The number of books written by Australian authors that I’ve read this year is so extensive that I decided they deserved a special post of their own. It’s no surprise that most of them are historical fiction, my favourite genre, but there’s also crime/mystery/ thriller/suspense books, my second-favourite genre.
Here are just five of the books I’ve read this year written by Australian authors.
The cover and title of Everyone in my Family has Killed Someone by Benjamin Stevenson (2022 Penguin) grabbed my attention immediately, and I wasn’t disappointed. Set in an isolated part of Australia (no, not the outback), the story takes place in the Snowy Mountains, in a snowstorm (do we have these in Australia?), in a cabin with very little phone/internet service (of course). It’s not a straightforward crime thriller, being told from the point of view of the main character who is an author of “how-to-write mystery” novels, and also with lots of comments and intrusions from the “real” author. “The phone rang, startling us. Of course it did. You’ve read these kinds of books before.” “I woke to a hammering at my door. Of course I did. You’ve read these kinds of books before.” Witty dialogue, interesting plot, and a fresh approach to this genre make this a very entertaining read.
Learwife by J R Thorpe (2021 Allen and Unwin) is written by an Australian author based in Ireland. The story is an imagining of the fate of King Lear’s wife (from Shakespeare’s play “King Lear”). In this novel, Lear’s wife has been banished to a remote abbey without explanation. As the story begins, she has been in exile for 15 years, and is told of the death of the King and her three daughters. “I am the queen of two crowns, banished fifteen years, the famed and gilded woman, bad-luck baleful girl, mother of three small animals, now gone. I am fifty-five years old. I am Lear’s wife. I am here.“ The writing in this novel is superb, as is the characterization of the Queen, shown in her witty, caustic dialogue. “I have no friends. If I did, I would not be suspended here in agony, like a fish on a pike.”
Set in the Arctic winter of 1923, Cold Coast by Robyn Mundy (2021 Ultimo Press) is the story of the first female trapper, Wanny Woldstad, at Svalbard, Norway. The story also follows the life of a blue fox as it hunts throughout the area, crossing paths with Wanny and her trapping partner. The author cleverly inserts the story of the blue fox into the narrative about Wanny, as the fox watches the trappers. “She licks her muzzle and whiskers clean of fish. She licks her paws to wipe her ears. The fox halts. She stands tall and at alert. She knows the scent even before the polar bear comes into view, the animal ambling along the coastline toward the trapper’s hut.”
A book by Tom Keneally rarely disappoints and Corporal Hitler’s Pistol by Tom Keneally (2021 Penguin) is no exception. His trademark tightly-structured narrative, and his ability to bring characters vividly to life are all here. It’s a snapshot of time and place – 1933 Kempsey, New South Wales – where dramatic events occur – a murder; a mental breakdown; infidelities; racist, sexist and homophobic behaviour. ”Saturday night routine of the pictures. Reserved seats at the Victoria. There, Chicken Dalton, wearing his tails, played the piano and musical contraption in the well beneath the stage.“
Song of the Crocodile by Nardi Simpson (2020 Hachette) is a very sad story about three generations of an Indigenous Australian family, and how they live with segregation, racism and violence in a small fictional town in New South Wales. Stories of ancestral spirits woven throughout the book are an integral part of the story, and serve to enrich character development. The book deservedly won the Australian Literary Society Gold Medal 2021, Queensland Literary Award for Fiction 2021, Australian Book Industry Awards – Literary Fiction Book of the Year 2021, Indie Book Awards- Debut Fiction 2021. It’s also been in many other short and long lists for awards.