Prepare to make room on your fiction and non-fiction reading lists, as twelve women have been named finalists in the longlist for the 2019 Stella Prize for the excellent books they’ve recently published.
Awarded for the first time in 2013, the prize has become an influential feature of the Australian literary calendar, significantly increasing sales of female authors and raising their profiles.
Executive Director of the Stella Prize, Michelle Scott Tucker, commends the 12 authors who have been selected for the longlist in 2019.
“The necessity and significance of women’s voices is reflected in the outstanding 2019 longlist and I am honoured to celebrate the good health and high quality of Australian women’s writing,” she said.
The prize will reward one writer with a $50,000 prize, a significant amount that buys a writer both financial independence and time to focus on their writing.
Chair of the judging panel for 2019, Louise Swinn has highlighted the overall quality of the literature submissions this year.
“This longlist has humour but is never frivolous – all the books are of a high calibre, showing first-rate critical thinking capabilities, and tremendous imagination.”
We’ve shared more on each of the 12 Australian women nominated below, as well as what the Stella Prize lists about the books they have been nominated for.
The writer and teacher from Melbourne has worked in offices, sold textbooks in a university bookshop, taught English overseas and worked as a proof-reader and freelance editor. Little Gods is her second novel, published in March 2018.
Set in the 1980s in Mallee country in north-western Victoria, Jenny Ackland’s Little Gods is a ripping, sprawling family saga featuring an eccentric cast with an abundance of big secrets. Precocious twelve-year-old Olive Lovelock is bound to become one of Australia’s great fictional protagonists, but this novel has a veritable array of radiant, strong characters. Olive’s aunt Thistle is a constant delight; she is an eccentric who produces plays for Olive and her cousins and is sporadically blindsided by bouts of depression. In a continuous series of memorable scenes, Ackland perfectly evokes a childhood both sublime and anguished, and the uncertainty of youth is exquisitely depicted throughout. The tale manages to be both dark and sweetly funny, and never stops being gently surprising. Ackland has much insight and empathy to impart about the way we live, and with Little Gods, her second novel, she has well and truly hit her stride.
The writer from Sydney holds a PhD from Cambridge and teaches creative writing at the University of New South Wales. Her new novel is Man Out of Time, published in 2018.
Man Out of Time is an audacious, splendidly accomplished novel, lit by shimmering prose. This impeccably crafted book charts a man’s spiral into mental illness and its devastating consequences for his family. Moving fluidly between timeframes and points of view, Man Out of Time uncovers the disturbing relations between Stella and her father. The result is a profound, layered meditation on memory and time, on the warping of love as well as its persistence.
With a Masters in novel writing from the University of Manchester, Castles works as a writer and editor in Sydney. Bluebottle was published in June 2018.
Bluebottle is a dexterous, assured work of a rare kind: a literary novel with the mesmerising force of a thriller. Evocatively set on Sydney’s northern beaches, it swoops between past and present to trace the ramifications of an old tragedy. Charismatic, volatile Charlie Bright, the focal point of the novel, is obsessed with the disappearance of a schoolgirl to the mystification of his family. His wife and children alternate between bidding for Charlie’s approval and hoping to pass under his radar. Decades later, mysteries continue to trouble the Brights. Castles effortlessly maintains suspense over the course of her narrative, proof of her tremendous storytelling power. The precision of Castles’ observations, her attentiveness to nature and her remarkable understanding of family dynamics make this novel outstanding. Central to Castles’ achievement is the formidable sense of menace she creates around Charlie, which brings The Man Who Loved Children to mind.
Gandolfo is a writer and honorary professor in creative writing at Victoria University. She is the co-editor fo the journal TEXT and a founding member of the Victoria University Feminist Research Network. The Bridge was published in May 2018.
The Bridge is both the story of a tragedy in contemporary Melbourne and the chronicle of a disaster in our recent past, when part of the West Gate Bridge collapsed during construction, killing thirty-five people in what remains Australia’s worst industrial accident. As well as exploring the way a life can be altered by one dramatic event, The Bridge is a sharp and moving portrayal of the strength and resilience that lives in people, and a fascinating look at the effects of gentrification. The writing in this evocative, multi-generational novel is exquisite; the way in which Gandolfo takes us into moments of catastrophe, drawing characters so that they come to life, without over-dramatising, shows a novelist of the highest calibre. This is a story with many layers that is deeply intellectual and unashamedly working-class, showing Footscray and Melbourne’s west in ways we’ve not seen before. Emotionally intelligent and yet unsentimental, The Bridge deals with complex ethical questions with great humanity and subtlety.
The novelist, born in Melbourne, was educated at the University of Melbourne and then as a Fulbright Scholar at Columbia University in New York. The Arsonist: A Mind on Fire is her fourth novel and was published in 2018.
Chloe Hooper brings her assured novelist’s eye to the topic of arson, moved to uncover what it is that makes someone light potentially deadly fires. The Arsonist is a profoundly sharp and inquisitive journey into the psyche of the person found responsible for Black Saturday’s Churchill fires. Hooper always chooses subjects of deep resonance to her readership, managing to hone-in on the precise details of the case at hand. Blame is never simply apportioned in one direction, and the questions about the way society deals with people who are different are compellingly brought to bear. We are never told what to think and, to Hooper’s great credit, there is always room for the reader’s interpretation. This is a masterful work of nonfiction that examines the minute detail and expansive impact of Black Saturday, addressing how we manage bushfires in a time of catastrophic climate change.
The author of seven novels and two collections of stories, Jones is a celebrated Australian author. She lives in Sydney and her novel The Death of Noah Glass was published in April 2018.
The Death of Noah Glass is a layered, thoughtful meditation on art, family, history and the complex construction of the self. Before Noah Glass’s body has had a chance to cool, his two adult children find themselves in the curious position of investigating whether his death was an accident. We flash back to Noah’s life as an art historian, and follow his children, Martin and Evie, as they consider the aspects of their father’s life that they didn’t know about as they process his sudden death. www.thestellaprize.com.au The depiction of the multidimensional relationship between adult siblings – each equally compelling characters – in this singular novel is a constant delight. Jones achieves the considerable feat of presenting a novel of ideas with dense literary value as well as a page-turning plot. Ultimately, The Death of Noah Glass is a well-crafted, detail-rich narrative from a multi-award-winning literary novelist who is at the peak of her game.
Jamie Marina Lau
Marina Lau is a writer from Melbourne. Pink Mountain on Locust Island is her debut novel, published in April 2018.
This book is like nothing you have ever read before – a kaleidoscope of colours, smells and fragments of life observed by a teenager in a Chinatown somewhere in an unknown city. In brilliant and quirky episodic snatches, Jamie Marina Lau tells the troubling story of teenage girl Monk, who lives a claustrophobic life in a small apartment, dominated by a brown couch and a television playing endless repeats of David Attenborough’s documentaries. Her father, a drug-addled former academic, provides little in the way of real or emotional nourishment. Into Monk’s life comes a prospective saviour in the form of nineteen-year-old artist Santa Coy. Monk struggles to find her own identity as Santa Coy is soon engulfed by her father’s fraudulent get-rich-quick art scheme. Lau’s dizzying prose is like a series of crazy neon-lit performance art as she dissects, with extraordinary effervescence, Monk’s teenage angst, her struggles to fit in with her school friends, their parents, her father and her unhappily married sister. Reading this book is the literary equivalent of riding a rollercoaster while listening to a virtuoso violin performance by a child prodigy. Simply stunning.
The writer from Sydney is a former academic and translator. Her memoir The Erratics won the 2018 Finch Prize.
A gripping memoir, Vicki Laveau-Harvie’s The Erratics mines the psychological damage wrought on a nuclear family by a monstrous personality, set against the bitter cold of a Canadian winter. Vicki Laveau-Harvie’s narrative voice is detached, slightly numb and darkly humorous. She has long abandoned the lonely, shuttered house on the Alberta prairie for the untrammelled emotional freedom of faraway Australia. Laveau-Harvie’s understated dialogue is naturalistic, conveying the deep alienation that can exist in a fractured immediate family. Somehow, despite the dark subject matter, this book has a smile at its core, and Laveau-Harvie shows constant wit when depicting some harrowing times. The narrative is brimming with honesty, the narrator somehow manages to see all viewpoints, and we are rewarded with an evocative and expansive view of a family that has more than its fair share of dysfunction. The writing throughout is of a consistently high standard and the judges were constantly delighted by this surprise of a book.
She is a writer and editor whose work has been published in a number of publications. Her first book, Eggshell Skull, was published by Allen & Unwin in June 2018 and won the 2018 Nib Award People’s Choice category.
This is a compelling and brilliantly observed first-hand account of the vagaries of our legal system, particularly for women in sexual assault cases. For a year, law graduate Bri Lee was the associate of an unnamed District Court judge in Brisbane. She accompanies the judge through regional Queensland watching and listening as justice appears to be an unattainable outcome for endless young victims of sexual assault. From her elevated position in the court room, Lee provides a moving and vivid account of the struggles of these women trying to obtain justice when the odds are stacked against them. Lee silently rages and fumes while appearing to outsiders as a dispassionate participant in the judicial system. In the darkness of her own life, full of self-loathing from her own experience as a victim, Lee embarks upon her own pursuit of justice against her perpetrator. The individual court-room dramas are beautifully observed and, as a reader, you find yourself, heart in mouth, waiting to hear the verdicts. This is a powerful and moving debut which employs a compelling symmetry as Lee moves from an observer to a participant in her own quest for justice.
The acclaimed Australian writer of Goorie heritage and is widely published as an award winning novelist, essayist and short story writer. Her novel Too Much Lip was published in July 2018.
Too Much Lip is a fearless, searing and unvarnished portrait of generational trauma cut through with acerbic black humour. A family drama a hundred years in the making unfolds in the fictional town of Durrongo as a sacred island is under threat from developers, aided by a corrupt council official born to thievery. The novel’s cast of utterly believable characters is superbly drawn, as is the country in which the novel is set – a magical landscape animated by mocking crows and a vengeful shark. There is no artifice in Lucashenko’s prose, which is stripped to the bone in a close study of secrecy and its consequences. Too Much Lip moves effortlessly in the telling: dangling from the precipice where ghosts emerge to tell inexorable truths to a serene bend on the river alive with lyrical magic realism. Ultimately, Too Much Lip reaffirms the power of family and the frayed ties that still bind
Tumarkin is an Australian author, cultural historian and professor of writing at the University of Melbourne. Axiomatic is her fourth book of ideas, published in May 2018.
Take anything you’ve ever known about how nonfiction is supposed to work and throw it out the window: Maria Tumarkin’s Axiomatic is an unwieldy, expansive beast that combines lyrical essay with psychological reportage. Axiomatic pushes the boundaries of nonfiction so far out that they will never recover, and in so doing develops an essay style that perfectly reflects the complexities of our era. Tumarkin takes existing axioms and interrogates them for veracity. She talks to a wide range of people, looks at the historical record, and examines people’s lived experiences with humour, compassion and great warmth. She is unflinchingly honest at all times, and there is no artifice evident in this collection – a remarkable feat for a writer working in such self-conscious times. We never tired of this joyful, dark and never less-than-original collection of essays from a writer who thinks deeply and never shies from the hardest of questions.
Wright is a writer, poet editor and critic from Sydney. The World Was Whole is the follow up to her award-winning essay collection Small Acts of Disappearance.
The World Was Whole, Fiona Wright’s second collection of essays, is a taut and expansive mix of everyday observations, cultural theory, social commentary and memoir. Thematically linked with Wright’s earlier work – dealing as it does with issues of sickness – The World Was Whole weaves ordinary day-to-day issues with philosophical musings. Throughout this collection, Wright reflects on the idea of home, hunger and eating, on travel, pets, routine and the cost of housing, on the weather and bushfires, and many more contemporary issues. With passionate attention, she ruminates on the need for routine and change, and delves deeply into issues of identity and its connection to place. Wright’s voice, beautifully suited to the essay form, is profoundly moving and personal as she probes and analyses. This collection, which ends on an overwhelmingly upbeat and positive note, gives luminous insight into the mind of an extraordinarily talented poet and thinker. In doing so, it gently prods us towards a clearer and more compassionate way of thinking.