The Golden Age where children are gold

Golden AgeIn lists of best recent books Joan London’s The Golden Age (Vintage/Random House Australia) has featured as stand-out Australian fiction, alongside Ceridwen Dovey’s  (Hamish Hamilton/Penguin) Only the Animals. I had already read Only the Animals and just had to read The Golden Age to see what the fuss is about.

http://blog.boomerangbooks.com.au/holidays-the-chance-to-read-short-fiction-poetry-ya/2014/12

Joan London has written a reflective narrative set mainly in 1954 about children who are recovering from polio in a Perth convalescent home. The sprawling house where they are cared for, the Golden Age, with its verandah, corridors and wards for Boys and Girls, is as powerful a building as Tim Winton’s house in Cloudstreet.Cloudstreet

The children almost seem to be on an educational holiday camp, with diverse company, activities and good food and care. Those who stayed for Christmas ‘seemed much happier than those who returned at bedtime, exhausted, silent, distant and alone’. The Golden Age becomes a microcosmic utopia or refuge – for a time – outside the children’s own often-difficult lives, an irony considering their precarious, damaged health and mobility.

The children tell their ‘onset’ and other stories: Elsa collapsed riding her bike home after tennis, Ann Lee needs to recover and walk after her failure to water the thirsting brumbies. Thirteen-year-old Frank Gold comes from a musical family, writes poetry and loves Elsa. His Hungarian migrant experience parallels that of some refugees whose arrival in Australia is almost as fraught as their past. Frank’s first Australian Christmas is spent in a polio hospital. And, like returned servicemen, the children often feel displaced when they go home.

Hanging GardenChild protagonists are powerful yet often unnoticed in literary fiction. They shine in Patrick White’s The Hanging Garden, Yann Martel’s Life of Pi and much of Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch (note the ‘gold’ in the title). The Golden Age continues this trend and it is also part of a cache of recent important novels about children which feature gold as a symbol and in their titles. These include Sonya Hartnett’s Golden Boys

https://twitter.com/joylawn1/status/521161281097592834 and Ursula Dubosarsky’s poignant YA novel, The Golden Day. Gold is clearly a powerful motif in literature and is intrinsically linked with children. Children are gold.Golden Day

Joan London’s other novels are Gilgamesh, which won the Age Book of the Year for Fiction in 2002 and was long-listed for both the International IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and the Orange Prize and The Good Parents, which won the 2009 Christina Stead Prize for fiction. Her two awarded short story collections, Sister Ships and Letters to Constantine have been published in one volume, The New Dark Age.

New Dark Age

Holidays – the chance to read: short fiction, poetry, YA …

Only the AnimalsThe Christmas holidays are most likely your best chance in the year to read. If your family or close friends aren’t as keen as you, send them off on other pursuits – the Sydney Festival if you’re in NSW (or even if not); bush walks, tennis or whitewater rafting; the beach; the movies, especially moonlit ones … Or better still, join them doing those fun things but make sure they also have a book to read when you just can’t keep yourself out of one for a minute longer.

I am about to read some more short fiction – there are so many great collections around at the moment – starting with Springtime by Michelle de Kretser and then The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher by Hilary Mantel and The Strange Library by Huraki Murakami. I was fortunate to go to a launch of Only the Animals by South-African born, Australian author, Ceridwen Dovey (Hamish Hamilton, Penguin Books) earlier in the year and so have already read this original work which is exceptional across short and long fiction. The conceit of telling each short story from the viewpoint of animal souls and their engagement with important times in history as well as with significant writers, such as Franz Kafka, J.M Coetzee, Virginia Woolf and Julian Barnes, is inspired. And the writing is brilliant. Ceridwen is a star and her book cover is the best of the year.A Rightful Place

In non-fiction, Noel Pearson’s Quarterly Essay, A Rightful Place (Black Inc) is my standout. In fact, it’s essential reading to glean some understanding of our original peoples, written by one of their representatives who understands the problems as well as possible ways forward. Pearson is also revered by a broad cross-section of Australians, particularly after his speech at Gough Whitlam’s funeral. Although divisive, many would regard him as a statesman.

Australian poetry is flourishing. I can only begin to list the 2014 crop but a few include Earth Hour by David Malouf (UQP), Sack by John Kinsella (Fremantle Press) and Poems 1957-2013 by Geoffrey Lehmann (UWAP) – reviewed here.

Cracks in the KingdomMy favourite young adult novels of the year include The Protected by Claire Zorn (UQP), Laurinda by Alice Pung (Black Inc), The Incredible Adventures of Cinnamon Girl by Melissa Keil (Hardie Grant Egmont) and Nona and Me by Clare Atkins (Black Inc). Jackie French in To Love a Sunburnt Country (HarperCollins) has opened my eyes again to an unknown part of Australia’s history. Incidentally, her novel for middle school (upper primary – junior secondary), Refuge recently co-won the children’s category of the Qld Literary Awards with Shaun Tan’s illustrated Rules of Summer.

And The Cracks in the Kingdom by Jaclyn Moriarty, which is the second in the ‘Colours of Madeleine’ trilogy and won the YA category of the Qld Literary Awards, is another of my 2014 Australian favourites.

Springtime

Qld Literary Awards vs Prime Minister’s Literary Awards

Coal CreekThe winners of the Qld Literary Awards and the PM Literary Awards are being announced on the same evening – Monday 8th December. You can follow the PM announcements live at ‪#PMLitAwards  or tune into ‪@APAC_ch648  at 7:15pm ‪http://on.fb.me/1pPELkt .

It is fantastic that both these awards exist. They include outstanding Australian books and their shortlists promote these titles as well as our valuable book industry. Their prize money is very different, with the PM winners receiving $80,000 each and the shortlisted authors receiving $5,000 – the amount the winners of the QLA receive.

These two awards also have some shortlisted books in common (keep in mind that the awards have different eligible voting periods, causing some books to be shortlisted in different years).

The books shortlisted in both awards are:

Fiction

The Narrow Road to the Deep North, Richard Flanagan (Vintage Australia)

Coal Creek, Alex Miller (Allen & Unwin)

Children’s Fiction ROS

Rules of Summer, Shaun Tan (Hachette)

 

Young Adult Fiction

The Incredible Here and Now, Felicity Castagna (Giramondo)

History

Broken Nation: Australians in the Great War, Joan Beaumont (Allen & Unwin)

The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka, Clare Wright (Text Publishing)

There are no overlaps in the non-fiction and poetry categories, with strong, diverse contenders in both.

The Qld Literary Awards has some extra categories:

University of Southern Queensland Australian Short Story Collection – Steele Rudd Award

Letters to George Clooney, Debra Adelaide (Pan Macmillan Australia)

The Promise, Tony Birch (UQP)

An Elegant Young Man, Luke Carman (Giramondo Publishing)

Only the Animals, Ceridwen Dovey (Penguin Australia)

Holiday in Cambodia, Laura Jean McKay (Black Inc. Books)

Letter to George Clooney

Unpublished Indigenous Writer – David Unaipon Award

There is no shortlist for this category; the winner of the award will be announced at the Awards Ceremony on Monday 8 December.

Emerging Queensland Writer – Manuscript Award

3 for a Wedding, Julie Kearney

We Come From Saltwater People, Cathy McLennan

Open Cut, Leanne Nolan

And the People’s Choice Awards …

As a judge of the Griffith University Children’s Book Award, I would like to particularly mention our shortlist

Big Red KangarooRefuge, Jackie French (Harper Collins Publishers)

The Ratcatcher’s Daughter, Pamela Rushby (Harper Collins Publishers)

Nature Storybooks: The Big Red Kangaroo, Claire Saxby and Graham Byrne (Walker Books Australia)

Rules of Summer, Shaun Tan (Hachette Australia)

Smooch and Rose, Samantha Wheeler (UQP)

As it turned out, our top books are a combination of novels and illustrated works; from Qld, national, established and emerging creators; and include a non-fiction book, The Big Red Kangaroo, which is also a work of art.

The YA judges have also produced an excellent list

Griffith University Young Adult Book Award

Zac & Mia, A.J Betts (Text Publishing)

The Incredible Here and Now, Felicity Castagna (Giramondo Publishing)

The Accident, Kate Hendrick (Text Publishing)

Tigerfish, David Metzenthen (Penguin Australia)

The Cracks in the Kingdom, Jaclyn Moriarty (Pan Macmillan Australia)

The 2014 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards shortlists in full are at http://arts.gov.au/shortlists

And I’ve previously written more about the PM awards at http://blog.boomerangbooks.com.au/more-about-the-2014-prime-ministers-literary-awards/2014/10

Staff from the State Library of Queensland (also the venue hub of the BWF)  have taken over the administration of the QLA awards for the first time this year and have done a brilliant job. The awards had been coordinated by an extraordinary committee of volunteers for the past few years since the Qld Premier’s Literary Awards were axed by Campbell Newman’s government. The SLQ has also sponsored the poetry award and some Qld Universities such as the University of Queensland, Griffith University and the University of Southern Queensland, have also stepped in to sponsor awards. Enormous thanks to them all.

Congratulations to all of the shortlisted authors and to the winners of both these awards. We will know the outcome soon!

Incredible Here and Now