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The ‘B+P’ guide to the Miles Franklin 2018 shortlist

Six titles are vying for this year’s Miles Franklin Literary Award. Two of these are from multinational publishers (one each from HarperCollins and Pan Macmillan), three are from small, independent publishers (two from Giramondo and one from Text), and one from Australian independent Allen & Unwin.

Here’s what our reviewers thought of the books:

No More Boats (Felicity Castagna, Giramondo)

Set at the time of the Tampa crisis in the suburbs of Sydney, Castagna’s debut is a ‘beautifully observed’ study of Australia’s history of immigration and ‘how fear of the other infects even a “successful” multicultural society’, writes reviewer Martin Shaw. ‘Of particular note is [Castagna’s] sensitive handling of the outlooks of both older and younger generations, and an immersive but also a clear-eyed portrait of Western Sydney in all its beauty and ugliness, its hopes and fears. No More Boats represents then a worthy addition to a string of strong fictions from the Western Sydney region recently published by Giramondo. They tell stories seldom heard before in Australian urban fiction, and this one is as topical as ever.’

The Life to Come (Michelle de Kretser, A&U)

The Life to Come is Michelle de Kretser’s first novel since her Miles Franklin Literary Award-winning Questions of Travel in 2012, and it affirms her as a writer of great perception and eloquence,’ writes reviewer Veronica Sullivan. The book’s five character studies include a French-Australian translator frustrated by her covert love affair with a married woman; a chronically lonely elderly Sri Lankan woman living in Sydney; and a mid-list author in a state of mixed denial and awareness of her own mediocrity. ‘De Kretser skewers intellectual artifice, cosmopolitan pretensions, moral absolutism and casual hypocrisies—the everyday flaws and ego tics that trail us all … [Her] writing is adept and engaging, and often stunning at the sentence level. Like the fiction of Drusilla Modjeska or Gail Jones, she writes demanding and sometimes dense literary fiction.’

The Last Garden (Eva Hornung, Text)

‘In The Last Garden, [Hornung] once again explores the frailties of humans and the strength of animals,’ writes reviewer Hilary Simmons of this story about a young boy who undergoes intense trauma in a settlement founded by people who expect the return of the Messiah, but increasingly feel they have been waiting too long. ‘When Matthias Orion shoots first his wife and then himself, their teenage son Benedict is the one to find the bodies. His reaction is to move into the barn with the horses and chickens, exiling himself and sending ripples of unrest through the community …  The Last Garden is vivid, visceral and disconcerting. The descriptions of animals are intensely empathetic, and the book raises fundamental and confronting questions about how our animal and our human selves can or should co-exist,’ writes Simmons.

Storyland (Catherine McKinnon, Fourth Estate)

Storyland by author and playwright Catherine McKinnon is a beautifully woven story of Australia: the land, the animals and the people—those who have always been here, those that have arrived, and eventually, those who are left behind,’ writes reviewer Kate Frawley. With five narrators spanning five different time periods—a young sailor in 1796; an 11-year-old in 1998 struggling with a stutter; an ex-convict in 1822 and so on—the novel acts like a collection of short stories that are linked by a single shared place. ‘In her second book, McKinnon delivers a devastating retelling of man’s effect on the land and the native people, and offers a chilling insight into what may come to pass with climate change,’ writes Frawley.

Border Districts (Gerald Murnane, Giramondo)

Gerald Murnane’s Border Districts follows a narrator, ‘typical of Murnane’s fiction’, who has moved to a remote town and is preoccupied with ‘exploring the images that come to mind from his childhood, from books he has read or remembered conversations,’ writes reviewer Brad Jefferies. ‘The book follows these explorations, from one image to the next, rather than a more traditional plot. In reading Border Districts, it’s not hard to see why Murnane is highly regarded overseas: the originality of his style and subject makes for unique, interesting writing … but the book’s unconventional form won’t appeal to all readers. Rather, it’s recommended for readers of literature, particularly those that enjoy more experimental writing.’

Taboo (Kim Scott, Picador)

Kim Scott’s first novel since his Miles Franklin Award-winning That Deadman Dance centres on Tilly Coolman, a teenage survivor of recent grief and abuse who returns to the same Southern WA property where she was briefly fostered as a child by a well-intentioned white wheat farmer and his late wife. ‘The farmstead is a site of trauma: a disputed number of Noongar people were massacred here, many years ago. Dan, the farmer, hopes to open a “Peace Park” on the land to salve the still-suppurating multigenerational and cross-cultural wounds, and a vividly sketched coterie of the land’s traditional owners embark on a road trip to investigate the offer,’ writes reviewer Gerard Elson, adding that despite the novel’s ‘fertile soil’ and ‘several beautiful and tantalisingly expansive passages’, he was left ‘wishing Scott had seemed in less of a rush to finish telling his story’.

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