So, it’s come to this, has it?
The Top Ten Must Read Australian Novels, as voted by you lot.
It’s a list of surprises – there’s the inclusion of Joan Lindsay’s Picnic at Hanging Rock (it’s a film ain’t it?), the omission of Peter Carey and Patrick White from the top ten and, the biggest surprise of all, the winner. I mean, really!, who would have guessed it?
Let me take a moment to congratulate all those who voted, you have excellent taste – I salute you. And I salute you again since you also managed to push my great love Christina Stead into the top ten, well done (and you managed to keep Bryce at bay. Clap, Clap, Clap.)
By the way, three of my favourite Australian novels made the top ten. Yay! Can you guess which three?
In a few days time I will post the full fifty. Thanks again. Here are the top ten…. (Full Fifty now available here)
(Please Note: A clever twitter chap suggested I allow one novel per author. I thought this a fair idea and I made it law. The highest ranking title by an author is the one included in the top fifty. Many writers, Tim Winton, Patrick White, Peter Carey, Bryce Courtenay etc had many titles listed in the original longlist but only the most popular is listed here.)
The Man Who Loved Children is Christina Stead’s masterpiece about family life. Sam and Henny Pollit are a warring husband and wife, he a fully blown narcissist and she spoiled and prone to fits of despair.
Their hatred, aggravated by too little money and too many children, lies at the centre of this chilling and brilliantly observed novel about relations between parents and children, husbands and wives.
The Man Who Loved Children is acknowledged as a contemporary classic of Australian and international literature.
Ruth Park’s classic novel The Harp in the South is one of Australia’s greatest novels. Hugh and Margaret Darcy are raising their family in Sydney amid the brothels, grog shops and run-down boarding houses of Surry Hills, where money is scarce and life is not easy.
Filled with beautifully drawn characters that will make you laugh as much as cry, this Australian classic will take you straight back to the colourful slums of Sydney with convincing depth, careful detail and great heart.
The Magic Pudding was first cooked in 1918, and thousands of children (and their parents) have been relishing it ever since.
Norman Lindsay’s timeless classic follows the adventures of debonair young koala Bunyip Bluegum, sailor Bill Barnacle and penguin Sam Sawnoff – owners of the much-desired Magic Puddin’ Albert – who try to out-wit Possum and Wombat, the professional, and extraordinarily persistent, puddin’-thieves.
This new paperback edition includes all the original illustrations and, for those who have not yet tasted this puddin’s magic delights, it is definitely worth savouring. Ages 8+
The thing I am trying to get at is what made Jack different from me. Different all through our lives, I mean, and in a special sense, not just older or nobler or braver or less clever.
David and Jack Meredith grow up in a patriotic suburban Melbourne household during the First World War, and go on to lead lives that could not be more different.
Through the story of the two brothers, George Johnston created an enduring exploration of two Australian myths: that of the man who loses his soul as he gains worldly success, and that of the tough, honest Aussie battler, whose greatest ambition is to serve his country during the war.
Acknowledged as one of the true Australian classics, My Brother Jack is a deeply satisfying, complex and moving literary masterpiece.
6. The Slap
To smack or not to smack is the question that reverberates through the interconnected lives dissected in Christos Tsiolkas’ award-winning novel, now in paperback.
At a suburban barbecue, a man slaps a child who is not his own.
It is a single act, but the slap reverberates through the lives of everyone who witnesses it. Told through the eyes of eight of those present at the barbecue, this acclaimed bestseller is an unflinching interrogation of the life of the modern family. Poignant and provocative, THE SLAP makes us question the nature of commitment and happiness, compromise and truth. Whose side are you on?
‘I am given to something which a man never pardons in a woman. You will draw away as though I were a snake when you hear.’
With this warning, Sybylla confesses to her rich and handsome suitor that she is given to writing stories and bound, therefore on a brilliant career. In this ironically titled and riotous first novel by Miles Franklin, originally published in 1901, Sybylla tells the story of growing up passionate and rebellious in rural NSW, where the most that girls could hope for was to marry or to teach. Sybylla will do neither, but that doesn’t stop her from falling in love, and it doesn’t make the choices any easier.
Judy’s father, Captain Woolcot, found his vivacious, cheeky daughter impossible – but seven children were really too much for him and most of the time they ran wild at their rambling riverside home, Misrule.
Step inside and meet them all – dreamy Meg, and Pip, daring Judy, naughty Bunty, Nell, Baby and the youngest, ‘the General’. Come and share in their lives, their laughter and their tears.
It is 1939. Nazi Germany. The country is holding its breath. Death has never been busier, and will become busier still.
Liesel Meminger and her younger brother are being taken by their mother to live with a foster family outside Munich. Liesel’s father was taken away on the breath of a single, unfamiliar word – Kommunist – and Liesel sees the fear of a similar fate in her mother’s eyes. On the journey, Death visits the young boy, and notices Liesel. It will be the first of many near encounters. By her brother’s graveside, Liesel’s life is changed when she picks up a single object, partially hidden in the snow. It is The Gravedigger’s Handbook, left there by accident, and it is her first act of book thievery.
So begins a love affair with books and words, as Liesel, with the help of her accordion-playing foster father, learns to read. Soon she is stealing books from Nazi book-burnings, the mayor’s wife’s library, wherever there are books to be found.
But these are dangerous times. When Liesel’s foster family hides a Jewish fist-fighter in their basement, Liesel’s world is both opened up, and closed down.
While Joan Lindsay’s haunting Australian classic Picnic at Hanging Rock is a work of fiction, the story is often considered one of Australia’s greatest mysteries.
In 1900, a class of young women from an exclusive private school go on an excursion to the isolated Hanging Rock, deep in the Australian bush. The excursion ends in tragedy when three girls and a teacher mysteriously vanish after climbing the rock. Only one girl returns, with no memory of what has become of the others . . .
From separate catastrophes two rural families flee to the city and find themselves sharing a great, breathing, shuddering joint called Cloudstreet, where they begin their lives again from scratch.
For twenty years they roister and rankle, laugh and curse until the roof over their heads becomes a home for their hearts. Tim Winton’s funny, sprawling saga is an epic novel of love and acceptance.
Winner of the Miles Franklin and NBC Awards in Australia, Cloudstreet is a celebration of people, places and rhythms which has fuelled imaginations world-wide.
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, was published by HarperCollins Australia in October, 2018.