow Road to the Deep North and on the bedside table waiting their turn, Tim Winton’s Eyrie, Sally-Ann Jones’ Stella’s Sea, Christos Tsiolkas’ Barracuda. (Coetzee included here because he’s Australian by adoption.)*
Of the three read so far, it’s hard to say which I enjoyed the most: each was impossible to put down, each held aspects of human nature up to the light, in each the voices, and thus the characters, are powerful, their dilemmas real and gripping.
While there’s no lack of good Australian writing around at the moment, for me these books gave me something else – something as indefinable as racing to the end and wishing yourself back at the start, something like seeing the same stretch of river time after time, but some days it’s effect is so that you want to breathe it in so deeply it becomes part of you. Something that attaches, stays in the memory, a long long time after being shelved.
It’s an interesting exercise to compare the opening paragraphs. Three very different books but what they each have in common is that the first page sets the pace and tone of the story, introduces the protagonist and establishes a strong sense of voice and style. Impossible to say which was my favourite, but I do agree with the comment of journalist Peter McClelland on an earlier post that Burial Rites could be a strong contender for next year’s Man Booker. And while we’re guessing, how about Coal Creek for the Miles Franklin?
Surviving in today’s market
‘What do we as creators need to do to maintain creative practice? How do we rewire our careers so that our stories find their way into the marketplace in a competent and professional manner?’ The Australian Society of Authors has an interesting workshop on today’s publishing landscape and how to survive the changes. See the ASA website on www.asauthors.org for details. There’s a distance subsidy for us non-Sydneysiders, so if you’re planning to attend, drop me a comment in the box at the bottom of the page and I’ll look out for you.
* Stop press! — And what fabulous reads they all seven turned out to be. All so different, hard to tell which was my favourite, the enjoyment of one over the other as subtle as a change in the breeze. Neck and neck for Coal Creek, Barracuda and The Childhood of Jesus, a photo-finish for Burial Rites, Eyrie, Stella’s Sea, The Narrow Road to the Deep North. Anyone agree, disagree? Have a favourite of your own to share?
Image courtesy of amenic181 / FreeDigitalPhotos.net