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Peter Temple's Truth wins Miles Franklin 2010

JA June 23

Peter Temple has become the first crime writer to win the Miles Franklin Award, taking out the $42 000 prize for his novel, Truth, last night in Sydney.

Temple said that he was both humbled and shocked by the win, joking that the inaugural winner, Patrick White, would have found it ‘unthinkable’ for a crime novel to have done so once upon a time. ‘Winning the Miles Franklin is the high point in an Australian writer’s career,’ he said. ‘I think that winning this award will do a lot for crime fiction and I feel very honoured to be among such a long list of illustrious writers.’

The judges described the sequel to The Broken Shore as a book that ‘takes a popular genre and transforms it into a radical literary experiment in realism and fiction’, and ‘a stunning novel about contemporary Australian life, written with all the ambiguity and moral sophistication of the most memorable literature’.

Other shortlisted authors were Alex Miller (Lovesong), Brian Castro (The Bath Fugues), Craig Silvey (Jasper Jones); Deborah Forster (The Book of Emmett) and Sonya Hartnett (Butterfly).

Update: Just as the comments feed through below, James Bradley at city of tongues and culture mulcher are onto it as well. And here’s Jason Steger’s interview with Temple when Truth was first published in 2009.



by Jess
23 Jun 10 at 11:39

I’m probably breaking with convention by commenting first on my own post here, but it’s interesting to note the whole ‘crime/genre’ slant, especially given all the recent Courtney v Carey, Lee Child debate.

I haven’t yet read Truth, but a few observations – the lines between popular vs literary fiction are still murky. One doesn’t disqualify the other, some straddle both, so in a sense the set-up eats itself. Strangely enough, the language used by the judges really plays into this divide. Eg. they start with the assumption that all crime fiction is popular, and then must somehow be ‘transformed’ into a more literary work in order to be worthy of winning.

I’m not exactly sure where I’m going with this yet, but has anyone read Truth, and what did they think?

by jane gw
23 Jun 10 at 12:00

Thanks for this Jess. I haven’t read ‘Truth’ yet either – or in fact any of the shortlisted novels, too caught up in other reading this year – so I can’t comment on the quality of the winner or whether or not it deserved to win over the others.

But I find it extremely apt that a crime novel should win Australia’s most ‘Australian’ literary award, given that our literature’s criminal origins, fact our literary language and culture arrived here with convicts and their gaolers, when Australia was seen by our literary motherland as a prison. Criminals and crime seem to grip our cultural imagination in a way nothing else does, from Ned Kelly to Underbelly to The Proposition and Animal Kingdom and now Peter Temple winning the Miles Franklin.

I’m interested in your thoughts on the demarkation between popular vs literary fiction, but crime fiction does have some fine literary antecedents, including Charles Dickens who allegedly wrote the first detective in fiction (Bucket in ‘Bleak House’), Wilkie Collins and arguably Dostoyevsky.

by Kerryn Goldsworthy
23 Jun 10 at 12:22

Yep, I’ve read it and thought it was terrific, though it was The Broken Shore that really blew me away — one of my all-time favourite Australian books. (Temple may have been selling Patrick White short, incidentally; I reckon White would have eaten up The Broken Shore.) I’ve never come across a writer capable of evoking such terror and dread in so few words, and that’s true of all of Temple’s novels that I’ve read, maybe five or six.

I think the thing about crime fiction, as with most ‘genre’ fiction, is that its authors are working with (note I don’t say ‘within’) various very strong, well-established conventions — the original/eccentric detective, the multiple points of view, the school of red herrings, the school of the hard-boiled, the plethora of suspects, the scorpion twist and sting in the tail, clear good/evil and crime/punishment distinctions, the lerve subplot, the psychologically astute (Val McDermid’s Tony Hill) or semi-fey intuitives (Will Whatsisname in Red Dragon) — and with equally strong and well-established sub-genres: the clue-puzzle, the ‘country house’ plot, the police procedural, etc.

Contemporary crime writers tend to work with, rather than within, these established conventions and play around with them a bit.

Temple’s working with/against some of these conventions in Truth, as he did in The Broken Shore, but he’s also using more sophisticated literary techniques than you usually find in the sorts of crime writers whose main ambition is to be well-sold and widely read (like, dare I say it, Lee Child), so there’s nothing formulaic about those two novels, whereas his Jack Irish books, though similarly evocative and clever and skilfully written, are more mainstream.

One example: I saw one reader complaining about the style of Truth being awash with comma splices, which I also noticed but had put down to a deliberate stylistic choice that emphasised the breathlessness and overkill of the week that Villani, the hero, is having, with one damned thing after another and far too many things to think about, all coming at him at once. At times it’s almost stream-of-consciousness. Which is about as literary as they come.

by sophie
23 Jun 10 at 12:44

Yes, I really liked Truth a lot -though haven’t read much else of the short list I confess. Jane – i totally agree that crime has literary antecedents. What I’ve been shocked by though is how judging panels (including ones I’ve been on) don’t recognise this, by and large, and just dismiss quality crime as genre. Pleased they didn’t do that in this case.

by Jess
23 Jun 10 at 13:10

This is interesting stuff. After reading these comments, and James Bradley’s great post (linked above), my thoughts on the whole genre v literary divide is that there is none. Or rather, it’s not a line but a spectrum. As you say Jane, ‘crime’ shouldn’t automatically suggest popular or formulaic stories, but a whole range of work. China Mieville’s The City and the City comes to mind. I’ve posted some thoughts on this before, here:

I take James' point about the need for critical and cultural shorthands – eg. if a novel has elements of crime or wants to embed itself within a certain genre, we can review it comparatively, and ask whether plays up to or breaks with those conventions.

I do think however that we need to stretch ourselves in terms of how we conceptualise the debate to begin with. On one hand, the attempt to open up the Miles to all forms of writing is a good one. (I’ll have to read Truth). On the other, taking such pains to emphasise that it’s a literary incarnation of a popular form perhaps goes about things the wrong way.

by jane gw
23 Jun 10 at 13:29

Interesting discussion and your thoughts on The Broken Shore and Truth will make me read them sooner rather than later, Kerryn.

And interesting Sophie what you say about judging panels and their failure to recognise quality crime. I haven’t read much Australian crime so not sure who else you’d include as prize-worthy but I have enjoyed Peter Corris and was interested that Malcolm Knox’s A Private Man, which I’d consider ‘literary’ (a word I find pretty useless actually), won a Ned Kelly Award.

And v interesting what you say about needing to stretch ourselves about how we conceptualise the debate, Jess. Do you think the Miles judges use ‘literary’ as shorthand for good writing?

And now to read James’s post.

by phill
23 Jun 10 at 13:32

The idea of literary/entertainment as a spectrum is a valid one. It’s only when opposite ends of the spectrum are placed side by side (in a series of childish calling-outs) that there is a really distinctive difference.

China Mieville is a pretty exceptional case, ‘The City and the City’ being something of a strange blending of literary, science fiction, and crime writing (science-criction/sci-cri?). But if he can manage to do all that, then surely literary works that are entertaining, or genre books that are literary are also possible? Why should there be a line drawn in the sand stating mutual exclusivity?

by sophie
23 Jun 10 at 13:38

Re. the word literary – to be frank I’ve no fucking idea what it means anymore. As you say, Jane, it tends to mean ‘good’ – a more straightforward and less loaded word.

by phill
23 Jun 10 at 14:06

Haha! Well said. It seems like everyone has their own definition. ‘Hard’, ‘boring’, ‘good’, ‘well-executed’, ‘true’, etc. etc. Can someone please just choose one? :)

by Prithvi
23 Jun 10 at 15:33

Don’t know much about this debate, on the literary value of crime fiction – but just on literary antecedents for crime writing, I’m pretty sure that the impulse to solve mysteries is what drew me to poetry – arguably at the very heart of the literary – in the first place. It might be said that reading crime fiction teaches a certain way of reading, for clues (maybe a bit of a stretch, but just a thought)

by Gillian Macrael
31 Jul 10 at 17:50

What a great roller coaster of a read. Characters and deeds to shake middle class Australia – midle class anywhere. If it makes us question where are our men folk (or women folk) what our teen age children up to then feel it with Villani.And what are the politicians doing? The sheer scruffiness of Sydney, the serenity of the forest; the crackling dialogue. Who could forget his father, brother, and let’s hope Dove is in the next one. try and read it at one great gulp

by Sue Hammond
10 Nov 10 at 23:16

It was interesting to read Kerryn Goldsworthy’s ‘take’ on the comma splices and fused sentences in Truth. My own initial reaction was to blame the editor, but I soon decided it was unlikely that such gross negligence would have been countenanced by the publisher

I certainly didn’t get the sense of a stream of consciousness. Instead it felt contrived and precious, a deliberate attempt to flout the conventions, to create a new or different style

Instead of making the narrative feel rushed and breathless, the run on sentences kept throwing me out of the story as I struggled to make sense of them. This was my first Peter Temple book, and I nearly gave up on it, but worked hard to overcome my frustrations and immerse myself in the characters, setting and plot, all of which are superbly constructed. A pity it’s is so relentlessly negative and depressing.



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