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Miles Franklin 2012

Chris Flynn March 28

The thirteen novels on the Miles Franklin Literary Award longlist this year include books from three former winners and seven women. There are virtually no surprises or scandals worth mentioning, other than a few noteworthy absences. 2011 was a year in which most well established Australian literary authors released a novel. 2012 sees Richard Flanagan, Murray Bail, Alexis Wright, Gerald Murnane, Thomas Keneally, Drusilla Modjeska and Peter Carey all staking their claims for next year’s longlist—Helen Garner seems to be the sole name missing in action from the cadre of currently active literary heavyweights.

The list is as follows:

Tony Birch Blood
Steven Carroll The Spirit of Progress
Mark Dapin Spirit House
Virginia Duigan The Precipice
Anna Funder All That I Am
Kate Grenville Sarah Thornhill
Gail Jones Five Bells
Gillian Mears Foal’s Bread
Alex Miller Autumn Laing
Frank Moorhouse Cold Light
Favel Parrett Past the Shallows
Elliot Perlman The Street Sweeper
Charlotte Wood Animal People

Of these, Steven Carroll is the most recent winner, in 2008 for his book The Time We Have Taken. Alex Miller has won twice before, in 2003 with Journey to the Stone Country and 1993 with The Ancestor Game. On that form, he would be due another win in 2013, so I’m going to take a punt and count him out this year. Frank Moorhouse is the third former winner, in 2001 for The Dark Palace.

In what was obviously a fiercely competitive year, nothing on this list is ‘making up the numbers’, though the inclusion of Virginia Duigan’s The Precipice is a tad incongruous. It cannot have been easy for the judges this year, but it is surprising to see The Precipice chosen ahead of Rohan Wilson’s wonderful gothic nightmare The Roving Party or Wayne Macauley’s cutting satire The Cook. Similarly, some will be disappointed that Craig Sherborne’s The Amateur Science of Love, Geraldine Brooks’ Caleb’s Crossing and Steven Amstedam’s What the Family Needed have missed out on spots, though those last two may have been discounted for not meeting the condition that books “must present Australian life in any of its phases.”

Only sixty-one books were submitted for consideration, with the winner taking out a purse of $50,000. A shortlist will be announced on May 3rd and an overall winner on June 20th. Given the strength of this year’s entries, it is a tough call predicting what might make the shortlist and indeed how short that shortlist will be—last year’s only had three titles.

Much will likely be written in coming weeks about the makeup of the books included, in particular regarding the amount of historical fiction on show. Miles Franklin judge Professor Gillian Whitlock said: “The 2012 list reflects the strength of historical fiction in the contemporary novel. Entries this year include the third and final novels in the historical trilogies by Frank Moorhouse and Kate Grenville, fictional historical biographies by Steven Carroll, Anna Funder and Alex Miller and fictional narratives of World War II by Mark Dapin and Elliot Perlman.” Historical fiction is a genre that has been maligned a little in recent years, but it is something that Australian authors do particularly well.

In terms of publishing houses, there are two clear winners already. Allen & Unwin have stormed in with three entries on the longlist (Charlotte Wood, Gillian Mears, Alex Miller), only beaten by Random House imprint Vintage, who have four authors longlisted (Gail Jones, Frank Moorhouse, Elliot Perlman and Virginia Duigan) and both must therefore be congratulated on their investment in quality Australian literature. My gut feeling is that the winner will not come from either of those ranks. Tony Birch’s Blood, Mark Dapin’s Spirit House and Anna Funder’s All That I Am are my three favourite books on the list, but I don’t think any of those will take out the prize either. If I were a gambling man, I’d place a sneaky bet on Kate Grenville.


 

Comments

by Maree
28 Mar 12 at 12:14

I would love to see Past the Shallows win. But I agree, Kate Grenville is probably the safest bet!

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by Kylie Ladd
28 Mar 12 at 12:17

I’ve read seven books on the list and think it is a wonderful one- but do have to mention that as both a reader and writer I was personally hugely disappointed and astonished that Malcolm Knox’s “The Life” didn’t make the cut. Knox’s novel is incredibly original, wild, inventive and touching- a real game-changer in many ways, and most definitely Australian (on which criteria I was surprised The Street Sweeper got in). I loved Wood’s and Mears' books and hope one or both win, but The “Life” was really something quite unique.

Great roundup otherwise- thanks!

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by Chris Flynn
28 Mar 12 at 12:30

Ah yes, the Malcolm Knox book, I forgot about that. I haven’t read it but everyone I know who has seems to love it. They probably could have had a longlist of 16 easily this year, though that’s getting out of hand. I also enjoyed Peter Barry’s ‘I Hate Martin Amis et al’, though there’s nothing about Australian life in that. ‘The Fix’ by Nick Earls was great too, as was Meg Mundell’s ‘Black Glass’ though they’re both a bit too genre for the MF judges I imagine.

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by Jackie
28 Mar 12 at 13:02

Another name missing from the list is John Birmingham

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by B Spreckles
28 Mar 12 at 14:53

Would also quibble with the omission of “The Life”

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by Jo Case
28 Mar 12 at 21:00

I’m shocked re The Life too: Kylie put the case beautifully.

Lots of great books on the list and I have some favourites. My punt, though, is on Cold Light. A brilliant, funny, moving, insightful, masterpiece, closing a trilogy sure to endure as a classic of Australian literature. Or Anna Funder? I thought All That I Am was pretty close to being a flawless novel.

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by feminist reader
29 Mar 12 at 17:54

and you of course have the capacity to judge what is flawless, do you jo? honestly, what bollocks. you have an educated opinion. the MF judges have a slightly more educated opinion. that is all.

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by Jo Case
29 Mar 12 at 18:47

Well, yes, I think I think I do have the capacity to judge what ‘I think is pretty close to being a flawless novel’. (Emphasis on ‘I think’.) I didn’t say that my opinion is definitive, or that the novel is flawless.

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by feminist reader
29 Mar 12 at 20:37

I wish I had your ego.

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by Jo Case
29 Mar 12 at 20:56

Hmmm, so believing I have the capacity to judge my own opinion on a novel (when I make my living writing about – and necessarily delivering my opinions on) books means I have a huge ego?

That’s a strange feminism you have – one which prompts you to make nasty attacks on a woman you don’t even know for sharing her opinion on a public forum that has invited opinions.

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by feminist reader
29 Mar 12 at 21:35

Making a living assessing other people’s novels requires a large ego. That is indisputable. Especially when you haven’t written much yourself. I wish I had that level of confidence. It must be nice.

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by Anonymous
29 Mar 12 at 22:02

Do you support The Stella Prize? I read a comment of yours elsewhere today that suggested as much. Do you believe there should be more female reviewers? It’s arguments like this – that women are displaying overlarge egos by daring to share their opinions in print – that are partially responsible for the dearth of women reviewers. This is reflected in the anecdotal evidence of literary editors who say that men pitch to them far more than women; they have more confidence and there is less of a cultural association that confidence is somehow unseemly in a man, as you believe it is in my case.

At the IWD event that inspired The Stella Prize, Sleepers publisher Louise Swinn shared a quote from Alizah Salario’s piece, ‘Twenty-Three Short Thoughts About Women and Criticism’ on Bookslut:

‘At her most basic, a good critic must possess a certain amount of chutzpah in order to believe other people will read – and care about – what she has to say. Call them audacious or simply arrogant, critics must have the confidence to write with conviction. They must demonstrate to readers why, of an infinite number of interpretations, theirs speaks a truth (but perhaps not the truth).

Louise reflected, ‘I think maybe we’re not always encouraged to think that our experience can be the experience.’

So, I guess, in that context, I must have a lot of chutzpah. okay.

But I don’t think my reviews or opinions deserve airing because I am marvellous. I think they deserve airing because I come to them after many, many hours of thought and reflection, and of honing my arguments before I commit them to print. I don’t think this makes me special; but neither do I apologise for thinking that if I put in the time and thought and effort, my opinions are worth sharing. So are anyone’s.

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by Jo Case
29 Mar 12 at 22:03

Oops, that ‘Anonymous’ above is me.

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by Kerryn Goldsworthy
29 Mar 12 at 22:25

“Making a living assessing other people’s novels requires a large ego. That is indisputable.”

Rubbish, of course it’s disputable. What “making a living assessing other people’s novels” requires is aptitude + experience + education and training in the field, just like most other forms of making a living. Your attack on Jo sounds very personal to me, “feminist reader” — you sound aggressive and aggrieved — and I’m curious about why you feel the need to post anonymously. Why do you expect anyone to take your comments seriously when you won’t even say who you are?

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by feminist reader
30 Mar 12 at 10:55

Well, Kerryn, maybe because I’m lacking confidence or ego or chutzpah, or whatever term you and Jo would prefer to use. To call my comments an attack is an overstatement. To me, you, Kerryn, have the credentials to back up your criticism. I agree that ‘aptitude + experience + education + training’ are required. Where we differ is that I also think the contested ‘ego’ is another requirement. For both men and women. (In agreement with the Bookslut quote, I suppose.) Jo, my views were about you, not all female critics. It is ridiculous to imply the latter. In that way, it is particular, but not ‘personal’. In much the same way, good criticism about a novel is particular to it, not personal to the writer.

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by Anonymous
30 Mar 12 at 11:12

Well I agree with everything feminist reader has said!! And I’m agreeing anonymously cos I’m a writer and don’t want to piss off critics. Critics always get the last word and it’s nice to see a challenge. Congrats too to the longlisted authors. I’m going for Moorhouse,Wood, Birch, Jones or Parrett. Hedging my bets! What a field!

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by John
30 Mar 12 at 12:17

Jesus Christ. Bunch of nasty pasties in the playground today! What an incredibly ridiculous criticism of Jo Case to be making. I think this has nothing to do with feminism and everything to do with being a massive jerk with a poor argument. Way to extrapolate on what everybody does all the time on the internet – offering a personal opinion. Shitballs.

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by feminist reader
30 Mar 12 at 12:18

Sorry, I have been a complete douchebag and I retract everything I’ve said so far.

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by Fernand
30 Mar 12 at 12:27

Oh for fucks sakes mate. Buy some avodart and chill out???

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by feminist reader
30 Mar 12 at 12:38

I wrote the initial comments. I did not write the one at 12.18. Why is is so outrageous to criticise a reviewer? Really?

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by Zora Sanders
30 Mar 12 at 13:42

Hello everyone. While we encourage open debate, we always expect it to be respectful. Please consult our blog code of conduct: http://meanjin.com.au/about-meanjin/blog-code-of-conduct and make sure you are adhering to these conditions. If you aren’t adding anything to the conversation and wouldn’t say your comment face-to-face then it isn’t appropriate for the blog. Thanks, Zora Sanders Deputy Editor

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by Jo Case
30 Mar 12 at 13:51

Criticise me, sure. But back it up with examples of what I’ve done that’s so egomaniacal, or what makes me unqualified to be a reviewer.

Being clear about the aspect of the person’s argument, behaviour or work that you dislike or disdain is being particular. Saying the equivalent of ‘ooh, you think you’re hot shit’ is personal.

As far as I can see, from what you have written, I’m being challenged for praising Anna Funder’s book, when I apparently have no right to claim I know anything about anything. (Including what ‘I think’.) I can’t see how this is a logical ‘particular’ criticism. Which leads me to think your problem with me is something else entirely, which you’re not disclosing.

And by the way, my point was not that you are criticising all female critics. (Which I agree, you are not.) What I’m saying is that the kind of behaviour you’re engaging in – attacking a woman you don’t know on the basis of her daring to hold an opinion – is contributing to a culture in which women are less likely to raise their hand and venture to put their opinions in print.

If you are attacking me on the basis of something else, say what that is (politely).

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by feminist reader
30 Mar 12 at 14:19

I’m criticising you. I can criticise you how I choose to without conforming to your parameters and rules re examples. I have an opinion regarding reviewers whose own publication record is scant. I would prefer to read the reviews of well published authors in their own right. People like James Bradley, Kerryn Goldsworthy, Delia Falconer, Sophie Cunningham. In my opinion, without that publishing history, a certain extra layer of confidence/chutzpah/ego/audacity must be needed to compensate.

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by James Tierney
30 Mar 12 at 14:25

Just wanted to pitch in my small support for Jo Case. I don’t always agree with her but there is no doubt that she is a considerable critic.

To my mind, the best contribution to be made here is to try to convince others of your position rather than just express. As Jo says, build an argument based on examples. To date, this is not what Feminist Reader & Anonymous (30 Mar 12 at 11:12) have done. Frankly their posts to date just reek of personal grievance.

Prove me wrong – make a case.

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by Anonymous
30 Mar 12 at 14:38

Of course you can. You’re practicing poor criticism by not backing up your argument, but that’s okay. Your choice, so long as you are polite.

Fair enough, I’ll leave it there: you don’t think writers who haven’t published books have the qualifications to review published authors, or to offer their opinions on published books on discussion threads such as Meanjin.

The reviewers you cite are all excellent; I agree they’re all far better than me. (Incidentally, so are Geordie Williamson & James Ley, neither of whom have published books, though they are among the very best critics in the country.)

When you see my reviews or comments around the traps, just ignore them. I’ll do the same with you. Let’s leave it at that. Have a nice weekend.

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by Jo Case
30 Mar 12 at 14:39

Oops, that was me again, signing out …

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by James Tierney
30 Mar 12 at 14:54

I think the notion that ‘feminist reader’ puts forward that only authors can make considerable reviewers is troubling at best. As only one example, Geordie Williamson hasn’t published a novel (to my knowledge) but I don’t know of many that would doubt his ability to produce a well argued & elegantly written review.

Whilst there is some obvious cross-over, the skill sets of the reviewer and the author are not identical. A reviewer is engaged in a journalistic act, where clarity, fact & thoughtfulness are essential. A novelist may of course use these tools as well but their art is more likely to be guided by beauty, deep structure and sonics.

Finally, ‘feminist reader’, admit that cheap psychology has little place in a literary argument. The only case to make here is on the written evidence. You haven’t made it.

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by Anonymous
30 Mar 12 at 15:05

and congratulations to the 13 longlisted authors. honestly, what a lot of nonsense. throw away lines taken far too seriously from most concerned.
congratulations to the 13 longlisted authors. and one more time…congratulations to the 13 longlisted authors.

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by Charlotte Wood
30 Mar 12 at 15:09

Kind of a strange argument to be weighing in on, but because these remarks are aimed so personally, I want to add my brief opinion: Jo Case, who I have met twice, many years after I had been reading her reviews, is one of the best literary reviewers in this country. Articulate, considered, gutsy, reflective and a sophisticated thinker. Writers who have published books are among the least qualified people to review others' work, myself included. I’m opting out of this discussion now – life’s too short – but wanted to make that point.

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by Jon
30 Mar 12 at 15:41

I agree with the misgivings of many that a reviewer must also be a published author to be credible. You’re entitled to your preference in this regard, but you’re not entitled to take cheap shots at someone who doesn’t fit your criteria. (Picture this in reverse and imagine Charlotte Wood nastily picking on a critic who’s also a published writer, telling them that their opinion is stupid or worse, that their foray into criticism is ego and posturing.)

Idioms like ‘those who can’t do teach’ belong to people who’re too proud to learn.

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by feminist reader
30 Mar 12 at 15:59

I am not a writer or a reviewer. I am a reader. That is the position I am coming from. And I think it is unfair that reviewers get the last word without challenge, in most cases. Jon, your comment re Charlotte Wood makes no sense in regards to the prior discussion. I am a reader criticising a reviewer. The reverse would be the reviewer criticising me, which is what has happened.
This began with a comment from me in response to an arrogance that irritates me. The level of defence confirms my opinion that reviewers think they are above reproach. This is the ego I am referring to. The question of previous publication came up in relation to that. Perhaps I think a strong writing history can justify a reviewer’s confidence, to some extent.

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by Jon
30 Mar 12 at 16:25

I would say that ‘without challenge’ is not very true these days, especially when comment fields exist after most – if not practically all – online reviews. In fact, I almost completely disagree that reviewers get the last word. More often it seems (and particularly in a field which I am far more embedded in – music) that reviews are the beginning of an appraisal of work – even its announcement – rather than the culmination of discussion, deliberation or consideration.

Ultimately, all reviews and reviewers are fair game for criticism, but issues of personal attacks aside, it just doesn’t make sense to single a critic out for their experience. You read books for yourself, evaluate them on what you yourself see as their merits, and look to critics for perspective, insight and stimulation.

If I read a good piece, I don’t care if a walrus wrote it with a Sharpie wedged in its anus having never written a novella in its life. If its arguments are well put and its insights well observed, that’s the only measure of quality criticism that anybody should reasonably care about.

Anything else is playing the wo/man, not the balls.

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by Jon
30 Mar 12 at 16:27

reviews are the beginning of an appraisal of work – even its announcement – rather than the culmination of discussion, deliberation or consideration.

…which, I should clarify, is not intended to diminish them. As a reader of them, however, I see them more as a point of entry into a discussion than a ‘final say’ valuation.

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by Kylie Ladd
30 Mar 12 at 16:33

I can’t stop thinking about the walrus now.

(Totally agree too, Jon- great comment. But that walrus…)

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by Penni
30 Mar 12 at 16:35

The best literary critics attract controversy, so I guess that puts Ms Case in esteemed company. I am on the other end of the Jo spectrum, I happen to love the way she writes.

Mear’s Foal’s Bread is an exceptional novel. In fact, unusually, there are many novels on the list that are already on my teetering, slightly alarming to read pile… Is Australian adult fiction finding its balance again, between story and voice, or are my tastes changing? A few years ago I would have said Australian literary fiction was all airless voice, all character and detail, with a deficit of narrative, a suspicion of story as manipulative or distracting – which is why I turned to YA for my story fix from dream tanglers like Ursula Dubosarsky or Margo Lanagan. Recent fiction seems more entertaining, more engaging. Or maybe I am just finally a grown up.

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by Anonymous
30 Mar 12 at 17:01

The best literary critics attract controversy? I don’t think so. The best literary critics should simply give you a sense of whether the author achieved what they set out to achieve, how they did that, or failed to. From that, you, the reader, can decide whether the book is worth forking out hard-earned cash for. As for The Life by Malcolm Knox, it was indeed a brilliantly written book, but anyone who has read the biography of surfer Michael Peterson would argue that it is anything but a work of originality.

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by Harriet Crawley
30 Mar 12 at 17:07

“From that, you, the reader, can decide whether the book is worth forking out hard-earned cash for.”

I feel like we’re again talking about different things – “reviewers” (should I buy this book and read it?) and “critics” (deep analysis).

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by Jon
30 Mar 12 at 17:24

And how rude of me – congratulations Charlotte. And all the other writers. A special congratulations for Favel Parrett, an old friend whom I haven’t spoken to for almost a decade. It’s great to see you doing so well in a world I didn’t know you were partial to.

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by Rosie
30 Mar 12 at 18:13

What a load of unmitigated toss.

Nice article, lots of interesting contributions, shame about the troll. For ‘Feminist reader’ to now adopt the stance of an innocent observer fighting against an all-powerful reviewing cabal is disingenuous at best, flat-out self-serving crap at worst. Belligerent pot-shots and speaking tosh under cover of pseudonym is not a contribution to discussion. A critic you don’t agree with or like lacks the authority to justify expressing an opinion? Utter nonsense.

Feminist Reader, you’re clearly confident enough to express your opinion in a way calculated to personally wound another. Were it not for your cowardice in standing by your opinion and articulating your motives that might be seen as a tad egotistical. As it stands, it’s just gutless trolling.

I am a fan of Jo Case’s reviews. I think she’s one of our very best: considered, sharp and engaging and I look forward to reading whatever she writes next.

Macauley, Knox and Sherborne, in my humble and ill-qualified opinion, were all unlucky not to make the cut, and the longlist has a couple of inclusions that for me fall into the category of undeserving. But all of that said, it’s a nice mix that suggests Australian Fiction had a good year. Congrats to the longlisted and here’s hoping Grenville wins. Long overdue and a lovely book.

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by Mary Anne Lynch
20 Apr 12 at 0:07

I rarely read conversations in cyber-space, though in general I read widely, including literary criticism, and write in a professional field. The comments which made me aware of the merits of a range of texts I have not read yet I enjoyed… thank you for these flags to more good Australian work, I respect your opinions one and all.

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