ABC tv’s First Tuesday Book Club has been running a promotion where viewers can vote from a list of 50 Australian books from which the program’s producers will draw up a list of The Ten Aussie Books to Read Before You Die.
The list it offers is a mix of fiction, memoir and non-fiction, some predictable – Seven Little Australians (Ethel Turner) and The Tyranny of Distance (Geoffrey Blainey) – and some surprises Grand Days(Frank Moorehouse). But it got me thinking – what were my top ten books by Australian authors? Being more a fiction reader, I have limited my list to novels.
In no particular order, my list is as follows, however, I reserve the right to review it.
The Riders – Tim Winton
Perhaps it’s the life defining experience of my own European journeys, but this book’s search for meaning through travel in far off lands, only to find the reality of life hit you hard, has stayed with me.
Voss – Patrick White
My first experience of metaphysical writing, set against the hard and alien Australian landscape. White’s depiction of Voss and Laura’s emotional and intellectual connection is masterly.
Monkey Grip – Helen Garner
First read this in about 1980 and was blown away by the world that Garner was depicting. Nora’s addiction to Javo the addict, and how she beat that addiction was the real story for me. Plus the depiction of inner city hippie life with its hand to mouth existence rang very true.
The Deep Field – James Bradley
Set in the near future, Bradley brilliantly presents a haunting love story against a backdrop of a techno-advanced, climate crazy world. I cried when it ended and re-read it straight away, and several times since.
Picnic at Hanging Rock – Joan Lindsay
One of the first novels that I read that had used the Australian bush as a backdrop, and presents that backdrop as something to be feared. Explores the conflict of European sensibilities with reality of the Australian location. The clash of the old and the new: and Miranda and her friends were the victims.
Praise – Andrew McGahan
Grit and anxiety in contemporary Australia. Two mismatched lovers can’t break the nexus of their relationship. And you scratch when he does.
The Doubleman – Christopher Koch
Weird, delving into mysticism and the occult, The Doubleman uses the sixties folk scene as a backdrop to a story about the influence of a charismatic record producer over members of a folk group, even years after his death. Koch writes about Tasmania so that you feel like you’ve been there, and can see what he’s describing.
The Lieutenant – Kate Grenville
I much preferred this over The Secret River. Using Lieutenant Watkin Tench’s diary, this book feels like Grenville was watching the early days of Sydney’s settlement from some private perch. Her characterisations are brilliant, with the conflicted emotions of the astronomer are teased out with sensitivity. The interactions between the young Aboriginal people and the lieutentant also ring true. I didn’t want it to end.
Conversations at Curlow Creek – David Malouf
A trooper and escaped convict/bushranger share experiences before the latter is due to be hanged. A careful exploration of shared heritage, and how easily the boot could be on the other’s foot. We all have more in common than differences.
Peter Corris – any of the Cliff Hardy novels
Corris is brilliant at place (usually Sydney and surrounds), dialogue and language, and tells a good story too. While not high brow literary content, he’s given a voice to a certain kind of Australiana.
One extra: Grand Days trilogy – Frank Moorehouse
Australia takes its place on the international stage through exploration of the early days of the League of Nations. Great characters as well.