More about the 2014 Prime Minister’s Literary Awards

PureheartIt is commendable that recent Prime Ministers have continued the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards even though, as with some other literary prizes, its future has often seemed under threat. It is a prestigious national award amongst the also-important state and other literary prizes. And it is lucrative, with winners receiving $80 000 and shortlisted authors $5 000 – the latter amount equal to winners’ prize money in some other awards.

The complete shortlist is listed here: http://www.pm.gov.au/media/2014-10-19/2014-prime-ministers-literary-awards-shortlists-0

I’d like to make some additional comments on some categories and specific titles.

It is excellent to see that poetry has its own category here, as in other awards. There is a thriving Australian poetry community and publishing output that readers might not be aware of. As a starting point, explore the Thomas Shapcott Prize, an annual award for emerging Qld poets, which reminds us of the exquisite poetry and prose of venerable Shapcott himself.

The fiction category includes the delightful Fiona McFarlane’s The Night Guest (Penguin: Hamish Hamilton), which may have been shortlisted for as many recent awards as Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the Deep North (Vintage). Australian writers and readers are still celebrating his well-deserved Man Booker Prize win, almost as though we won it ourselves. Moving Among Strangers

Gabrielle Carey’s Moving Among Strangers (UQP) about Randolph Stow and her family appears in the non-fiction category. I chaired a session with Gabrielle at the BWF several years ago and was interested then to hear about her research on this important Australian poet and novelist.

Merry Go Round in the Sea

Shortlisted in the history category, Clare Wright has been scooping awards for The Forgotten Rebels of Eureka (Text Publishing). She is also a knowledgeable and entertaining conversationalist.

The Young Adult fiction shortlist deservedly emulates some other YA awards, affirming Melissa Keil’s debut, Life in Outer Space (Hardie Grant Egmont), The First Third by Will Kostakis (Penguin) and The Incredible Here and Now by Felicity Castagna (Giramondo). It is great to see Simmone Howell’s edgy Girl Defective (Pan Macmillan) and Cassandra Golds’ groundbreaking Pureheart (Penguin) included. But where is Fiona Wood’s Wildlife (Pan Macmillan), which won this year’s CBCA award for Older Readers?

I have blogged about some of these books here: http://blog.boomerangbooks.com.au/what-will-win-ya-book-of-the-year/2014/07

Most State Awards have a children’s category, although it is inexplicably missing in the Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards. Children’s books are the foundation of our publishing industry – and keep it afloat. If our children are not encouraged to read, who will buy and read books in the future? How literate will Australia be? Most of the PM children’s shortlist has been appearing on shortlists across the country this year, reinforcing the quality of these books. Barry Jonsberg’s My Life as an Alphabet (Allen & Unwin) has been straddling both the children’s and YA categories. This, as well as Kissed by the Moon by Alison Lester (Puffin) and Rules of Summer by Shaun Tan (Hachette) have already won notable awards. It is great to see Julie Hunt’s original fantasy, Song for a Scarlet Runner (Allen & Unwin) appearing on yet another shortlist and Bob Graham, Australia’s world-class author-illustrator, has done it again with his latest picture book, Silver Buttons (Walker Books).Song for a Scarlet Runner

The Snow Kimono

Snow KimonoA buzz has been building about Australian author Mark Henshaw’s long awaited second novel after Out of the Line of Fire. The Snow Kimono (Text) is a literary psychological thriller set in Japan and France. Insights into both those countries shape the contours, ridges and atmosphere of the novel. Paris is wet and snowy and its streets and iconic buildings are lit with fireworks and the elements. Japan is elusive and mystical, with bamboo, bridges over water and the sounds of frogs, the slow tock, tock, tock of the water clock, the strings of a shamisen in a night garden. It is also a place of snow, birthing the snow kimono.

A retired French police inspector, Auguste Jovert, receives a letter, has an accident and meets Tadashi Omura, a former lawyer from Japan. Omura begins the story of Fumika, the girl he pretended was his daughter and, over the course of the novel, relates the story of his inconceivable life. Japan, and some of its secrets, is vividly revealed to us through a Parisian prism.

Jigsaw puzzles are a tantalising symbol. Omura’s father loved the ancient tradition of jigsaws where each piece is unique and designed to deceive – to make the puzzle more difficult. He owned rare, antique puzzles made from exotic wood with inlays of precious materials. The best had infinite or contradictory solutions. Omura explains, In our tradition, how a puzzle is made, and how it is solved, reveals some greater truth about the world… Puzzles are objects of contemplation.

The lie behind Omura’s life unfolds like the exquisite mirror-scope that he constructs for Fumika to see the flying kites. We learn of his brilliant, devious friend, Katsuo who is about to be released from prison and whose past life shadowed Omura’s own. Katsuo is an author who mimicked his friends’ and acquaintances’ mannerisms, almost imprinting them onto himself, as well as conjoining them into his writing. He demanded stories be told to him again and again, craved power over people and displayed controlled patience.

The kimono is an alluring motif. The snow kimono was made by Sachiko’s grandmother and becomes hers when she moves to inscrutable Mr Ishiguro’s house. She is one of a number of characters who feature in the story. The clever narrative is structured into parts, showcasing major characters such as Jovert, Omura and Katsuo, as well as the females whose lives intertwine with theirs – Sachiko, Fumika, Natsumi, Mariko and Martine.

I would highly recommend The Snow Kimono to readers of Haruki Murakami’s style of literary fiction. It is likely to appear Colorless Tsukuru Tazakion upcoming Australian award shortlists.