Australian literature has carved its own niche, as something about the vast sun-baked land fringed with water evokes something powerful in our novelists. Australian writers have always featured strong characters, strong visual imagery and a connection with the people and the land. Below are 10 of the best Australian modern novels that will transport you to a different world.
The Slap – Christian Tsiolkas
At a suburban Melbourne backyard barbeque, a man slaps a child who isn’t his own. The act reverberates through the lives of the eight people present, and explores the life of a close-knit Greek family and all the loyalties that come along with it. It presents a very gritty, down-to-earth look on the life of European-Australians. Not all the characters are terribly likeable, but they sure are relatable. Each character in the novel has his or her flaws, and it’s the eclectic mix of race, class, relationships and morals that brings together a brittle story of raw emotions. Tsiolkas says his characters’ flaws reflect those he hates within Australia – the ungratefulness, the constant complaining, the material dissatisfaction and the prejudice towards migrants.
Jasper Jones – Craig Silvey
Silvey has certainly done the landscape of Australian literature justice with this novel, which is set in a rural Western Australia in the ’60s, amid events such as the Vietnam War, when racism is rife in the country. Charlie Buckton is awoken one night when the town’s token Indigenous troublemaker, Jasper Jones, knocks on his window and asks for his help. What follows is a series of events that leaves book-loving Charlie with the ability to see past his town’s narrow-minded prejudices, and with a better perception of what makes a person good.
Big Little Lies – Liane Moriarty
Although the big-screen version of this story is told from California, the original novel takes place on the northern beaches of Sydney. An Australian ‘whodunnit’ mystery that takes place in a tranquil but wealthy beachside town. Moriarty perfectly captures kindergarten politics going awry when someone ends up dead at the annual trivia night. The book moves at a hand-clenching pace, and draws you behind the scenes to the homes of some frustrated and deceitful characters. Moriarty’s writing style is laid-back but visual, which makes the novel a gripping read.
Breath – Tim Winton
No one writes the Australian landscape quite like revered Australian author Tim Winton. He breathes life into the gumtrees, puts the azure into the ocean and the backstory is limitlessly beautiful, darkly exhilarating and a raw look into the lives of two sun-soaked, salt-crusted adolescents falling too fast into their coming-of-age. Set in a small sleepy town in the Great Southern Region of Western Australia, Winton depicts the atmosphere so well, you can feel the sun on your face and the salt on your lips.
Saving Francesca – Melina Marchetta
It’s difficult enough being a 16-year-old girl starting high school at what was previously an all-boys school, more difficult with a large, meddling Italian family, and the most difficult when one day your mother can’t get out of bed. Francesca Spinelli finds herself holding everything together for her younger brother and father at home, while barely being able to hold herself together among the young patriarchy of her new school. Marchetta really gets her finger on the pulse of teenage frustration and angst, and Francesca herself is an interesting insight into the heartbreaking responsibilities teens sometime heap upon themselves in the midst of their own problems.
Tomorrow, When the War Began – John Marsden
If you’re looking for a series that will keep you entrenched into the stories of the six Australian rebels taking on an army you finish the seven books in less than a week – John Marsden’s Tomorrow When The War Began is it. While it’s classified as Young Adult, it is really for every age. Ellie is an Australian teenager living in a rural ranching district called Wirrawee, and after returning from a camping trip with seven of her friends to find Australia has been invaded, and their families are captive, their homes destroyed and a single faxed warning reading ‘go bush’. Not ones to step down, the novel follows their covert raids, supplies, rescue missions, and guerrilla attacks across enemy lines, while trying to figure out the line between good and evil.
The Dry – Jane Harper
Exploding onto the literary scene in 2016, Harper writes a razor-sharp story of crime and loyalty, set in the brutality of the Australian bush. Australian Federal Police agent Aaron Faulk returns to his hometown after 20 years to solve the murder of his closest childhood friend amid the worst draught in a century. While he deals with the isolation, small-town gossip, and faces the truth of his past, the pace builds into a fantastic stomach-twisting finale that will leave you closing the novel wide-eyed.
Last Woman Hanged – Caroline Overington
Caroline Overington is an award-winning journalist and acclaimed Aussie author, and her novels can always be relied on for their historical accuracies. Set in 1889, the book follows Louisa Collins, a 41-year-old mother of 10 children, the first woman hanged at Darlinghurst Gaol and the last woman hanged in New South Wales. Louisa’s two husbands both died from arsenic poisoning, but Louisa maintained her innocence until her last breath on the gallows. It’s a sad but realistic insight into the patriarchal society of colonial Australia, an unjust legal system and the struggles of poor settlers.
The Rosie Project – Graeme Simpson
A witty and honest view into the mindset of Don Tillman, an autistic and highly intelligent genetics scientist who has decided it’s time to settle down and take a wife, and designs a 16-page Wife Project. The novel is written in the first person and allows us to see what Don himself cannot: the puzzling effect he has on those around him. When he meets Rosie, an eccentric and unpredictable bartender, his world is thrown upside down. I assure you that after reading this book, you’ll never perceive autism in the same way again.