When we published our Top 10 classic Australian novels recently as part of our Australian Authors special, it caused quite a stir and there was – not surprisingly – some disagreement over just what are the best Australian books. Of course, the answers are all different depending on who you ask. So we thought we’d compile a list of staff picks based on the Better Reading Team’s favourite Australian books.
Cheryl Akle, Director
Barracuda by Christos Tsiolkas. I love Christos Tsiolkas’ writing and I love this story. The character is a Greek Australian growing up a migrant and he’s a swimmer, so I could so relate to him.
Jasper Jones by Craig Silvey. It’s a beautiful coming-of-age story that reminded me of To Kill a Mockingbird.
Jess Horton, Marketing Assistant
The Forgotten Garden by Kate Morton. I read this 516-page brick in two days. A small child is found abandoned on a ship heading for Australia in 1913, with nothing but a small suitcase. On arrival, the dockmaster and his wife take her in and raise her as the child they wish they had. And so begins a quest of self-discovery spanning three generations of women. The charm in Morton’s novels lies in a clearly defined story with good pacing, a little intrigue, characters that appear to live and breathe, and a bit of history thrown in. I love the switching back and forth between various time periods (in most of her books, a minimum of three distinct eras), and the way she weaves them all together by the end shows that she is truly a master of her craft.
Thornwood House by Anna Romer. Unlike Kate Morton’s novels, Anna Romer relies on diaries and letters to give us a glimpse into the murky past. The story revolves around a woman who has inherited an abandoned homestead during a tough divorce. When she finds a photo of the previous owner of the house, what starts as curiosity turns into obsession, with dangerous consequences. Tinged with suspense, this is a highly enjoyable read, and I’m looking forward to her third novel coming out next year.
Liz Durnan, Website Editor
It’s years since I read it but I have a distinct memory of immersing myself in Peter Carey’s Oscar & Lucinda in my early days of arriving in Australia when I lived in Balmain and it’s around this area that Lucinda lives in the novel. The story is quite bizarre in retrospect – two characters with a penchant for gambling meet on the boat to Australia. Lucinda bets that Oscar can’t transport a glass church from Sydney to remote Bellingen. A classic Australian story.
All That I Am by Anna Funder is not set in Australia except for one of the characters as an old lady living in Sydney. It mainly tells the intriguing stories of German refugees living in pre-WW2 London, who are escaping Nazi Germany. These are WW2 stories we haven’t heard much about previously. I love Anna Funder’s writing and can’t wait to read her new book, The Girl With the Dogs, just out.
Liz Bray, Children’s Specialist
I absolutely agree with my colleagues about Jasper Jones, a book which made me want to read passages aloud to friends, and Oscar and Lucinda, which I re-read recently – the scenes of the glass church being constructed in the bush were just as striking as on the first read!
I read Tim Winton’s The Riders many years ago now and, while I sometimes railed at the characters and their choices, I was so struck by the portrait of obsession and how it can ‘break’ your life. I was spellbound by Winton’s atmospheric descriptions.
A more recent favourite is Tree Palace by Craig Sherborne, which I love for its warmth and wit, its utterly convincing portrait of an Australian country town, and its engaging characters living an unusual life.
For a page-turning enjoyable read, you can’t go past Kate Morton (I spent a very satisfying holiday reading The Secret Keeper) or Liane Moriarty (whose Big Little Lies completely snuck up on me, starting off as a frothy confection, and then grabbing me by the throat and making me care deeply about the characters).
Todd Alexander, Social Media Manager
Breath by Tim Winton. A delicate moving story of a man making sense of his childhood and hoping to realise how his life turned out as it did.
What I Have Written by John Scott. An intriguing suspenseful read that flows like pure poetry. For those who like to hunt out harder to find and more obscure titles…
The Feel Good Hit of The Year by Liam Pieper. A raw, brash account of one guy’s descent. At times laugh out loud funny and others utterly heart breaking it’s told with complete conviction from a voice that sounds like one of your mates.
Karen Collier, Art Director
Mao’s Last Dancer by Li Cunxin. It’s more of a memoir than a novel, but it’s one of my favourite Australian books.
Shantaram by Gregory David Roberts. The most incredible story based on the author’s own experiences after he breaks from prison in Victoria and lives in the slums of India while on the run.
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