If we mometarily ignore the genius of Hal Porter (37) and the Nobel Prize winning Patrick White (32), the next ten titles on our list could be said to represent the best of modern writing in Australia. Who am I trying to kid? I can’t ignore Hal Porter or Patrick White. The next ten, therefore, can be said to represent the best of Australian writing. No more said. (Full List of 50 Must Read Australian Novels now available – click here)
Meet the Deans.
The Father is Martin Dean.
He taught his son always to make up his mind, and then change it. An impossible, brilliant, restless man, he just wanted the world to listen to him – and the trouble started when the world did.
The Uncle is Terry Dean.
As a boy, Terry was the local sporting hero. As a man, he became Australia’s favourite criminal, making up for injustice on the field with this own version of justice off it.
The Son is Jasper Dean.
Now that his father is dead, Jasper can try making some sense of his outrageous schemes to make the world a better place. Haunted by his own mysteriously missing mother and a strange recurring vision, Jasper has one abiding question: Is he doomed to become the lunatic who raised him, or a different kind of lunatic entirely?
From the New South Wales bush to bohemian Paris, from sports fields to strip clubs, from the jungles of Thailand to a leaky boat in the Pacific, Steve Toltz’s A Fraction of the Whole follows the Deans on their freewheeling, scathingly funny and finally deeply moving quest to leave their mark on the world.
On the verge of her fourteenth birthday, Plum knows her life will change. But she has no idea how.
Over the coming weeks, her beautiful neighbour Maureen will show her how she might fly. Her adored older brothers will court catastrophe in worlds that she barely knows exist. And her friends – her worst enemies – will tease and test, smelling weakness. They will try to lead her on and take her down.
Who ever forgets what happens when you’re fourteen?
38. After America
Our world went to hell on March 14, 2003.
Four years after an inexplicable wave of energy decimated the American mainland, and then just as inexplicably disappeared a year later, US President James Kipper is no closer to explaining the catastrophe to the traumatised survivors.
In a decaying New York City, an assassination attempt on the President prompts the suspicion that the looters overrunning Manhattan may be more organised and sinister than previously thought.
Working on a farm in Texas to earn his citizenship, Miguel Pieraro believes in the promise of the New America. That is until tragedy cuts through his family.
In the English countryside, Echelon agent Caitlin Monroe must once again fight for her life, a sharp reminder that her nemesis is active again.
Then out of the smoking ruin of the Middle East comes an enemy that will be Kipper’s toughest challenge yet. The battle for the Wild East is just beginning, but does this New America, and its gun-shy President, have the strength of will to destroy the past in order to save the future?
37. The Watcher on the Cast Iron Balcony
A classic among Australian autobiographies, The Watcher on the Cast-Iron Balcony is regarded as Hal Porter’s masterpiece. Recreating the rhythms of small-town life between the wars, it covers the author’s first two decades. From the sensuality of his early boyhood experiences, Porter travels ever-observantly through his Baimsdale school years to his first job as a cadet reporter. The shock of his mother’s death, however, disturbs the pattern of his new adventures as a teacher, art student and actor in Melbourne.
(BBGuru: I know this shouldn’t be included as it is not a novel but as someone nominated it and as others voted for it and as it is better than most of the books on this list, I decided to include it. I also wanted to shame the publishers for letting something this valuable and loved, drop out of print.)
36. Dog Boy
Abandoned in a big city at the onset of winter, a hungry four-year-old boy follows a stray dog to her lair. There in the rich smelly darkness, in the rub of hair, claws and teeth, he joins four puppies suckling at their mother’s teats. And so begins Romochka’s life as a dog.
Weak and hairless, with his useless nose and blunt little teeth, Romochka is ashamed of what a poor dog he makes. But learning how to be something else…that’s a skill a human can master. Fortunately–because one day Romochka will have to learn how to be a boy.
The story of the child raised by beasts is timeless. But in Dog Boy Eva Hornung has created such a vivid and original telling, so viscerally convincing, that it becomes not just new but definitive:
Yes, this is how it would be.
Praise is an utterly frank and darkly humorous novel about being young in the Australia of the 1990s. A time when the dole was easier to get than a job, when heroin was better known than ecstasy, and when ambition was the dirtiest of words. A time when, for two hopeless souls, sex and dependence were the only lifelines.
‘McGahan’s book is a bracing slap in the face to conventional platitudes and hypocrisies.’ – The Australian
(BBGuru: While friends were reading their textbooks and listening to motivational tapes in the car I was reading this. Who’s laughing now, huh?)
Once upon a time that was called 1828, before all fishes in the sea and all living things on the land were destroyed, there was a man named William Buelow Gould, a white convict who fell in love with a black woman and discovered too late that to love is not safe.
Silly Billy Gould, invader of Australia, liar, murderer and forger, was condemned to the most feared penal colony in the British Empire and there ordered to paint a book of fish.
Once upon a time, there were miracles…
Against the backdrop of Darwin, that small, tropical hothouse of a port, half-outback, half-oriental, lying at the tip of northern Australia, a young and newly arrived southerner encounters the ‘maestro’, a Viennese refugee with a shadowed past. The occasion is a piano lesson, the first of many…
Join J. M. Coetzee and Thomas Keneally in rediscovering Nobel Laureate Patrick White. In 1973, Australian writer Patrick White was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature “for an epic and psychological narrative art which has introduced a new continent into literature.”
Set in nineteenth-century Australia, “Voss” is White’s best-known book, a sweeping novel about a secret passion between the explorer Voss and the young orphan Laura. As Voss is tested by hardship, mutiny, and betrayal during his crossing of the brutal Australian desert, Laura awaits his return in Sydney, where she endures their months of separation as if her life were a dream and Voss the only reality.
Marrying a sensitive rendering of hidden love with a stark adventure narrative, Voss is a novel of extraordinary power and virtuosity from a twentieth-century master.
31. Ice Station
At a remote ice station in Antarctica, a team of US scientists has made an amazing discovery. They have found something buried deep within a 100-million-year-old layer of ice. Something made of METAL.
Led by the enigmatic Lieutenant Shane Schofield, a team of crack United States Marines is sent to the station to secure this discovery for their country.
They are a tight unit, tough and fearless.
They would follow their leader into hell.
They just did . . .
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.