2009 Miles Franklin Award Preview


With the winner of the 2009 Miles Franklin Award to be announced on Thursday, Jason Steger takes a look at the contenders in "The Age".

The shortlist comprises:
The Pages by Murray Bail
Wanting by Richard Flanagan
Ice by Louis Nowra
The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas
Breath by Tim Winton

My tip is, and has been for a few months now, The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas, though I wouldn't be too surprised if Tim Winton picked up another Miles gong.


Tsoilkas should win it for having written Dead Europe alone! (although I like The Slap). If Winton wins it, I'll be sick. Delia Falconer has a point when she points out the lack of sophistication (not to mention taste) evidenced by Austalian readers' desire to spend big on YA novels marketed as adult literary fiction (ie. Silvey, Zuzack etc.) To me, Winton falls into this category, particularly with this book.

Not sure where the Falconer quote comes from but I wouldn't have thought that Winton's novel falls into anything close to YA.

I'm generally of the view that readers buy what they're interested in, what gives them value for money and what speaks to them as readers. Tsiolkas has sold a lot of copies of The Slap, as has Winton with Breath, and Garner with The Spare Room. Australian YA fiction sells well because it fits all the criteria that readers want. And just because they sell a lot doesn't necessarily imply that adults are doing all the reading of them. Maybe we should look at the sales as indicating more young adults and children are reading, which can only be applauded.

Sorry, couldn't cut in the link - whole article below. And my point is that these books are marketed not as YA, but as adult fiction (who could argue that more yoof reading is bad?). The boundaries might be arbitrary, and perhaps even dictated by sales (book club sales) but to me it's sad that these books appeal so much to adults (I will admit to a general prejudice against books written from a child's perspective.) No-one, however, can argue with your premise that 'if it's what the people want, give it to 'em.' It's what Rupert Murdoch made all his money from, dumbing down newspapers and television - FOX news is the result.

[The following review appeared in the May 2009 edition of "The Australian Literary Review".]


The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet: A Novel

By Reif Larsen

Harvill/Secker, 392pp, $34.95

Jasper Jones

By Craig Silvey

Allen & Unwin, 368pp, $29.99

IN a letter to Jonathan Franzen in 1989, David Foster Wallace was scathing about his own first novel, Broom, in which the heroine worried she might exist only as the character in a story. It felt, he wrote, as if it had been written "by a very smart 14-year-old".


Reading these two baggy novels, The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet and Jasper Jones, "authored" by adolescent boys, I found my mind jumping back to the Wallace profile. Twentysomething novelists Reif Larsen and Craig Silvey channel the voices of teenagers to deal with adult problems. This is a not unusual technique: many novels, such as Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird (which Jasper Jones cutely name-checks) are written powerfully from the perspective of the young.

But what is unusual about these two books, especially Larsen's, is their melding of self-conscious metafictional game-playing (riffs on popular culture, a capacious ambition, texts within texts) with a teenage voice into what their publishers are promoting as adult literary fiction.


Still, Silvey and Larsen might well be on the money in terms of sales. Adult readers seem to be gravitating more and more to young adult fiction (including the Harry Potter and Twilight franchises) that encourages them to identify with smart teens. Why this is the case, and whether it is cause for concern, are subjects for another day.

But what is troubling about The Selected Works of T. S. Spivet and Jasper Jones is the way they sit in an odd territory between young adult and adult. On the one hand they infantilise the maximalist urges of the contemporary novel, sacking its narrative devices as a bag of tricks for garnering attention. On the other, by projecting voices that sound less like boys and more like precocious 28-year-olds, they fall far short of conveying the genuine imaginative richness and insights of early teenhood, which the best young adult fiction does.

If we fall for this, we are selling both teenagers and the contemporary novel short.

For all their thematics of coming of age, these novels, wrapped up in narrative fizz, appear to be moving away from adult sanity, from that difficult task of having to decide what's useful and what isn't.


I'm barracking for Wanting...

Pete, I decided it best to excise the bulk of the Falconer review given it is copyright. A lot of it remains but, hopefully, only those parts that relate to your argument. If you feel I've wrecked the point you were trying to make please feel free to write and let me know. But also be aware that I may need to cut this further if requested by either the original author or publisher.

Thanks Perry - that's the bulk of the relevant area. As for me, while I acknowledge Winton has his fans, to me the bulk of his ouevre falls within YA, or at least indicates a kind of infantilised mythologising of Australian life - from the rascally character names of the cast of lovable rogues to the avoidance of darker themes to the romanticisation of the natural world as a kind of spritual healer - I think that these things result in a kind of feelgood fiction that basically tells Australians what they want to hear about themselves...

I am with Lisa and hoping that Wanting will win. However to be honest any of the other shortlisted novels would be preferable to The Slap.

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on June 15, 2009 1:30 PM.

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