Miles Franklin Literary Award: from longlist to shortlist

The Miles Franklin Literary Award’s 2013 shortlist will be announced in a few days time, on 30 April. Here’s the official longlist:

Romy Ash Floundering

Lily Brett Lola Bensky

Brian Castro Street to Street

Michelle de Kretser Questions of Travel

Annah Faulkner The Beloved

Tom Keneally The Daughters of Mars

Drusilla Modjeska The Mountain

M.L. Stedman The Light Between Oceans

Carrie Tiffany Mateship with Birds

Jacqueline Wright Red Dirt Talking

Mainly for the fun of it, I thought I’d name my personal shortlist ahead of the real thing. This isn’t an exercise in trying to guess which books the judges will name but my personal favourites from amongst the 10 longlisted books.

Deciding upon any longlist/shortlist is a subjective act. There’s no systematic or clinical way to measure whether, say, M.L Stedman ‘deserves’ shortlisting more than Tom Keneally. All readers of fiction are human beings. All judges too. It’s hardly news to say that it is  inevitable —and a good thing — that different readers will react differently to the same book (I, for one, couldn’t stomach Life of Pi).

Anwyay, my personal Miles Franklin Literary Award shortlist is:

Lily Brett Lola Bensky

Brian Castro Street to Street *

Carrie Tiffany Mateship with Birds

Although I liked different things about Brett, Castro and Tiffany’s novels, I experienced a similar reaction as I read them: I felt — and ‘felt’ is the word — an intangible sensation, like an elongated sharp intake of breath. Yes, I found myself entrapped within the worlds the writers created, both when I was actually reading and when I was forced to put a book down and get on with real life for a while. Yes, the stories convinced and transfixed and unsettled me from start to finish, and left me a little awed and, at times, more than a little envious. But none of that really captures the sensation I’m trying to evoke, that indefinable ‘extra’.

To have that heightened reaction to three out of ten novels seems to me a bloody good strike rate, certainly better than what I would usually expect. I enjoyed the other seven longlisted novels to varying degrees but none of them quite grabbed me in the way that Brett, Castro and Tiffany’s books did. Romy Ash’s Floundering came closest, and the end of Michelle de Kretser’s Questions of Travel is brilliant. But again, that’s one of the main reasons that I find competitions/awards of this sort so interesting: because different books will transfix different readers. And because disagreement about a book’s qualities is something worth savouring and nurturing.

* I know Brian Castro, and once worked for him at the University of Adelaide. That said, I enjoyed Street to Street more than any of the previous books of his that I have read, except (maybe) Shanghai Dancing.

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