Australian Fiction That Has Shaped Me

shelved under Fiction and Travel & Places

I may not have yet gotten to all the classics and award-winning authors of Australian literature, but I have read some books which have moved me, inspired me, and given me authors to look up to. These books, while all possessing a portion of ‘Australianness’ (through setting or theme), would be equally resonant to literary fans in other countries. They are all works of fiction — some novels, some collections of short stories.

 

Grace

by Robert Drewe

A few years ago, this was one of the first books that made me sit up and notice Australian literature. At school and university, we were studying mainly English and American texts; I wrote about this book in my first review for my uni newspaper. The book is about a Sydney film reviewer who flees her stalker to work at a wildlife park in the Kimberley. There is paleontology (and themes of transience), fear and desire, nature (human and animal), displacement, memory, and loss. The characters and landscape are completely absorbing.

 

Dreams of Speaking

by Gail Jones

I would consider Gail Jones my favourite Australian writer. I have all her books and have been lucky enough to meet her a couple of times. This book is about two characters a long way from home — Alice and Mr. Sakamoto. There are themes of modernity, and the wonders and destructive capabilities of progress and technology. Her books are deliciously descriptive, intelligent and insightful.

 

The List of All Answers: Collected Stories

by Peter Goldsworthy

It's been a while since I read this and I don't have my copy here, but what I remember is that this book showed me some of my first mature Australian short stories. They are intimate pieces set in people's lounge rooms, cars, workplaces, bedrooms. These are Goldsworthy's best stories from 20 years of work. His is a master of the craft, and of drawing realistic characters in moments of everyday poignancy.

 

The Trout Opera

by Matthew Condon

This book spans 100 years of Australian history, but very intimately from different characters' points of view. There is gritty Sydney leading up to the 2000 Olympics, and there is the quiet existence of a man living in the Blue Mountains. There are many stories interwoven and connected. Again, themes include the complexities of progress and change, and the lamented loss of a quiet, peaceful moment (such as moments fishing alone). The writing is incredible — Condon is a master of metaphor.

 

Voss

by Thomas Keneally, Patrick White

A haunting Australian classic. I read this in the midst of reading modern era books by American writers and found White to be a contemporary of his overseas counterparts (exploring alienation, the mental landscape etc.), but also a unique voice and collective of an Australian historical/cultural past, including its myths, and its overwhelming, imposing physical presence. There's adventure, dreaming, loss, and longing. The book has its flaws, which have come about more through a contemporary PC perspective, but it continues to be hauntingly affective.

 

Prochownik's Dream

by Alex Miller

Most Australians might be familiar with Alex Miller’s award-winning Journey to The Stone Country, or the more recent Landscape of Farewell. But Prochownik’s Dream, a much more intimate character story of an artist and his struggle with his complex, transgressive needs, has always been my favourite. In the back cover of my copy (read in 2005) I wrote upon finishing it (in one sitting): "Read cover to cover. Completely immersed in the artist’s passion. Finishing it was like waking from a bittersweet dream."

 

The Boat

by Nam Le

Nam Le is a Vietnamese-born, Australian-raised and now worldly writer (US, UK — he can be found everywhere!). His stories, too, reflect an international perspective. From Tehran to Melbourne to New York, Columbia and more, they are deeply resonant, intelligent, and accessible works of fiction. I have not met one person who has read this book and not loved it. He is also a wonderfully articulate speaker and generous person. If you ever have the chance to see him at a writer’s festival — do.

 

Dark Roots: Stories

by Cate Kennedy

Another master of the short story. Cate Kennedy is highly respected in Australia. This collection features stories that have won numerous highly-regarded and competitive Australian competitions, and one that was published in The New Yorker. They are often centered around everyday situations — domestic, personal interactions, work, decisions. They are simple, affecting, relatable and meaningful — and universally so.

 

Uncanny!

by Paul Jennings

I just had to mention a childhood favourite. Where would I be if I hadn’t read as a child? I used to devour Paul Jennings’ books — quirky, often dark short stories with child and pre-teen characters, and they're still really popular today (14-16 years after I first read them). Emily Rodda, Morris Gleitzman, and Duncan Ball are a very close second.