Some of the best fiction is being cooked up right in our own backyard. We’re proud this year to showcase many brilliant Australian authors at MWF, from seasoned writers to newcomers.
We asked our Festival Director, Lisa Dempster, and Assistant Program Manager, Kylie Maslen, to share their favourite Australian fiction picks of the moment – and give you some hot tips for who to catch at MWF.
I really enjoyed Micheline Lee’s debut novel, The Healing Party, where Natasha returns to the home she fled after her mother is given the news she only has a few weeks to live. I loved getting to know these complex and intriguing characters with their tightly-woven strengths and flaws. Lee explores how family dynamics shape who we are, and The Healing Party is a gentle unravelling of big themes like death, abuse, illness, faith and family that left me with a lot to think about.
An Isolated Incident is an impressive work of literary fiction that explores the aftermath of a violent crime, and provides a powerful portrayal of its emotional impact. One of the reasons I love Emily Maguire’s writing is because she is a master at drawing compelling and complex characters, particularly women. While reading this novel, I relished diving into the messiness of the characters’ lives and their relationships, and I particularly loved (and felt devastated by) Maguire’s all-too-real portrayal of the lived experience of women.
Finally, two thematically linked, but very different books: Suzy Zail’s Alexander Altmann A10567 and Liam Pieper’s The Toymaker. Both are powerful reads and interesting in different ways. Based on a true story, Alexander Altmann A10567 is an emotional read, and not an easy one, as Zail takes us right into the brutality of the Holocaust through the eyes of a 14-year-old boy. In The Toymaker, Pieper mixes the contemporary with the historical through Adam Kulakov whose grandfather, Arkady, was imprisoned in Auschwitz and given an impossible choice. Pieper explores the consequences of the decisions made by these intriguingly flawed characters, and the impact of intergenerational trauma on those who follow in the footsteps of tragedy.
As an emerging writer myself, the focus on Australian fiction at this year’s Festival is especially meaningful to me. It shows the importance in reflecting the diverse range of voices within Australian writing at a major international festival, while also providing invaluable opportunities for Australian writers to build their readerships. It is always difficult for me to choose just a few books to recommend; however, here are a few picks that have really stood out from what I’ve read so far this year.
I really enjoyed Kate Mildenhall’s debut, Skylarking. Based on a true story, it’s a vividly-painted portrait of life on an isolated Australian lighthouse in the 1880s. Best friends Kate and Harriet are facing a point in their lives where decisions are being made about their futures – will they stay or leave the island, and will they be pushed into traditional roles or push for independence? Mildenhall reflects the proto-feminist works of great Australian authors who have come before her, such as Ruth Park, Christina Stead and Miles Franklin, and readers who loved Picnic at Hanging Rock will likely enjoy Skylarking’s entertaining coming-of-age story with a dark twist.
I’m lucky enough to be chairing a session at the Festival featuring two brilliant Australian writers, Emily Maguire and Jane Harper. Maguire’s An Isolated Incident and Harper’s The Dry beautifully capture the isolation and dark potential of rural Australia, and what happens to those left behind when dramatic acts of terror hit a small community. I particularly loved An Isolated Incident, a psychological thriller about everyday violence towards women. Maguire’s central character, Chris, is one of the most complex yet lovingly drawn characters I’ve read in a long time. She personifies so much about the Australian character, equally affable and brittle, and she has stayed with me, her hyperreal grief haunting me long after finishing the book.
Finally, 2016 was the year I first read Elizabeth Harrower but most certainly won’t be the last. After her collection of short stories, A Few Days in the Country, was shortlisted for the Stella Prize, I picked up a copy and adored it – it has spurred me to read the rest of her previous releases. Female authors are under-recognised in Australian publishing, so it’s wonderful to see an author of Harrower’s talent being available to new readerships.