One of Australia’s most prestigious literary awards, the Miles Franklin, shows once again that Australian literature is going from strength to strength. Picking a winner this year will be exceptionally difficult for the judges, considering the calibre of empathy, poetic power, and storytelling contained in the unique voices of all five shortlisted authors.
Here are the shortlisted books and a little bit about them:
The Last Days of Ava Langdon by Mark O’Flynn: Ava Langdon is often not herself. Having fled her early life in New Zealand and endured the loss of her children, she now lives as a recluse in the Blue Mountains. Regarded by locals as a colourful eccentric, she dresses in men’s clothes and fearlessly pursues her artistic path. All that matters to Ava is her writing. Words offer beauty and a sense of possibility when so much else has been lost. But can they offer her redemption in her last days? Poetic, poignant, and at times bitingly funny, The Last Days of Ava Langdon takes us into the mind of a true maverick.
Their Brilliant Careers by Ryan O’Neill: In Their Brilliant Careers, Ryan O’Neill has written a hilarious novel in the guise of sixteen biographies of (invented) Australian writers. Meet Rachel Deverall, who unearthed the secret source of the great literature of our time – and paid a terrible price for her discovery. Meet Rand Washington, hugely popular sci-fi author (of Whiteman of Cor) and inveterate racist. Meet Addison Tiller, master of the bush yarn, “The Chekhov of Coolabah”, who never travelled outside Sydney. Their Brilliant Careers is a playful set of stories, linked in many ways, which together form a memorable whole. A wonderful comic tapestry of the writing life, this unpredictable and intriguing work takes Australian writing in a whole new direction.
An Isolated Incident by Emily Maguire: When 25-year-old Bella Michaels is brutally murdered in the small town of Strathdee, the community is stunned and a media storm descends. Unwillingly thrust into the eye of that storm is Bella’s beloved older sister, Chris, a barmaid at the local pub, whose apparent easygoing nature conceals hard-won wisdom and the kind of street-smarts only experience can bring. As Chris is plunged into despair and searches for answers, reasons, explanation – anything – that could make even the smallest sense of Bella’s death, her ex-husband, friends and neighbours do their best to support her. But as the days tick by with no arrest, Chris’s suspicion of those around her grows. An Isolated Incident is a psychological thriller about everyday violence, the media’s obsession with pretty dead girls, the grip of grief and the myth of closure, and the difficulties of knowing the difference between a ghost and a memory, between a monster and a man.
Extinctions by Josephine Wilson: Professor Frederick Lothian, retired engineer, world expert on concrete and connoisseur of modernist design, has quarantined himself from life by moving to a retirement village. His wife, Martha, is dead and his two adult children are lost to him in their own ways. Surrounded and obstructed by the debris of his life – objects he has collected over many years and tells himself he is keeping for his daughter – he is determined to be miserable, but is tired of his existence and of the life he has chosen. When a series of unfortunate incidents forces him and his neighbour, Jan, together, he begins to realise the damage done by the accumulation of a lifetime’s secrets and lies, and to comprehend his own shortcomings. Finally, Frederick Lothian has the opportunity to build something meaningful for the ones he loves. Humorous, poignant and galvanising by turns, Extinctions is a novel about all kinds of extinction – natural, racial, national and personal – and what we can do to prevent them.
Waiting by Philip Salom: Big is a hefty cross-dresser and Little is little. Both are long used to the routines of boarding house life in the inner suburbs of Melbourne, but Little, with the prospect of an inheritance, is worrying Big with by indulging in dreams of home ownership. Little’s cousin, Angus, is a solitary man who designs lake-scapes for city councils, and fireproof houses for the bushfire zone. A handy man, he meets Jasmin – an academic who races in her ideas as much as in her runners. Her head is set on publishing semiotics books on semiotics, her heart is turned towards her stalled personal life. All four are waiting, for something, if not someone.
The winner of the 2017 Miles Franklin Award will be announced on 7 September.