Undercover: dystopias, powerful women and other literary trends

Clade by James Bradley.
Shanghai night field

The World Without Us by Mireille Juchau.

Clade by James Bradley.

The World Without Us by Mireille Juchau.

Clade by James Bradley.

The World Without Us by Mireille Juchau.

LITERARY TRENDS

No one plans it like this, but patterns leap out in any publishing season. Last year produced a disturbing number of Australian novels about domestic violence and child abuse, the best including Sofie Laguna’s Miles Franklin winner The Eye of the Sheep, and Sonya Hartnett’sGolden Boys, which was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin and many others. Helen Garner’sThis House of Grief, also tackles the theme as true crime and last week won the Ned Kelly crime-writing award for non-fiction. This year looks like a year of dystopian literary novels. At least two Australian novels are inspired by climate change, Clade by James Bradley and The World Without Us by Mireille Juchau, both with covers showing the bees we are losing. Two others examine the state of male-female relationships in grim but wildly creative fables – The Wonder Lover by Malcolm Knox and The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood, coming out in October. It’s early to make predictions about next year’s literary awards but you will hear more about the powerhouse novels by women including Juchau and Wood, A Guide to Berlin by Gail Jones, The Other Side of the World by Stephanie Bishop, The Landing by Susan Johnson and – still to come – The Women’s Pages by Debra Adelaide, The Secret Chord by Geraldine Brooks and A Few Days in the Country, a short story collection by Elizabeth Harrower; plus debuts such as Salt Creek by Lucy Treloar and Rush Oh! by filmmaker Shirley Barrett.

BRING BACK THESE BOOKS

Who has heard of Helen de Guerry Simpson, the Australian author of an acclaimed historical novel, Under Capricorn, that was filmed by Alfred Hitchcock? I’m sorry to say I hadn’t until I read the September fiction issue of Australian Book Review, in which 15 writers and critics name the “missing novels” they think should be better known. Debra Adelaide singles out Simpson’s 1932 novel Boomerang for its ironic voice and wry dramatisation of parochial life. Geraldine Brooks backs another book I don’t know – Thorskald​ by Tony Morphett, who is best known for television writing and young adult fiction. Brooks read his 1969 story of an Australian artist as a teenager but it is long out of print. Not only Australian books have faded: Rodney Hall wants to revive The House in Paris by British novelist Elizabeth Bowen; Andrea Goldsmith calls Of Human Bondage “perhaps the best novel of obsessive love ever written” though W. Somerset Maugham is out of fashion.

THE DISAPPEARING SCIENCE-FICTION AWARDS

Something strange happened at the World Science Fiction Convention last weekend, when the prestigious Hugo Awards were announced and no award was given in five categories including best short story and best novella. Reports say the “Sad Puppies” and “Rabid Puppies”, groups of disaffected SF fans, had forced the Hugos to include on the voting ballot works that were popular with readers rather than just with “acceptable [left-wing] politics” or “the right publishing house”. Voters preferred to withhold awards. ​George R. R. Martin, creator of Game of Thrones, complained that rather than trying to take over the Hugos the Sad Puppies could start their own awardS “for Best Conservative SF, or Best Space Opera, or Best Military SF, or Best Old-Fashioned SF the Way It Used to Be”. Despite the schism, 12 awards were given and the best novel award went to Cixin Liu for The Three-Body Problem.