Miles Franklin Award shortlist, 2010

Guten Tag.

I’ve a piece in today’s Crikey newsletter: Miles Franklin Award: Alex Miller Puts in the Boot. It begins: ‘Are there too many literary awards in Australia, and is our oldest one “slipping away”? If an Australian literary award was provided increased funding and focus, would the Miles Franklin be the most relevant?’ You can read it online here (not sure if it’s a subscriber-only area).

That piece discusses Alex Miller’s comments made at the shortlisting ceremony, and Australian literary awards in general, but what I didn’t comment on there are the shortlisted books themselves. They are Lovesong (Alex Miller), The Bath Fugues (Brian Castro), The Book of Emmett (Deborah Forster), Butterfly (Sonya Hartnett), Jasper Jones (Craig Silvey) and Truth (Peter Temple).

I think it’s an odd shortlist this year. I have only read Lovesong and Jasper Jones, and, I think it’s time I admitted something here that I’ve been reluctant to admit: I actually wasn’t a big fan of Jasper Jones. *shock* *horror* I know I’m pretty alone here, and the other reason I’ve been reluctant (to be perfectly honest) is that I’ve met Craig Silvey, and done a panel with him, and he’s a fantastic guy and a very hard-working writer, so I’m open to the idea that I just missed the magic somehow. After all, here it is on the Miles Franklin shortlist. What didn’t I like? I guess I just couldn’t believe in the characters – as clever and funny and well-rounded as they were, to me they felt too contemporary for the era and setting of the novel. Thus, each scenario felt a little forced and contrived. I thought the beginning was great, and the book had a nice mood to it, but overall I didn’t feel completely satisfied. Am I alone here?

As for Lovesong, I thought it was beautiful, but as you guys know (and as I’ve told Alex himself) it’s not my favourite of his novels. It’s a lighter novel, which it is absolutely meant to be, it’s joyous – and it still has depth and humour and layers of meaning and insight. But it’s not Landscape of Farewell or Conditions of Faith. What do you guys think? Have you read it? Do you think it’s even better than his other works?

I’ve been wanting to read Brian Castro’s The Bath Fugues. I have only heard magnificent things. Would anyone care to share their thoughts?

And The Book of Emmett, Butterfly and Truth I’m not sure I’ll get to. Part of the uniqueness of this year’s list is we have two borderline YA books: Butterfly and Jasper Jones. We also have a crime novel: Truth. It seems the judges have gone for books which are rather ‘accessible’ as opposed to heavier, more ‘literary’ novels. Do you agree?

And what about what’s missing? I would have loved to have seen Kalinda Ashton’s The Danger Game on there.

The winner will be announced on June 22. You can read my thoughts on last year’s winner, Tim Winton’s Breath here.

18 thoughts on “Miles Franklin Award shortlist, 2010

  1. Sigh. I do appreciate this post, but now I have to find more time to read another set of books as I haven’t read any. Oh the horror.

  2. I haven’t read any of those on the list and out of them, have only been considering reading Alex Miller’s. I guess my reading tastes differ from the judges, but I would’ve liked to see The Danger Game on there; it’s on my to-read pile and will be read soon which isn’t much to judge by though but I have heard great things.

  3. I would love to hear you expand your thoughts on literary versus accessibility – to me they are not mutually exclusive terms, and to apply one and not the other in this instance appears to undervalue the short-listed works.

    I would argue very strongly that ‘Butterfly’ has been crafted with great skill to illuminate a world of selfishness and cruelty that extends far beyond the school yard. Yes, it may be more accessible, especially to a younger audience, but it is no less complex, provocative, or emotive for this.

  4. I agree about the Danger Game – it was pretty impressive. I’ve not read any of the other short-listed books, which is pretty poor form, but based on The Broken Shore, I’d argue that Peter Temple deserves to be treated as a ‘literary’ writer as much as a crime writer.

  5. On ‘Jasper Jones’, I have to say I agree. While I really enjoyed reading the book – it has a beautiful sense of place and of the fragility of adolescence, I did feel that characters were too intelligent and insightful for their age. It’s no ‘Rhubarb.’ That said, I think it does tick a lot of the appropriate ‘Australian’ boxes that have tended to be important to the Miles Franklin. Obviously, I have a bias here, but I’d love to see ‘The Bath Fugues’ take the prize for just that reason – it would be a real statement about what can and should constitute Australian writing. It’s smart and literate, cosmopolitan and quirky and incredibly funny to boot…

  6. Jo – I don’t think they’re mutually exclusive – I did kind of include that comment as it’s an interesting point of discussion on it’s own. I don’t know how else to put it. The list just seemed different to me this year. And yes, to those here and on Twitter who’ve mentioned Peter Temple – I’m aware he’s a ‘literary’ crime writer. So how do you qualify that? Is it the prose itself? The themes? The character development?

    And when I talk about accessibility I am never meaning it as a ‘lesser’ quality. I would describe Alex Miller’s books as accessible, for example, because the prose is so clear and unencumbered – the moments of insight just sneak up on you. As you mentioned with Butterfly, Jo, accessibility doesn’t mean it is any less ‘complex, provocative, or emotive.’

  7. Pingback: Miller and the Miles Franklin: Do we have too many awards? « Fancy Goods

  8. We’ve also posted Max Oliver’s original pre-publication review of The Bath Fugues from Bookseller+Publisher, if you’re interested (he loves it, but recommends reading twice!):

    Regarding the accessibility of this year’s list versus 2009, I can kind of see what you mean Ange, if you’re thinking in terms of genre–borderline YA and ‘crime’ isn’t what usually springs to mind when someone mentions the Miles Franklin, but looking back at last year’s shortlist I think you’d probably agree that Breath, The Slap and Wanting (the only ones on it that I’ve read) all had fairly broad appeal too?

    Still, one good thing about this year’s shortlist is that it will be genuinely interesting to see who wins–last year’s result, although I didn’t have a problem with it, felt a bit inevitable …

    Thanks as always for the sharing.

  9. I have to agree with you about “Lovesong”. I enjoyed it, but it was certainly not Miller’s finest work. I was mesmerized by “Journey to the Stone Country”… That said, I’d say “Lovesong” is one of the best works on this list!

  10. Hi Angela
    I’ve read all of the Miles Franklin shortlist except Jasper Jones which I began reading today. You can read my thoughts about them at
    Lovesong, The Bath Fugues and The Book of Emmett are IMO serious contenders: I would like The Bath Fugues to win, but given the odd choices on this shortlist, I suspect that such an unashamedly erudite novel won’t have a hope. I think it’s a real pity that Siddon Rock was excluded…and I still don’t understand why Cate Kennedy’s The World Beneath was omitted from the lists.
    Lisa Hill
    ANZ LitLovers, Melbourne.
    PS Like you, I am underwhelmed by Jasper Jones. I am making myself read it by taking it with me on a day trip to Queensland tomorrow where there will be nothing else to do on the plane except read it. Will 4 hours there and back be enough time to get through it? I hope so.

  11. Re: Jasper Jones, you are not the only one. I struggled with this book. It took three attempts to read. I’m yet to review it, but the more I think about it, the more I just dont understand how it has made the Miles Franklin longlist, let alone the shortlist. I found it a hugely disappointing read.

  12. Hmm, plane travel’s not much fun at the best of times but screaming brats fore and aft and Jasper Jones made this trip sheer purgatory!
    If I could have only opened the window…

  13. Lisa, interesting to hear you thought Cate Kennedy’s The World Beneath should be on the shortlist. I am a big fan of hers and really wanted to enjoy it but was nevertheless disappointed. I later read a review in the A2 that I thought was quite perceptive and expressed what I felt but it’s no longer on line.
    Thanks, Angela, for this wonderful blog; I really enjoy it!

  14. Well, PoW, I thought even before the shortlist came out that The World Beneath did a brilliant job of depicting a contemporary Australian ‘family’ – all three of them coming of age in one way or another – with a heart-stopping climax in the unique landscape of the Tasmanian wilderness. (See
    Now that I’ve read the whole shortlist I am even more bemused by the inclusion of Butterfly, Jasper Jones and Truth at the expense of Kennedy’s very fine novel.
    I guess it’s just a matter of personal taste…

  15. Lovesong (Alex Miller) – well written, as usual, but nothing of substance

    The Bath Fugues (Brian Castro) – unreadable shite that travels up its own arsehole

    The Book of Emmett (Deborah Forster) – Desperately dull

    Butterfly (Sonya Hartnett) – Look inside the mind of this 13 year old girl and you find…nothing

    Jasper Jones (Craig Silvey) – a great little book, very readable but spoilt by its characters having too modern attitudes and language. And the relationaship between the two boys is never satisfactorily explained.

    Truth (Peter Temple) – OK but gets confused with too many characters merely sketched in. Not as good as The Broken Shore

    Overall, it’s the worst Miles Franklin shortlist I can recall.

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