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Clarion South Recommended Reads Part II: Malouf, Egan, Turner, and Williams

Yesterday I talked generally about teaching at Clarion South and shared the book recommendations of two students, Tracy Meszaro and Amanda Le Bas de Plumetot. What I didn't touch on is the ongoing debate about the essential uniqueness of Australian literature. For decades, there's been a tension between the perceived need to write fiction that conforms to some kind of standard familiar to the United Kingdom and the United States--in a sense literally writing for readers in those countries--and the need to not be bound by that constraint. There's sometimes a kind of assumption among Australian writers I talk to that they need to strip out local referants to be of interest to a larger audience. This isn't exactly a moot point. For one thing, the market for fiction in Australia is much smaller--Australia has a population of only 21,000,000, which is about 12,000,000 less than Canada. (To put that in further context, over 10,000,000 people live in and around New York City.)

I've also heard skepticism based on the idea of Australia having a majority population raised with a British heritage and a landscape similar to that of the United States in its size and frontier mentality. Just how different can such writing be from the rest of the English-speaking world?

This argument I'm not sure I buy. I think the unique particulars of the Australian landscape, and an isolation even more profound than that of the United States during its early days, contributes to a uniqueness that is also nurtured by its own role in and memory of major world events. Add to this the increasing influence of the Pacific Rim and the growing acceptance of aboriginal themes, along with the increasing presence of non-white immigrants, and I think writers and readers can see a blueprint for an even more differentiated Australian literature.

More tomorrow about books that haven't yet been published in the U.S. and U.K. but should...In the meantime, here are some more recommendations by Clarion South students, in their own words...

 Lisa Bennett:

An Imaginary Life by David Malouf is a fictional telling of Ovid's life in exile in the first century A.D. The urbane poet, Ovid, is banished from imperial Rome and is  forced to survive with the Scythians on the frozen shores of the Black Sea. While there, Ovid encounters a Wild Boy and forms an alliance with him that is life-changing for both man and boy. Malouf's poetic prose is breathtaking, and his exploration of the collision between civilisation and nature makes this novel unforgettable.

The Complete Stories by David Malouf. Last year, this collection of Malouf's shorter works won the inaugural Prime Minister's Literary Award in Australia. In short, it is a near-perfect collection of stories. Spanning over twenty years of Malouf's formidable publishing career, this compilation is a devastatingly authentic examination of what it means to be human. These are tales of men and women, boys and girls, all coming of age in post-War Australia, all feeling the force chance has upon their lives, and all learning to cope with the weight of history in the present.

Aidan Doyle:

Distress by Greg Egan is packed with mind-expanding ideas. As usual with Greg Egan's work, the science can sometimes be hard to read, but in terms of sense of wonder, Egan is hard to match.

The Sea and Summer (US Title - The Drowning Towers)  by George Turner is a character-driven novel that looks at a future Melbourne. The city has been partially submerged by rising sea levels. Society is strictly segregated and the main character tries to join the privileged elite.

Saturn Returns by Sean Williams is the first in the Astropolis space opera trilogy. The story moves along at a fast pace, has interesting mysteries and some great ideas about future technology (e.g people are able to "overclock" themselves).


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