Friday, March 15, 2013

Reading from the Stella Prize Longlist

The Stella Prize is a new major literary award for Australian women’s writing.

The Stella Prize celebrates Australian women’s contribution to literature. Named after one of Australia’s most important female authors, Stella Maria ‘Miles’ Franklin (1879–1954), the prize rewards one writer with a significant monetary prize of $50,000.

At the end of last month Marg posted the Stella Prize longlist - sadly the library only has three of them but all were on the shelf so I brought them home , had a 'Stella week' and here are a few brief thoughts on each.

 Questions of Travel by Michelle de Kretser

 Two side-by-side narratives.

Laura is an Australian who after an unhappy childhood uses the inheritance she receives from an aunt to to travel the world. Eventually she returns to Sydney and works for a publisher of travel guides.

Ravi grows up and marries in Sri Lanka but after tragedy strikes he is forced to leave and seek asylum in Australia.

Spanning the decades from the 1970's to the 2000's it is a story of love and loss......and travel. With gorgeous descriptions of foreign places, Australia, Sri Lanka, London and Naples it doesn't ignore the less exciting realities ......long waits for flights, drab hotels , the fleeting 'ships that pass in the night' friendships and the loneliness and yearning for home.
Beautiful, lyrical prose details not only the lives of two different people but explores big themes of our time - what it means to be an asylum seeker, tourism and the corporate world, the growth and influence of technology. Sometimes wickedly funny, sometimes incredibly sad it is enthralling reading and oh my!, the ending was so unexpected!

I loved it and predict it will make the shortlist.


Seahearts by Margo Lanagan aka The Brides of Rollrock Island

On remote Rollrock Island, the sea-witch Misskaella descovers she can draw a girl from the heart of a seal. So, for a price, a man might buy himself a bride; an irresistibly enchanting sea-wife. But what cost will be borne by the people of Rollrock.....

I had some doubts before I began reading - it's labelled YA, I have to be in the right mood for fantasy and it would be the third book I've read in the past few months that draws on one of my favourite folktales, the Selkies, for inspiration.
I shouldn't have worried. Margo Lanagan's writing is a joy to read and it didn't take long to fall under her spell. Told from several perspectives over a long period of time it is a dark, haunting tale of enchantment, desire, betrayals and revenge.


DNF - Sufficient Grace by Amy Espeseth

Ruth and her cousin live in rural Wisconsin, part of an isolated religious community. The girls' lives are ruled by the rhythms of nature and by their families beliefs. Beneath the surface of this closed frozen world, hidden dangers lurk.

"People on the land live close to the beginnings and endings of life. Death ain’t a scary thing that creeps in now and again in the night… We are people that raise, hunt and butcher.”
True but I don't want to read about it. The opening pages tell of a 13-year-old killing her first deer with a graphic description of the poor creature's death throes. I found it sickening and feared what was to come might be even worse. I read a little more and the biblical stuff I also didn't like so decided this book wasn't for me.

Looking around most of the comments seem to be positive so I'm probably in a minority of one.


  1. I know for a fact I would be put off by those awful descriptions too. I'm quite sensitive to the plight of animals and can't bear their suffering.

    I must look into Australian literature since I know next to nothing about it. I recently read Jill Ker Conway's autobiography about growing up in Australia and found it utterly fascinating from the get go. It really made me think about how there's a whole literary canon I've never been exposed to, but I don't know where to start. Any suggestions?

    1. I feel the same way and I thought it was an awful to begin a book.

      I suggest taking a look at - Lisa has a page of NZ & Australian 'Books You Must Read' and I'm sure you'll find something there that appeals.

    2. Can I be cheeky and also suggest the Australian Women Writers Challenge website to get a good mix of genres and taste!

    3. :-) of course you can, Marg. I visit that site regularly . I just hoped that Litlovers might lure Diana towards some NZ authors as well.

  2. I am so glad to see that you loved Margo Lanagan's book. Her writing is just so special! I heard Amy Espeseth read a scene from her book (it may well be the opening scene you mentioned) and decided it probably wasn't for me.

    It is my intention to read some more of the books once the shortlist is announced. Maybe I should get the de Kretser out now?

    1. I will recommend it! And I do hope it makes the shortlist. Some of the others look interesting too and I was disappointed they haven't reached our library yet.

      Margo Lanagan - magical writing and I must seek out more of her books.

    2. I highly recommend her short story collections. There is a short story called Singing My Sister Down that would be one of my favourite short stories ever! So moving! I need to read Tender Morsels still, which is her other novel.

    3. I've been checking the library catalogue and they have Tender Morsels and rwo of her short story collections so I will be definitely reading more.

  3. Love the sound of Questions of Travel, that's definitely something I would enjoy. Brides of Rollrock Island was already on my wishlist, so I'm pleased to see you liked it.