CategoryReviews of Australian Literature

Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton

Well, this one is going on my best-of-the-year list for sure. I can’t decide whether it’s best described as a fairy tale or as operatic. The story by Dalton, a newspaper crime writer, was inspired by his beloved mother and stepfather who dealt heroin, by his 70-something convicted murderer babysitter, and by his severely alcoholic father. My question is how it is that these folks inspired such a...

Too Much Lip by Melissa Lucashenko

The author, a Bundjalung woman, has written a book that is at once devastating and funny. The continuing awful results for indigenous people of the European presence are well depicted here. The story centers on Kerry, who rides a stolen Harley back to her hometown as her grandfather is dying. She is sad about her girlfriend, just sentenced to five years in prison for robbery and feels guilty...

Whiskey & Charlie by Annabel Smith

Whiskey and Charlie are twins born in Britain whose family moved to Australia when they were teens. The book opens with Charlie sitting with Whiskey in the hospital after an accident left Whiskey in a coma. Chapters with scenes at Whiskey’s bedside are written in sans serif type to distinguish them from the story of their growing up and then growing apart. That story is told in chapters...

The Shepherd’s Hut by Tim Winton

Tim Winton’s most recent fiction is yet another amazing work. The narrator is a teenage boy who begins his story telling that his father has once again beaten him, leaving one eye swollen shut. Later Jackson returns to find his father had died when the car he was repairing collapsed on him. Jackson, believing he will be accused of killing his father, runs in hopes of getting far enough away...

Shell by Kristina Olsson

A wonderfully complex tale beautifully told that focuses on one of the most awe-inspiring man-made structures in the world and an issue that loomed large in my own young life, well, how can that be wrapped up in a single book? Shell is set in Sydney when the opera house construction was underway and coincidentally, conscription to send men to fight in Vietnam began, in late 1965 and 1966. Pearl...

Island Home: A Landscape Memoir by Tim Winton

It was such a treat to read a book that lovingly describes Tim Winton’s unique home, “the world’s largest island,” as he has it. For me the best part is being reminded of the sense memories of my own childhood, though my Virginia countryside couldn’t be more different from Australia. One topic he wrote about that resonates with me begins this way:  “Like most...

True North by Jill Ker Conway

Jill Ker Conway’s second autobiographical book follows The Road from Coorain and recounts her experience upon arrival from Australia as a graduate student at Harvard through her time at the University of Toronto. It ends with the beginning of her presidency at Smith College in 1975. She tells the charming, sometimes quite touching stories of her life in this period beginning in 1960. The...

A Long Way from Home by Peter Carey

Peter Carey is one of the great Australia writers, though he has lived in New York for 25 years. Anyone who can immerse himself completely in both 1950s automotive Australia and the horrifying connections between Europeans and the indigenous population and intertwine these two strands, well, maybe only he can do that. And he did it with this book published in 2017. The story is told in chapters...

The Road from Coorain by Jill Ker Conway

This 1989 autobiography tells the story of a truly rare person, a brilliant academic born in Australia who came to the US to study when she was 25. She was the first woman to be president of Smith College. This is the story of her childhood on the family’s 32,000-acre sheep station in western New South Wales, her teenage years in Sydney, and college years at the University of Sydney. Her...

That Deadman Dance by Kim Scott

Kim Scott won his first Miles Franklin Award in 2000 and was the first indigenous writer to win that prize. I listened to his winner of the 2011 Miles Franklin as an audiobook, then bought it for my kindle. And I was amply rewarded for each way of experiencing the book. This is the story of interactions between the Noongar people and the early arrivals of Europeans in the area of Albany, Western...

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