When I was a boy I loved trying to choose sporting teams. I once won a bet with my dad that I could pick the Aussie test team for the first Ashes test against England, 1978-79. I won a day off school to watch the first day of the test, which was a shame, as it turned out, because England ripped through Australia’s batting. (Dad was a minister of religion back then so he knew a bit about playing the odds.)
In the spirit of my exploits as an underage cricket selector – that is, mainly just for the sport of it – I’m posting my personal longlist and shortlist for the 2014 Miles Franklin Literary Award. This annotated list is not a prediction of the actual shortlist: to construct such a list would involve guestimating the Miles Franklin judges’ tastes and motivations. Instead, these are the novels published in 2013 that I’d like to see on the longlist and shortlist.
There are, I think, legitimate questions worth raising about the existence of longlists. Is it ‘the best’, with all longlisters an equal chance of making the shortlist and being the winner? Or is it an opportunity for judges to give a nod to diversity, to honour newcomers and oldtimers who they think deserve some recognition … or who they don’t want to be seen to ignore?
As well as being a straightforward list of the best, longlists can serve a marketing/PR function. They can be an incentive to publishers to bother to enter. They can be a nod to diversity. They can be a bit of fun, a chance for judges to be fluid or creative or inclusive or affirming, ahead of the serious task of picking winners. Maybe longlists are a bit of all of that.
I’m not having a specific dig at the Miles Franklin regarding their longlist – and indeed I was unambiguously excited and proud when my novel, Figurehead, was longlisted in 2010 (as anyone who has had to read my CV will tell you). But in general terms, I find the concept of a longlist perplexing, especially for awards that don’t have hundreds and hundreds of entries.
Having almost talked myself out of bothering with this exercise, here it is anyway: my personal Miles Franklin Literary Award longlist, in alphabetical order, followed by my shortlist:
Marion May Campbell. konkretion. UWA Press
I reviewed konkretion in Australian Book Review: https://www.australianbookreview.com.au/component/k2/98-april-2013-no-350/1403-questions-and-questing. I raved about it at the time and nothing has changed my view that it is a fine, fine novel. I was disappointed that konkretion wasn’t longlisted for the Stella Prize — that’s not a whinge, just a personal view.
J.M. Coetzee. The Childhood of Jesus. Text
My favourite Coetzee book remains The Life and Times of Michael K, but I enjoyed The Childhood of Jesus as much as my next favourites, Disgrace and the volumes of fictional memoirs. But does it fulfill the requirements of the Miles Franklin Literary Award, that the winning novel should represent ‘Australian life in any of its phases’? The question of refugees is a hugely live one for Australia (or it is, at least, on my twitter stream). But much more significantly, I detected many hints of the city of Adelaide, and its inhabitants, in Coetzee’s novel. I could be imagining the whole thing. I could be projecting my own sensibilities onto Coetzee. But I personally deem The Childhood of Jesus ‘eligible’. That’s my position and I’m sticking to it.
Tracey Farr. The Life and Loves of Lena Gaunt. Fremantle Press
Terrific debut novel about an unusual musician and woman. Emotionally rich and subtle.
Richard Flanagan. The Narrow Road to the Deep North. Random House
Anointed as the favourite, and with good reason … but I’m not convinced it will win. For me, there’s a couple of forced moments in the way that the story links events and people over time. But I’m nitpicking: it’s wonderful.
Nicholas Rothwell. Belomor. Text
Such an strange, shimmering, beautiful, dense book — is it even a novel?
Graeme Simsion. The Rosie Project. Text
Why not? Not the winner, and a couple of clunky moments, but huge fun.
Christos Tsiolkas. Barracuda. Allen & Unwin
It’s thrilling to watch the way Tsiolkas is interpreting modern Australia.
Alexis Wright. The Swan Book. Giramondo
Breathtaking. Magnificent. Ambitious. Jane Gleeson has written an excellent long piece here: http://sydneyreviewofbooks.com/going-viral/.
And here’s my shortlist:
Marion May Campbell. konkretion
Richard Flanagan. The Narrow Road to the Deep North
J.M. Coetzee. The Childhood of Jesus
Alexis Wright. The Swan Book