The Melbourne Book Festival—which will this year feature over 400 writers—opens this Friday. The highlight of opening night is the ceremony for the annual Miles Franklin Literary Award, given to the best Australian novel published in the past year. The prize has been given every year since 1957, when Australian writer Miles Franklin, one of the country’s most famous novelists, passed away and endowed the award in her will. The prize is currently maintained by the estate of Miles Franklin and investment group Perpetual.
The announced shortlist includes five writers: four of which are women and two are debut novelists. The following information has been pulled from the press release posted on Perpetual’s website.
Lucy Treloar, Salt Creek (Pan MacMillan)
Lucy Treloar has been lauded for her short fiction, including her story “Wrecking Ball,” which was included in the Best Australian Stories 2013. Salt Creek, Treloar’s debut novel, is set during the nineteenth century in an eponymous small village located in the remote, coastal region of South Australia. The area has opened up to graziers, including the once wealthy political activist Stanton Finch. The Finch family has fallen on hard times—cut off from the polite society they once knew, Stanton’s daughter Hester and her siblings befriend the few travellers that pass along the nearby stock route, as well as and members of the Ngarrindjeri people whose land they have encroached upon. A conflict will inevitably arise with Hester and her family caught in the middle.
Charlotte Wood, The Natural Way of Things (Allen & Unwin)
Described by the Australian as “one of our finest and most chameleonic writers,” Charlotte Wood is a veteran of the prize circuit. Certain of her five novels has been shortlisted for awards that include the Miles Franklin and the Christina Stead Prize for Fiction. In The Natural Way of Things, two women awaken from a drugged sleep to find themselves imprisoned in a broken-down property in the middle of nowhere. Strangers to each other, they have no idea where they are or how they came to be there. Eight other girls join them, and all are forced to wear strange uniforms, have their heads shaved, and are guarded by two inept yet vicious armed jailers, as well as the enigmatic ‘nurse’. Doing hard labor under a sweltering sun, the prisoners soon learn what macabre truth of what links them. They pray for rescue—but even the jailers, it seems, have become the jailed. The Natural Way of Things has also been published in the United States by Europa Editions.
Myfanwy Jones, Leap (Allen & Unwin)
Myfanwy Jones is the author of the novel The Rainy Season, shortlisted for The Melbourne Literary Prize in 2009. Leap is a urban fairytale about human and animal nature, and the transformative power of grief. There is Joe, who is driven by the need to atone for the neglect of a single tragic summer’s night. When a breathless girl turns up on his doorstep, it sets his world upside-down. On the other side of the city, graphic designer Elise watches as her marriage disintegrates. She retreats to the zoo where, for reasons she barely understands, she starts to sketch the captive tigers.
A.S. Patrić, Black Rock White City (Transit Lounge)
Black Rock White City is the debut by writer A. S. Patrić. During a hot Melbourne summer, Jovan is employed as janitor at a bayside hospital. His work is disrupted by acts of graffiti and increasing malevolence. For Jovan the mysterious words that must be cleaned away dislodge the poetry of the past: He and his wife Suzana were forced to flee Sarajevo and the death of their children. Black Rock White City tells a story of Australia’s contemporary suburbs, of displacement and immediate threat, and the unexpected responses of two refugees as they try to reclaim their dreams. Patrić’s previous publication was the short story collection Bruno Kramzer and The Rattler.
Peggy Frew, Hope Farm (Scribe)
Hope Farm is the second novel from Peggy Frew whose first novel, House of Sticks, won the 2010 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award. Hope Farm is a story about the broken bonds of childhood, and the enduring cost of holding back the truth. It is the winter of 1985: Hope Farm sticks out of the ragged landscape like a decaying tooth, its weatherboard walls sagging into the undergrowth. Silver’s mother, Ishtar, has fallen for the charismatic Miller, and the three of them have moved to the rural hippie commune to make a new start. At Hope, Silver finds unexpected friendship and, at last, a place to call home. But it is also here that, at just thirteen, she is thrust into an unrelenting adult world.