Thursday, June 18, 2009

Biblical world view legitimised: Australian feminist icon turns in grave

What with first the longlist and then the shortlist, I'm not really all that surprised that the 2009 Miles Franklin Literary Award has been won by what was by far the safer choice of the two front runners, a novel in which a bitter, twisted woman called Eva (geddit? geddit?) corrupts the young hero, takes away his innocence and warps his psyche for life with her nasty dangerous bent sick non-missionary sexing-on ways. She robs our hero of Paradise, that's what she does; she pushes him into his fall from grace.

Because, as we all know, that's what women do. The Bible tells us so.

I reviewed Tim Winton's Breath for the Oz and I bent over backwards, to the point of indecency really and no it's not something you'd like to see, to be fair. I have great respect for Winton's considerable fiction-writing skills, and I wouldn't like to seem to be dissing the people who like his work. Yes it's a 'good novel', no argument there from me. But. But. Butbutbut.

It's completely incredible to me that in 2009 there are still people who don't get this, but looking at comments around the blog and MSM literary traps there clearly are, so let me spell it out once more:

It's not just some simple-minded essentialist thing about equal numbers of men and women. It's not a case to be met with 'We don't need feminism any more because we're equal now' (I assume this lot are actually unconscious, or trapped in a big plastic bubble, or living in some parallel universe like the Magic Faraway Tree). It's not about 'But can't they just be chosen on literary merit?', a common bleat that begs the question of what literary merit is, whose values infuse it, whether it can ever be objective or absolute, who decides what it is, and what sorts of values have dominated literature and the judgement of literature and the formation of its canons for centuries. A quick read of A Room of One's Own is all that's needed for answers to most of these questions.

No, it's this: that the masculine world view is still the norm, the feminine world view a lesser variant; that the masculine representation of women is still accepted as the truth, while female resistance to that representation is seen as some kind of wilful rebellion; that masculine values are still (mis)taken as universal values, and feminine ones seen as aberrant and unimportant in the world. Simone de Beauvoir still puts it best, even after all this time. 'There are two types of people in this world: human beings and women.'

And spare a thought for the dedicated, hardworking feminist Miles Franklin, who scrimped and saved and ran herself short to amass the capital for the establishment of this prize in the 1950s. In her name, let me record here that in the chronological catchment area for this prize, the following excellent novels, most of which have won at least one major literary prize, were published (NB Michelle de Kretser's The Lost Dog was eligible last year, not this year, but likewise came nowhere):

The Household Guide to Dying by Debra Adelaide
The Spare Room by Helen Garner
The Lieutenant by Kate Grenville
Vertigo by Amanda Lohrey
The Good Parents by Joan London

All were eligible for the prize, within the terms of Franklin's will: of 'the highest literary merit', and dealing with 'Australian life in any of its phases'.

None of them even made the longlist.

Yes, as anyone who's ever been on one knows, the judging panels for prizes of all kinds are weird beasts, and their ways are a mystery even to themselves. Goddess knows I know that this is true.

But still. But. Butbutbut.

56 comments:

bernice said...

Butt.

I'd complain but I'm too busy writing a novel about a young woman who seduces a simple honest lad, leaves him for the false promise of a career, enters the twilight years of her fertility, realises her mistake, and returns to the bubolic town of the opening scenes just in time to...

Anonymous said...

Spot on Kerryn, really spot on. And just to be egotistical for a moment, this is exactly the approach that gets one labelled sour, too political, unable to appreciate literary merit, etc etc -- and I think Winton is extremely talented too but the irony of the MF of all prizes ending up with him. . . thank goodness they got it right with Carpentaria.

-P

thiel said...

In a more down-to-the-line and breathless (ugh) way, it was a really sad announcement for urban homosexuals, too.

Link said...

An invisible hand at work impelled by reasons we will never know? Something to do with the orchestrated creation of an all-Australian literary 'great' so as to flog him all the more vigorously?

I'm not a big novel reader but I did read Dirt Music and Breath and The Turning. I found the author's voice clearly present in all, as much the same blokey, character. A very nice bloke he is too, with a good turn of phrase.

Maybe all novels are like this? I haven't read enough of the same author to realise that eventually their books seem to be just more of the same.

Ampersand Duck said...

Ha! I was about to say that 'but it's a good novel' in prizewinning shenanigans is uncomfortably familiar to 'but he's a good bloke' in football shenanigans; I see someone's already using the line in Winton's praise. Ahem.

Zoe said...

Judge Morag Fraser on the RN book show now - "Breath was pretty much the winner from the time we had the longlist. Not that we decided then".

Q why were there no women listed:
A "We didn't even realise that was what we'd done", etc etc ... would be the same anyway

Q interesting isn't it, because it happens a lot in the arts?
A splutter

Transcript up here eventually.

Doorbitch is totally with us: mingsh

Fine said...

Great post. People really do need to read 'A Room of One's Own' - or re-read it. I've never been a fan of Winton's. I couldn't finish 'Cloudstreet', 'Dirt Music' was just okay, But he goes surfing and he's a good bloke. You could have a beer with him etc etc. On the upside, he apparently gave a ripper of an acceptance speech about parallel importing, so good on him for that.

But I've never managed to finish a Peter Carey novel, so what do I know?

I was cheering for Christos. Oh, well - at least he won a big prize recently and 'The Slap' is going to make an excellent tv series. It's been optioned by exactly the right people for it.

lucy tartan said...

I'm feeling too cynical and angry to comment directly on this now, but in a more general way, isn't it interesting that in an era when direct blatant sexism is legislated against, it still finds ample opportunities for expression, precisely in these sorts of ambiguous & slippery situations. I think that's something we need to think about strategically and pre-emptively. Don't know how, though.

Pavlov's Cat said...

The In Memory of Miles Franklin Commenters' Prize of the Year to Bernice for 'bubolic'.

Of course Winton can write whatever he likes and this is not supposed to be an attack on him personally, or even an attack at all, really. I suppose I'm trying to make visible what appears to have been invisible to a large number of people, as per Lucy/Laura's excellent point, and to analyse how cultural norms get reinforced. I've known Morag for ages (though we've not been in contact for some time) and, I suppose because one assumes far too often and often quite wrongly that the people one knows and likes and admires think about things the same way one thinks about them oneself, I was completely gobsmacked (a) that she said 'We didn't realise what we'd done' and (b) that she didn't seem to think there was anything wrong with that. I don't think there could be a more perfect illustration of the argument I'm making in this post: that masculinity is so much the norm that we don't even notice its domination, at any level of abstraction or of concrete-ness.

Deliberating about prizewinners is of necessity a process of elimination, and sometimes it's as simple as one judge saying 'No, I hated it and I won't be a party to its winning the prize' and there you are, boom, gone. (I thought Christos might get knocked out early by something like that, actually.) And I suspect that one of the arguments used to eliminate both Vertigo and The Spare Room, either at the tables or in the judges' heads as they read, might have been that neither is very long.

Like, Tim's (and Murray's and Louis' and Richard's and Christos's) was bigger than theirs.

Zoe said...

Yep, I bet she and the other judges would have "noticed" had there been a woman on the shortlist. Have a listen to the interview, I found it quite galling.

w/v bumbledu

Fine said...

Imagine how 'noticed' it would have been if everyone on the short list had been a woman.

M-H said...

What Fine said.

lucy tartan said...

Recently read a very interesting essay by Ursula Le Guin called "Prizes and Gender". (In book called "The Wave In The Mind.")

ULG had been on a judging committee for a prize and the shortlisted books had all been by women. Another (female) judge said this was not good because it would mean the media would write the prize off as a feminist cabal, ultimately damaging whatever book eventually won. ULG reluctantly convinced to drop the bottom two shortlisted books & replace them with books by men, books she felt were not as good as the ones they supplanted.

She then did an experiment: she picked out nine prestigious literary awards, and using some publishers' trade magazines she collated all the eligible books published in 1996-1998.

Male / Female author gender ratio: almost exactly 1:1.

Male / Female prizewinning ratio: 9:1.

For every one woman author who received a literary prize, there were nine men.

:-|

Anonymous said...

I never did my Miles Franklin Hen's night--what a pity.

Will try for next year.

Lucy Sussex

Pavlov's Cat said...

Lucy (Lucy S, that is), could you arrange it in Mildura? That way hens from at least four or five states and territories would have a fighting chance of rocking up, and we could eat at Stefano's.

Laura, that is incredibly depressing but not particularly surprising. In fact, Australia's stats are probably much better than that.

Anonymous said...

Actually Murray's and Helen's are about the same size; give or take a few pages.

I'm disappointed Christos didn't win. His voice is still fresh and cheeky so maybe he got up some peoples' noses. Winton's a good writer but I feel I know what he's already been writing about for a long time and I'm not particularly interested in hearing it again for quite a while, if ever. Not to mention the whole woman the evil temptress thing.

I just feel that Winton is a safe choice and maybe a judging committee is most likely to come to a 'safe' conclusion.

Susan Johnson said...

Well, as an Australian female novelist who also had a book out in the qualifying year but who is long used to even being left off fantasy wish lists (bitter? moi? JOKE!) can I just point to the American critic Elaine Showalter's new book A JURY OF HER PEERS: AMERICAN WOMEN WRITERS?

Showalter recently wrote in THE GUARDIAN a piece (see below) in which she wrote: '"Writers can write about anything they want, any sex they want, any place they want," Annie Proulx has declared. But being free to write doesn't mean that American women are equal in a literary marketplace still dominated by male precedents, male literary juries and male standards of greatness.'

Read the full text here
http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2009/may/09/female-novelists-usa

Pavlov's Cat said...

Susan, so you did, and Life in Seven Mistakes got excellent reviews if I remember rightly. My list contains only books I've actually had the chance to read, since I don't want to make claims for anything I haven't (for reasons I hope are obvious), and I've got to read four books a week for review so there's an awfully big pile of books waiting for me to read them, including at least 3 books by mates. You may have been at an added disadvantage (added to being female, I mean) by being in London and therefore not as permanently available and visible to Australian journalists as some of the others. Thanks for the Grauniad link -- maybe I should compile a reading list on prizes and gender, since I'm sure a number of people would find it useful.

Pavlov's Cat said...

That link of Susan's to the Showalter article in the Guardian is here. Very highly recommended.

Susan Johnson said...

And - honestly - didn't mean that to be a plug for mine (it's just that I couldn't make a comment without declaring personal interest so to speak). My books have never really been in the running for prizes anyway(for whatever reason..)

It's hard for anyone published to contribute to these debates without it looking like sour grapes, or self-promotion, but I do sincerely believe that there is a debate to be had about this subject.

Come on: step up to the plate, girls! (Not necessarily you, Kerryn, but surely there is a female academic out there who might attempt something similar to the Showalter? Druisilla Modjeska? Janine Burke? Hazel Rowley? Delia Falconer?)

('Girls' is a joke, too, natch...)

Pavlov's Cat said...

Blog posts are as much as I've got time for, and I spend way too much time even on them!

Interestingly in Australia, at least in my memory (and that covers most literary prizes; all but the Miles are pretty recent, apart from the genre-specific ones), I think it has been fairly even-handed, at least in terms of stats. There have been lots of controversies about this and that, goodness knows, but not a lot of them have been about gender.

My and a lot of other people's problem about speaking out on these matters (apart from on one's blog, where one can say what one likes as long as it is legal) is that it does so often, as you say, look like sour grapes or self-interest one way or another. For instance, I parted company with The Monthly in a way I didn't particularly enjoy, so I felt constrained not to mention the way that former editor Sally Warhaft was running a gender ratio of something like 10:1 month after month after month. But I was actually kind of appalled by it, and I found it utterly confounding that nobody else seemed to notice it, or, if they did, to say anything.

This example plus the Shirley Hazzard one I gave in the earlier (linked up there) post about the shortlist should serve to illustrate what I mean when I say it's more complicated than simply being a numbers game. It's more to do with who -- whether male or female -- is acting as an agent or conduit for the dominant culture.

via collins said...

I tread ever so carefully in this comment thread, but I must say, I felt for you PC when I read the news this morn.

I enjoyed Breath, I've always had very dull senses when the literary female character is concerned (despite living with 3 female humans, 2 female chickens and a female cat), and was quite entranced by Winton's writing. I rather missed the temptress issue as a key aspect of narrative. But as many have said upthread, Winton's well in his comfort zone, and in a year when The Slap, and The Good Parents worked so well at pushing boundaries and new themes (comparitively), I reckon the Winton decision is just plain old dull.

In fact much of this year's reading for me has been Ruth Park who I cherish and adore to bits. In fact, I've been switching back and forth from Christos Tsiolkas to Ruth Park, and that's a hell of a leap.

Anonymous said...

The Le Guin story really tells the tale. An all female list is considered suspect, but an all male one is not.

Affirmative action opponents always argue that it cheapens the victories of those from marginalised groups who make it on "merit" but they don't acknowledge the reverse.

Last year I was astonished (and obviously delighted) to be short-listed for a minor literary award. However. There were four books by men on the short-list and one a collaboration but with a woman generally perceived as the driving force. I have only skimmed my competitors, but the collaboration certainly looked the favourite.

One of the men won it. Which did just raise the question: was sexism at all a factor? If it was, might I have slipped onto the list ahead of some more deserving woman?

There are of course other explanations for the prize. And I've no idea who I beat onto the short list. But my getting there was such a shock it's hard not to think I might have had a small helping hand.

Stephen

Suze said...

I don't see why anyone thinks The Slap would have been a preferable winner. At least Tim Winton can write; Tsiolkas is merely a good storyteller. But as far as their women characters go, they are much of a muchness, though coming from very different places.
When I read Breath, I went around asking every woman I knew if they'd ever - ever, third hand or even 10th hand - heard in real life of a woman who was into that kind of auto-eroticism. Nobody had. But we've all read the stories of men - Tory MPs and so on - who were into it. I think that aspect of the book is complete fantasy and that's what disturbed me - Winton thinking he was being pro an active female sexuality when he completely misses the point.

R.H. said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Francis Xavier Holden said...

I'm a bloke. To a large extent.

I didn't finish "Breathe". It was placed in a central oz blokey world that has alienated me most of my life. There are other oz blokey worlds, not many, that I'm less marginalised in.

The world of Breathe is a world that from what I can see, a lot of australian women inhabit.

So maybe it's not only the blokeyness but the brownland-outdoorsy-physical world that rankles.


Breathe wasn't a patch on most of Peter Temple or the latest few Garry Disher. Kretzer's Lost Dog was stunning if perhaps a bit highbrow to be a "winner"

The Slap - far from perfect - is the best australian stuff I've read for a long long time.

Pavlov's Cat said...

FXH, I don't think anyone here has complained about 'blokeyness', have they? I certainly didn't in the post. My beef about the book is quite specific: not with its representation of men, but with its representation of women. That, and with the way that that traditional pre-feminist and essentially misogynist view of women as Biblically cunning and corrupting seductresses has been validated by showering the book with prizes.

Suze, that's a good point about Christos's women characters and as a feminist critic I could go town on that one too if I had the time and the inclination. But I'd argue that there's one important difference: what Christos is writing is domestic suburban realism, with a number of different female characters in it, and what Winton is writing is (at least partly) a Biblical allegory, with a lot of surf in it that most of its admirers can't see past, but only one female character of any substance. And when you've got only one female character in a book about sexual corruption, she carries a very heavy symbolic load.

That's also an excellent point about women and auto-erotic asphyxiation. I've never met or heard of a woman who practised it either. Judge Morag Fraser said in praise of Breath that 'it takes us to a place we've never been before' (or something like that), to which I would answer 'Quite.'

Anonymous said...

If you live in Beirut, Birmingham or Beijing and you wanted some idea of Ozlit surely you'd pick up Winton every time before Tsiolkas. Tsiolkas will be turned into good television, you're right, but, hey, that could be a worry. Wonder why nobody's tried to turn PW into television, Cat. Too rich and strange and dark is why. Winton, too, I reckon.
Merv

Pavlov's Cat said...

I dunno, Merv, I think rather than subject matter it's more about the kinds of characters and the kinds of narrative shapes that lend themselves to television, plus the skills of the people doing the adapting. Did you ever see the TV version of Come in Spinner, adapted from a 700-page novel to a four-hour ABC series? It was great. Lots of action, lots of characters, and playwright Nick Enright doing the adapting. Patrick White is full of interior memories, musings and visions, many of which couldn't be represented on film. But there are two PW's I would dearly love to see made into movies (probably not TV) -- Riders in the Chariot and The Eye of the Storm, both of which have lots of characters plus the proper narrative shape for screen drama.

Anonymous said...

No, didn't see the Spinner series. Would love to have seen it. I think you're right sbout Riders and Eye of the Storm. The other real pleasure with PW of course are the words.
You've got me thinking about adaptations now - the operatic Voss. Don't you think both Breath and the Tsiolkas would make absolutely stunning operas ? Different kinds of course.
Merv

Pavlov's Cat said...

Breath would be very hard -- you'd have to leave out all the surf, and that wouldn't leave you with all that much. But yes, The Slap would be a ripper -- very operatic. Families, sex, jealousy, old people, young people, and plenty of juicy parts. (I'm sorry, I would have liked to have put that another way.) And think of some of the duets, trios and quartets!

Fine said...

denesLast weekend I went to a screening of a 1975 film 'Overlord', directed by an American guy called Stuart Cooper. Interestingly, he now owns the film rights to 'Voss' and reckons he's getting very close to getting it financed. He purchased the rights from Harry M. Miller when Miller was in a tight financial spot. 'Voss' almost got made years ago by the great director Joseph Losey. Judging from 'Overlord' I could see how Cooper might be the right director fro 'Voss', which seems to me to not be a very cinematic text. 'Overlord' is about the D-Day landings and mixes archival footage with a fictionalised story. It has a rather abstracted, dreamy use of imges and rhythm which could work well.

lucy tartan said...

There is at least one film adapted from a PW work, it's based on a short story and it's called "The Night the Prowler".

I've always thought "The Ham Funeral" would make a top movie, DOGMA-style perhaps.

I think the mega literary prizes (Booker etc, perhaps the MF) do more harm than good, especially in the current environment where every tastemaker from the mainstream media to the big chain bookshops interprets them as a solid gold yardstick of Quality, as if that's an absolute value that has nothing to do with race, class, gender.

Virginia Woolf thought women should refuse to accept honours and decorations because they're so thoroughly tainted with the logic of domination. I don't think that sort of separatist approach is actually a very good idea (partly because experience shows that it's the sort of protest that's supremely easy to ignore), but it would be nice to see a bit more public critical scrutiny of the invisible criteria that accords more moral weight and seriousness to certain subject matters and kinds of writing.

Anonymous said...

Is this thread done or could Suze 'please explain' her comment that Winton 'can write' and Tsiolkas is a 'storyteller'?

Is that like Dickens compared with, say,Tolstoy, or what?

My feeling is that Winton is writing about human beings (I won't say 'man') in relation to the vast cosmic universe thing, while Tsiolkas has his eye on the details of life and the reader can make the big connections; like the place of friendship in our society and the way it's breaking all apart and we just have to recognise that and live with it somehow.

Anonymous said...

I agree Kerry with your take on Eva. She's an utter throwback and a simple symbol and all of that. But it doesn't surprise me to find a deeply problematic female character in a book written by a man. It is a constant issue. The portrayal of women in The Slap also really bothered me. They may be a bit 'nicer' than the men but they are objectified and diminished all the same, and not just by the relentlessly misogynist men in their lives. There is a narratorial complicity with those men, I felt. The way breastfeeding was used in the book was appalling. It was a symbol of the worst kind of lazy, self obsessed parenting and Rosie was little more than a sad cow with teats. As for the rest of the shortlist, I refused to read another book by Murray Bail after his Eucalyptus and the pathetic woman as chattel premise of that novel. I could go on and on....I've read all three of the books by women longlisted - and people claiming to be supportive of women writers should do the same. They all have very interesting females. Fugitive Blue deliberately underplays some traditional ideas about the male artistic canon, which I really appreciated, for example. Enough! Lizzy.

Anonymous said...

Winton has been adapted for the theatre - often. Most notably in the five hour version of Cloudstreet for Company B Belvoir. Toured nationally, and internationally. And the difference between a writer and a storyteller is - nothing, as Walter Benjamin knew all too well. Wrote as essay on the subject, if I remember correctly.

Jodi

Pavlov's Cat said...

I think we're just chopping words, at this stage, talking about the difference between writers whose strength or focus is narrative shape and momentum, and those whose strength or focus is style. And there is a big difference. But I would like to read the Benjamin essay all the same -- is that the one where he talks about good prose having three stages?

Francis Xavier Holden said...

Pav - I think I'm the only one who mentioned blokeyness. It was my problem with the book - it may well have improved after I stopped reading.

Anonymous said...

The Benjamin essay is The Storyteller: Reflections on the works of Nikolai Leskov - it's in Illuminations. It opposes the idea of telling a story with the 'literary' novel - that's a horrible reduction of a complex argument - but anyway. That's the one I meant. And for the record, I can't stand any of Winton's books. I don't care how well he writes, the content varies only between tedium and being downright objectionable. La. Christos was robbed.

Jodi

Pavlov's Cat said...

FXH -- got it. Jodi, thanks -- I think it's the same one, but I'll check to make sure.

I don't find Winton's writing tedious, though I'd far rather read Amanda Lohrey or Helen Garner or Kate Grenville and that's just staying in Australia. The first seven or eight pages of Breath literally took my, erm, breath away, not just because of its pace and drama and clarity, or because of the interesting stuff about the adrenalin rush addiction, but also because Winton really did seem to me to be branching out, with this fantastic damaged character getting his hands bloody in daily dramas and tragedies. So I was bitterly disappointed when the 50-year-old paramedic started reminiscing about bloody surfing, yet again,and continued to do so for the rest of the book.

And that's quite apart from the deeply weird representation of women in Winton's work, which goes back a long way but seems to be getting worse as he gets older. The absent woman in The Riders is a wicked child-abandoner and man-upsetter, and there's a woman in The Turning who has a conversion to Christianity while she's being raped, something I don't trust myself to discuss. And now someone named for the wicked apple-eater who converts an innocent boychild to a sexual practice that no woman I've ever met or heard of (and I'm 56 and have met and heard of lots of women over the years) has ever had the remotest interest in.

Suze said...

When I read Breath, I could see that it was beautifully written, especially the teenage introspection and the surfing scenes, but it left me cold - and that's leaving aside Eva's sexual behaviour, which I think is a fabrication, deeply inauthentic in a book which cares about being authentic.
When I read The Slap, I found it a page-turner - I wanted to know what happened next. But I thought some of it was badly written, especially the initial long barbecue scene. And I thought it was a man's book - I very much agree with Lizzy that there was a "narratorial complicity" with the male characters. Tsiolkas has his eye on men all the way through - even in the scenes between the girlfriends, there are descriptions of male bodies (ie the waiters, the bar staff).
If we're talking TV adaptations, The Slap would be a soap opera - a hipper version of Neighbours.

Anonymous said...

Having now read all these comments about the content of Breath - which needless to say I never even considered buying due to previously stated opinion - I feel utterly vindicated in my opinion of Winton. Auto-erotic asphyxiation indeed. And, Ms Pavlov, I stand by my judgement of tedious. Surfing. Bah. And now I shall bow out and mark another paper on the Duchess of Malfi. Which may be the real source of the spleen. No, it's not. It's bloody Tim silly Winton.

Jodi

Pavlov's Cat said...

Ah yes, the Duchess: treachery and apricots and lumpy scansion. I remember it well. Poor old whatsername, plotted against at every turn.

Suze, I wouldn't have gone for The Slap either, much as it is new and challenging and full of life, and I agree with much you say about Tsiolkas, including that Winton is the better stylist. I would have liked to see The Good Parents win it, or Vertigo or The Spare Room.

Anonymous said...

The terrible temptress'Eva' is bad enough, but what really gets my goat is the even more overnamed surfer protagonist, Vic-Tim. Pshaw!

-Anita

nico said...

I loved Breath but I also loved The Spare Room and cannot comprehend why the latter wasn't longlisted.

I agree with everything you say in this post!

Michael W said...

Lovely post Kerryn, not least because I agree with you!

A brief rant of my own, inspired by that infuriating Morag Fraser/Radio National interview:
Fraser's claim that "if you were to look down the MF list since it was inaugurated in 1957... there's a very very strong representation of women" is laughable. Amongst previous winners (50 of them, given the award was not presented on 3 separate occasions), the award has been presented to women a paltry 13 times. Of those, on 3 occasions the prize was shared between two winners (to make sure a man got a look in). Allowing for multiple wins (Jessica Anderson, Thea "the forgotten four-time-winner" Astley) only nine different women have ever won the award.

Barely a "very very strong representation".

But as you so eloquently put it Kerryn, the galling thing isn't even the authors' genders; it's the enduringly male narratives that are privileged by this increasingly irrelevant award.

Anyone fancy stumping up for an Australian Orange Prize?

Sue T said...

Oh well said Michael about the forgotten Thea. I hadn't and realised that there was a good chance she'd be equalled this year. I was sad to see her feat equalled - if only because that will just help her along the road to obscurity - and then even sadder to see some commenters out there discount her wins as being equal to Winton's four because, after all, two of hers were shared!

Anonymous said...

If we can rant - the Miles Franklin has always seemed suspect to me since Hannie Rayson was nominated for her 2000 play 'Life After George' - and the lit pages seriously debated if she qualified for the prize because a play apprently wasn't a 'literary' work. Tell it to Miles Franklin, I say. I believe the terms of the bequest nominate either a play OR a novel, do they not? And yet that is the only time I recall there being a play in the mix. Strange, indeed.

Jodi

Pavlov's Cat said...

Jodi, yes, they do. An awful lot of rubbish about the Miles makes its way into public discourse, for reasons I don't entirely understand. Any Aust Lit scholar or entry-level Googler can find out, or can tell you, the facts. But people persist in not checking.

Michael W said...

Similarly, Nam Le's excellent debut, The Boat, seems like an oversight for longlisting based on its status as a short story collection.

Franklin's exact wording only ruled out 'musical comedy or farce', so one can fairly safely rule out any books about the prize's history.

Pavlov's Cat said...

Michael, I wondered about that too. Are you sure short stories are eligible? There's also the consideration that many -- most? -- of the stories in The Boat have international settings and themes, IIRC, which may have counted for something if the book was considered otherwise eligible. But strictly off the top of my head, I don't think a collection of short stories has ever won or been shortlisted. I know this isn't true of at least one of the Premier's Prizes, though.

Michael W said...

Le's first and last stories alone, for me, irrevocably celebrate the author's Australian perspective and worldview more than enough to be seen as reflecting certain phases of Australian life. The Australian-set story in the middle only furthers this.

That said, ultimately I think that the book's emphasis on embracing a range of voices and world views is its main drive, and as such it's an easy candidate for ineligibility under the Australianness clause.

As for short stories, I've just double-checked and it seems my recollection was wrong. I thought the terms were 'work of the greatest literary merit' but the current entry form phrases the terms as follows:

The prize is directed to be awarded for the novel of the year which is of the highest literary merit and which must present Australian life in any of its phases.

If there is no novel worthy of the prize in the opinion of the judges, then the Award may be given, at the discretion of the judges, to the author of a play for either stage, radio or
television or other such mediums as may develop, but not for
farce or musical comedy.


Hence the absence of plays amongst previous winners: that's only the backup plan. I must double-check the will, but assuming the Trust is faithfully reproducing the terms, that's fairly unequivocal. No short stories.

The novel the novel the novel.
(And if you read the same fine print as the judges it's only the male, rural, historical, anglo novel.)

lucy tartan said...

Michael W, John Hinde stumped up for the Barbara Jefferis Award. Which isn't quite equivalent to the Orange Prize, but for practical purposes it might as well be. In the current climate.

Pavlov's Cat said...

Let us not forget the excellent decision in 2007 when the Miles F went to Alexis Wright for her extraordinary novel Carpentaria. But by and large I agree that the winners over the last ten or fifteen years run depressingly true to the type sketched here by Michael W.

Pavlov's Cat said...

An unedifying conversation with a fundamentalist Christian seeking to convert me (and from the so-called Good News Bible, too; ew) has been removed from this comments thread. Any further comments from that person will be likewise removed.

Felicity said...

It strikes me that some novels by women are disadvantaged even by their publishers. I'm thinking here of my friend Wendy James, whose second novel, _The Steele Diaries_ which I enjoyed even more than her very positively reviewed first, _Out of the Silence_ has had, in my opinion far less attention that it deserves, and was in the field for this years MF. Its cover is really pretty off-putting, suggestive of marketing that sees novels-for-women as a lower life form, identified by their sappy covers with images of wistful beauties gazing into the middle distance. I also loved _Vertigo_; found it far more subtle than either _The Slap_ of _Breath_. Related question: what's sex got to do with it? Most of the straight men in _The Slap_ seem ridiculously stunted and unimaginative to me. Is that the point -- i.e. is this a critique within the novel? Somehow I don't think so. I find it depressing that these much-praised works are devoid of a more imaginative eroticism, and attract epithets like 'daring' anyway.