Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Reading Notes: Miles Franklin Longlist 2017

Well, it's been a very long time since I tried a prizelist reading challenge! I used to do them a lot, but then life was a thing that happened (see also: work; children; poetry).

I noticed today, however, that the Miles Franklin longlist for 2017 is out, so I had a look, and I have Thoughts about it. I'm not going to commit to doing a full longlist read, but as indicated below, I am going to have a stab at some of these at least. (I've put stars next to the ones I intend to try - 5 out of the 9).

It's a 9-book longlist this year, with several authors I know, which is always a nice surprise. There's 4 books by men and 5 by women, and it's a lily-white list, with no authors of colour represented. That this is a problem for the Miles Franklin as for other literary prizes, and has historically always been so, is fairly well noted, I think. There have been POC writers on the Miles Franklin list and it has been won by POC writers too - most recently by Michelle de Kretser in 2013 - but a simple list count shows the skew, and it's pretty profound.

I think it is intrinsically problematic, in a country like Australia, to have the biggest literary prize available being contested entirely by white writers in any given year. I know all the counter-arguments: that it's about quality, not identity; that there are more white than POC people in Australia and certainly way more white than POC writers etc etc etc. I still think those arguments are pretty patronising and disingenuous though. Who decides what's quality, and what lens do they bring to that? Who decides what styles are literary enough to deserve acclaim? What cultural biases do readers, even expert readers, bring to the table?

And, frankly, if it's the case that there are less books by POC writers available to select from - well, why is that? I don't buy the "nothing to do with me, it's a pipeline problem" approach often taken by employers with a diversity gap or prize committees. There is a feedback loop at play here. Recognising the power and worth of books by POC writers makes it more likely that future writers can get publishers interested in them; that they can get acclaim; that they can prise open the death grip of the literary elites on fictional work in this (and all Western) countries. It's the same argument as to why it's so vital that book reviewers in major publications expand their repertoire and make a point of boosting the signal for books by authors from under-represented groups (I very much include writers with a disability in here). Be the change you want to see in the world, people.

So, back to the actual list in front of us. Depending on your measure, it could be characterised as a thematically diverse-ish list, but there is a pretty strong thread of death / loss / end of life running through it - at least 5, and maybe as many as 7, of these titles are basically built around the meaning, consequences and emotions associated with the fate of all flesh.

The books are:

*1. Steve Amsterdam, The Easy Way Out: Which sounds interesting and is about the ethics of assisted suicide. The writer himself is a palliative care nurse.

*2. Emily McGuire, An Isolated Incident: On spec, this will be a tough one, being about a murdered woman. I have read McGuire's earlier books and liked them, so I'll try this one.

3. Mark O'Flynn, The Last Days of Ava Langdon: Apparently "The Last Days of Ava Langdon takes us into the mind of a true maverick", which means it's probably not for me.

*4. Ryan O'Neill, Their Brilliant Careers: This is a set of fictional biographies of made-up Australian writers and sounds like it could be deeply amusing. I'll bite.

5. Josephine Rowe, A Loving, Faithful Animal: This is the kind of aftermath-damage-of-war family novel that I usually don't like much, but YMMV of course.

6. Philip Salom,Waiting: A book about "two odd couples" this sounds like it might be quirky. I really don't tend to love quirky.

*7. Inga Simpson, Where the Trees Are: A kind of "you can never go back there again" book, from the sounds of it - memories of childhood bonds revisited in adulthood. These stories can be great, so I don't object to giving this one a whirl.

*8. Kirsten Tranter, Hold: Except for the pesky details part, this sounds a little bit like a more literary version of Ghost (albeit minus the pottery). But it does feature a found-rooom, which is one of my most recurring dream icons, so I am going to give it a try for that alone.

9. Josephine Wilson, Extinctions: A book about a retired professor who moves into a nursing home and finds new meaning in life. NO THANKS.

The shortlist will be announced in June and the prize itself in August / September. I'm going to try to read my nominated 5 before shortlist, then pick up any on the shortlist that I haven't picked before the prize. You gotta have goals, right?

1 comment:

  1. Interesting comments and always really great to have a summary of books and reading suggestions. I am in such a rut with reading at the moment...hopefully will be able to get into some of the books on this list.