For a while there, I mostly avoided Australian fiction, fearing the characters would sound as if they’d stepped out of Kath and Kim. I was foolish, I know – I’d read some Tim Winton and Peter Cleary with enjoyment, so can only assume I’d had a bad experience once somewhere along the line.
But lately, I find myself constantly returning to and even looking forward to new fiction releases from our neighbours across the ditch. Here’s a round-up of some of the Australian novels I would particularly recommend.
The Dry by Jane Harper – a big hit last year for this debut author. The landscape is a big part of the story about a cop who returns to his home town for his friend’s funeral – a supposed murder/suicide case – and begins to investigate the killing of the man and his family. The ongoing drought drives the locals to the brink of desperation. A gripping and well-plotted whodunit.
Salt Creek by Lucy Trelour – The Finch family struggle with frontier life in the 1850s, their marginal farm, and encounters with the Aboriginal tribe who once used their land. The patriarch of the family seems to ruin everything he attempts while eldest daughter, Hester, tries to hold her family together. Hester is an engaging narrator in a story that is both evocative and compelling.
Cicada by Moira McKinnon – Western Australia just after WWI provides the atmospheric setting in this debut tour de force. Two women, a landowner’s wife who has just given birth and her Aborigine maid, strike out across the barren landscape, fleeing for their lives. One of them is running from a murderer, the other accused of murder. And you’ll never guess what happens next. A total page-turner.
The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood – Ten women wake to find they are inmates at a derelict sheep station surrounded by a huge electric fence. They are stripped of the trappings of their past life and without any legal process, their future is uncertain. Their crime: being party to sex scandals with powerful men. A dystopian novel with a strong feminist message which is hard to put down.
The Trivia Man by Deborah O’Brien – A whimsically romantic novel about two unlikely people – forensic accountant Kevin, the trivia man of the title, who is a whizz at general knowledge but has never had a friend, and unlucky-in-love Maggie, who can’t forget her charismatic ex. The two meet at a trivia night but there are plenty of hurdles before a chance of happy ever after. Meanwhile the quiz questions keep coming.
The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion – About to be made into a movie, this book is a refreshing look at the dating scene from the point of view of Don Tillman, a genetics professor with a touch of Aspergers, looking for love in all the wrong places. Rosie is not his ideal match – she smokes, is always late and works as a waitress. The two are thrown together when Don helps Rosie find her biological father with one hilarious scene after another. Sometimes you just need a funny book.
An Isolated Incident by Emily Maguire – What begins like a crime novel turns out to be an astute look at people’s craving for media reports surrounding the death of pretty young girls. Bella is only 25 when she is discovered brutally raped and murdered, throwing her sister, Chris, into a spiral of desolation and risk-taking. Journalist, May, will do anything to get her story and becomes more and more obsessed with the case. A smart, savvy novel with warts and all characters.
The Fifth Letter by Nicole Moriarty – Four friends on a weekend away drink too much one night and write anonymous letters sharing a secret they couldn’t normally reveal. But one of them writes, and thinks she has destroyed, a fifth letter full of spite and hate, which our narrator, insecure Joni, accidentally discovers. Eventually everything comes out of the wood-work but can their friendship ever recover?
The Starlings by Vivienne Kelly – A novel set in 1980s Melbourne about a family falling apart following the death of Nicky Starling’s grandmother Didie. Not that Didie was much loved, which is part of the problem. Loyalties are torn as grandpa falls for Didie’s nurse and Nicky’s mother becomes more unhappy in her marriage. Told in eight-year-old Nicky’s voice, who is brilliant company, this was probably my favourite book of 2017.