A while ago now, whilst playing… ahem… doing important and vital Booktopia business on twitter and facebook, I decided to ask Booktopia’s followers and friends what they thought were the ‘must read’ Australian novels.
Many disparage twitter and facebook by suggesting that it is both frivolous and time wasting (I being of their number some few short months ago). Whereas I cannot defend twitter and facebook against these charges, I can say, of those who read the drivel I put out there (tweet), the vast majority are extraordinarily well read (some, frighteningly so).
(Granted, I am the voice of the best online book shop in the universe, Booktopia, and not the voice of a company that makes protein shakes for muscle bound freaks, so finding readers following Booktopia shouldn’t be a surprise, but even so… )
However, we can be proud of something – we’re not wasting ordinary lives on twitter and facebook we are squandering the best minds in Australia!
That’s who created this list, the wonderful and entertaining wasters of life and intellect who happen to follow Booktopia on twitter and facebook. And I am thankful they did because the list is a very fine list.
So, thank you all for taking the time to, first, recommend such wonderful books and, second, take the time to vote in droves, helping me to whittle down the list to a manageable 50 Must Read Australian Novels.
As you’ll see, Australia’s literature is rich and varied and some of it is even in print.
The 50 Must Read Australian Novels
This first instalment counts down from 50 to 41 (please note the inclusion of some of my favourite ‘tweeps’ – @kylie_ladd – @domknight & @overingtonc Yay! Clap, clap, clap!) (Full List of 50 Must Read Australian Novels now available – click here)
50. Last Summer
Kylie Ladd (@kylie_ladd)
Rory Buchanan has it all: looks, talent, charisma-an all around good-guy, he’s the centre of every party and a loving father and husband. Then one summer’s afternoon, tragedy strikes. Those who are closest to him struggle to come to terms with their loss. Friendships are strained, marriages falter and loyalties are tested in a gripping and brilliantly crafted novel about loss, grief and desire.
Told from the points of view of nine of the people who are mourning Rory, this riveting novel presents a vivid snapshot of contemporary suburban Australia and how we live now. Marriage, friendship, family-all are dissected with great psychological insight as they start to unravel under the pressure of grief. The characters live on the page; their lives are unfolded and their dilemmas are as real as our own.
The London season is in full fling at the end of the 1920s, but the Honourable Phryne Fisher – she of the green-grey eyes, diamant garters and outfits that should not be sprung suddenly on those of nervous dispositions – is rapidly tiring of the tedium of arranging flowers, making polite conversations with retired colonels, and dancing with weak-chinned men. Instead, Phryne decides it might be rather amusing to try her hand at being a lady detective in Melbourne, Australia.
Almost immediately from the time she books into the Windsor Hotel, Phryne is embroiled in mystery: poisoned wives, cocaine smuggling rings, corrupt cops and communism – not to mention erotic encounters with the beautiful Russian dancer, Sasha de Lisse – until her adventure reaches its steamy end in the Turkish baths of Little Lonsdale Street.
48. Disco Boy
Dominic Knight (@domknight)
Disco Boy is a novel about putting things off. Paul’s life is an endless process of deferral as procrastinates endlessly about his job (DJ for a MobyDisc), the law degree wasting away, living with his parents, his friends and of course women. Sometimes it is easier to joke yourself away as a failure than to put your hands on the keyboard and write that hit song or lean forward and kiss that girl who has been your best friend’s girlfriend all these years . This is a laugh out loud funny, sweet and aware novel with poignant under tones. Everyone will identify to some degree with the lives of Paul, Zoe, Nige, Simon, Flea, Lucy (well maybe not Lucy) as they set out on their adult lives of discovering who they are supposed to be. It is This Life in a book.
47. Diamond Dove
‘Diamond Dove is a great fun read, a crime novel with a true larrikin spirit. That means it has real wit; dry, earthy and with no bullshit. Hyland has written the kind of book we need so much more of in this country. He quizzes the fraught, complex world of the outback with a critical eye but he also paints with rare clarity a picture of both black and white lives that is filled with compassion and affection. It’s invigorating.’ Christos Tsiolkas
Caroline Overington (@overingtonc)
Who is left behind when a family falls apart?
It was four o’clock in the morning. A young woman pushed through the hospital doors. Staff would later say they thought the woman was a new mother, returning to her child – and in a way, she was. She walked into the nursery, where a baby girl lay sleeping. The infant didn’t wake when the woman placed her gently in the shopping bag she had brought with her. There is CCTV footage of what happened next, and most Australians would have seen it, either on the internet or the news. The woman walked out to the car park, towards an old Corolla. For a moment, she held the child gently against her breast and, with her eyes closed, she smelled her.
She then clipped the infant into the car, got in and drove off.
That is where the footage ends.
It isn’t where the story ends, however.
It’s not even where the story starts.
An outstanding literary achievement, meticulously researched and deeply felt, its portrait of the earliest days of the European settlement of Australia remains unrivalled.
1788: The very beginning of European settlement. These were times of hardship, cruelty and danger. Above all, they were times of conflict between the Aborigines and the white settlers.
Eleanor Dark brings alive those bitter years with moments of tenderness and conciliation amid the brutality and hostility. The cast of characters includes figures historical and fictional, black and white, convict and settler. All the while, beneath the veneer of British civilisation, lies the baffling presence of Australia, the “timeless land”.
David Malouf shines new light on Homer’s ILIAD, adding twists and reflections, as well as flashes of earthy humour, to surprise and enchant.
In this exquisite gem of a novel, Achilles is maddened by grief at the death of his friend Patroclus. From the walls of Troy, King Priam watches the body of his son, Hector, being dragged behind Achilles’ chariot. There must be a way, he thinks, of reclaiming the body – of pitting compromise against heroics, new ways against the old, and of forcing the hand of fate. Dressed simply and in a cart pulled by a mule, an old man sets off for the Greek camp …
Lyrical, immediate and heartbreaking Malouf’s fable engraves the epic themes of the Trojan war onto a perfect miniature – themes of war and heroics, hubris and humanity, chance and fate, the bonds between soldiers, fathers and sons, all newly burnished and brilliantly recast for our times.
43. White Gardenia
In a district of the city of Harbin, a haven for White Russian families since Russia’s Communist revolution, Alina Kozlova must make a heartbreaking decision if her only child, Anya, is to survive the final days of World War II.
White Gardenia sweeps across cultures and continents, from the glamorous nightclubs of Shanghai to the harshness of Cold War Soviet Russia in the 1960s, from a desolate island in the Pacific Ocean to a new life in post-war Australia. Both mother and daughter must make sacrifices, but is the price too high? Most importantly of all, will they ever find each other again?
Rich in incident and historical detail, this is a compelling and beautifully written tale about yearning and forgiveness.
Wresting his family from the easy living of nineteenth-century Sydney, Cornelius Laffey takes them to northern Queensland where thousands of hopefuls are digging for gold in the mud. They confront the horror of Aboriginal dispossession, and Cornelius is sacked for reporting the slaughter. This is an unforgettable tale of the other side of Australia’s heritage.
It’s the anxious eve of the millennium. The car is packed to capacity, and as midnight approaches, a family flees the city in a fit of panic and paranoid, conflicting emotions.
The ensuing journey spans decades and offers a sharp-eyed perspective on a hardscrabble future, as a boy jettisons his family and all other ties in order to survive as a journeyman in an uncertain landscape. By turns led by love, larceny, and a new sexual order, he must avoid capture and imprisonment, starvation, pandemic, and some particularly bad weather.
In Things We Didn’t See Coming, Steven Amsterdam links together nine luminous narratives through the mind of one peripatetic and resourceful wanderer who always has one eye on the exit door and the other on a future that shifts more drastically and more often than anyone would like to imagine.
About the Contributor
While still in his twenties, John Purcell opened a second-hand bookshop in Mosman, Sydney, in which he sat for ten years reading, ranting and writing. Since then he has written, under a pseudonym, a series of very successful novels, interviewed hundreds of writers about their work, appeared at writers’ festivals, on TV (most bizarrely in comedian Luke McGregor’s documentary Luke Warm Sex) and has been featured in prominent newspapers and magazines. Now, as the Director of Books at booktopia.com.au, Australia’s largest online bookseller, he supports Australian writing in all its forms. He lives in Sydney with his wife, two children, three dogs, five cats, unnumbered gold fish and his overlarge book collection. His novel, The Girl on the Page, will be published by HarperCollins Australia in October, 2018.