My Favourite Australian Books for Australia Day
by Meredith Curnow on 26 January 2012
I thought it would be a breeze to write about ten of my favourite Australian books for Australia Day, but each time I have thought about bringing my fingers to the keyboard, I change the books I want to include. One solution is to restrict myself to fiction only. Of course this means I won’t be able to mention Recollections of a Bleeding Heart by Don Watson (but this would be perfect to get stuck into on a long weekend), or Three Famines or The Commonwealth of Thieves from Tom Keneally (surely a candidate for Australian of the year?) or Maggie Mackellar’s When It Rains, one of the most moving and challenging memoirs to burst on the scene for some time. Or Richard Flanagan’s collected pieces of writing And What Do You Do Mr. Gable. No, I won’t mention any of those fabulous books, just my favourite novels, well, today’s list, and in honour of the public holiday, books that illuminate different places or aspects of this very wet and humid (except if you live in WA where I believe you are sweltering) land.
- Sorry, set in remote Western Australia during WWII, is as intense and colourful as the land where it is set. Isolation encourages the most intense loyalties and friendships and allows the imagination to fly. But it also enables terrible behaviour to be inflicted upon others and rationalised as acceptable. This is a novel of many layers, all of them exquisite.
- Everyone has read The Slap, but have you read Loaded, Christos Tsiolkas’s first novel? As Tolstoy noted, families are endlessly fascinating and often just waiting for the final trigger to implode.
- David Malouf is a storyteller with a gift for illuminating humanity through poems, libretti, short stories and novels. Evident in all his work is his other life as a reader, one who burrows further than the work on the page into the life behind it. Read An Imaginary Life, you will see what I mean.
- Peter Carey never writes the same novel twice, different terrain, different characters and flaws are explored with every new release. I have loved many of his novels but as the rivers of Northern NSW threaten to burst again I am reminded of the long-lasting effect Oscar and Lucinda has had on me.
- Have you met Edith Campbell Berry? Do yourself a favour and start on Grand Days this very day. And while you are making your purchase order a copy for each young person you know who has just completed their HSC or degree. Optimism and ambition, burst out of its pages as do adventure and inspiration.
- The Good Parents is one of those novels where readers almost forgot someone had written this story with intent. Each person I discussed it with - and it is one you have to talk about - had a different journey in mind for each Toni, Jacob and Maya. But just remember, it is called The Good Parents.
- Crying comes to me quite naturally when I am reading and watching films and TV. Even though I love to laugh in real life the fictional world I visit doesn’t bring me to a guffaw too often. The Book of Emmett took me up and down and round and round and left me breathless.
- Quite a few first novels have entered my list today, hmmm. Three Dollars by Elliot Perlman grappled with economic rationalism at the same time we were first living it. I love it when the real world and the fictional collide.
- What’s not to love about a novel in which every line reads as poetry and characters become heroes, fall, get back up and strive to just be human. When Colts Ran ranges across decades, paddocks and townships and exposes - in intimate detail - our fears, hopes and dreams of a fulfilling life.
Australian novels do not need to take place on Australian soil. We all seek the universal and the personal in stories. Summertime is dark and funny and excoriatingly honest and I urge you to read it.
A few more than ten books here, but the forecast is bad from what I can see. It is going to be too wet or too hot to head outside, so why don’t you curl up on your couch with a pot of tea and a lamington and read?
Meredith Curnow is the Knopf Vintage Publisher here at Random House Australia.