Fiction to savour from the “land down under”
It is hard to believe on days like these, but Australians are more than just their on-field aggression and deadly acumen with the bat, you know. There is so much more to that continent than the pretty images you see in travel listicles and the hyper-competitive men you see in their baggy greens. And what better way to celebrate everything Australian today than to curl up in bed with a book by an Aussie writer while Kylie Minogue plays on your I Pod and you nurse a glass of the finest Shiraz. (Ohh yes, we know we are peddling in stereotypes here, but bear with us, will you?)
Here are some of our favourites:
Seven Types of Ambiguity by Elliot Perlman
Set in Melbourne of the 1990s , and told from the point of view of seven richly realized character- ranging from an financial research analyst to a “prostitute with a heart of gold”, to a Czech psychiatrist – Elliot Perlman’s wonderful book describes an Australia that is losing touch with its naturalistic beginnings and turning into a materially-driven soulless society. The story is perhaps too long at 600+ pages but in its sharply drawn character portraits, and endless asides (on everything ranging from gambling to literary theory) makes a rewarding read- both as a work of fiction and as a look at a kind of suburban Australian lifestyle.
The Slap by Christos Tsoikas
Much ado over a slap, you might say, as chapter after chapter outlines the fissures that emerge among an extended family and their friends’ after one of the characters slaps another’s child at a family gathering (the brat totally deserved it, we say). Like the first book in this list, The Slap portrays a compelling portrait of a supremely competitive very urbane Melbourne society. It also does a great job of showing this society’s multiculturalism and pluralism as we hear from the grandfather who emigrated from Greece, his Australian born-and-bred grandchildren and an Indian-origin daughter-in-law.
True History of the Kelly Gang by Peter Carey
after we ate we was silent on our blankets looking out across the mighty Great Divide I never seen this country before it were like a fairy story landscape the clear and windy skies was filled with diamonds the jagged black outlines of the ranges were a panorama.
Though my favourite Peter Carey is probably Oscar and Lucinda, a True History of the Kelly Gang- is his most “Australian” book. It paints in broad brush strokes the portrait of bushrangers and other sundry outlaws who live in an Australia that is not far from the Wild West in its unforgiving nature. The real Ned Kelly was a famous outlaw, hung to death at the age of 25, who is a perennial fixture in Australian pop culture . He is often reinvented as a Robin Hood figure and remains a beloved figure portrayed in film by actors as varied as Mick Jagger and Heath Ledger. But Carey’s book doesn’t just tell his story, but also that of a society that prizes the kind of enterprise and adventure that Kelly represents. Must read.
Big Little Lies by Liane Moriarty
Unlike some of the other books in this list- Big Little Lies could have been written in any part of the world- in a uber competitive Gurgaon school, a leafy Kensington private school or the three new schools in Dubai. The helicoptering mothers, the eternal struggle between working and stay-at-home parents, and their myriad domestic dramas don’t have the specifity that some of the other books in this list have. But there is something very Australian about the location of this school- a scenic peninsula near Sydney, landlocked and far from civilisation- and all the more claustrophobic in its petty squabbles because of its distance from the rest of mainland. No wonder that Moriarty continues to sell thousands of books in Australia- and the rest of the world.
Thornbirds by Colleen McCollough
“Down in the city they don’t know how the other half lives, and they can afford the luxury of doting on their animals as if they were children. Out here it’s different. You’ll never see man, woman or child in need of help go ignored out here, yet in the city those same people who dote on their pets will completely ignore a cry of help from a human being. ”
This, then, is the book that introduces the majesty of the Australian Outback to a legion of young romantics. Meggie’s Drogheda is not dissimilar to Scarlett O Hara’s Tara, except that both the people and the place are even more difficult (characters die- among other things- from a lightning strike and on being gored by a wild boar). The countless scenes of herding sheep in the wilderness and of fighting unfriendly weathers creates a vision of a harsh land that only the bravest can survive in. But the story also outlines Australia’s contentious relationship with religion- as the pull of the Catholic church competes with the grandeur and desolation of nature. Predictably nature wins, but not before faith leaves a lasting imprint on every one.
Shadowboxing by Tony Birch
Tony Birch- unlike the other authors in this list- shares indigenous roots with the original inhabitants of Australia. In Shadowboxing he tells ten interlinked story set in 1960s suburban Melbourne, through the eyes of difficult protagonist Michael Byrne. Just as Rohington Mistry builds striking images of Mumbai’s Parsi Colonies, or Junot Diaz of Jersey’s Dominicans, Birch casts a light on working class Australia from the point of view of an insider. Byrne’s relationship with his abusive father is compellingly sketched, as is his difficult and rebellious temperament. A must read for those who want to know more about Australia beyond the myth making and snazzy postcards.
Who would you add to this list? Tell us in the comments below!