Posted by: Lisa Hill | October 23, 2011

A Nobel Prize for Australia?

Yesterday as I started reading Brian Castro’s Drift, it crossed my mind that here was an author who should be in serious contention for the Nobel Prize in Literature.  I have not the faintest idea how authors get nominated, but based on the works of the Nobel Prize winning authors that I’ve read, I think that there are three authors writing in Australia today whose work the Nobel Prize Committee should know about.  They are Castro, Gerald Murnane and Ouyang Yu.

I’ve read two books by Castro: The Garden Book, and The Bath Fugues, (see my thoughts here); and I’ve read enough of Drift to know that it’s a very special book.  (Update 1.11.11, see my review here) Like the other two novels, it’s complex and daring but enormously rewarding.  Like Stu at Winston’s Dad I am interested in the direction that major literature awards are taking, and am an advocate for the need to make a space for books that are unrepentantly challenging and offer their readers the delight of reconstructing meaning in their own way.  Any other fan of James Joyce’s Ulysses would agree.

I had read barely a page of two of Drift before I realised where I had recently seen a similar sort of technique.  I’ve only read one book by Ouyang Yu (The English Class, see my thoughts here), but I went to the launch of Loose a little while ago, and I read a good bit of it over dinner while I was waiting for things to get started.  As with Drift I was soon chuckling over my pasta, flipping backwards and forwards over the pages to tie fragments of text together, groaning over the puns and wondering where this adventure might take me.  I put reluctantly put Loose aside because I was already reading other things at home and it must wait its turn, but I know I’m going to like it, and I know it’s a very classy book that belongs in my list of Nobel nominees. Update: See my review here).

I don’t imagine that there are any Australian academics who read this litblog, but if there were, I’m sure they would agree that Gerald Murnane deserves inclusion.  I’ve read two of his books, Inland and The Plains.  (See my thoughts here.) I have The Barley Patch waiting patiently on the TBR and I am saving it for when I have some uninterrupted lazy days in summer when I can lose myself in the swirling confusion of his claustrophobic landscapes.  I am so grateful to Sydney University Press for sending me a review copy of his work that enabled me to discover this amazing author! (Update 2012: see now my reviews of Tamarisk Row and A History of Books).

Why aren’t there any women in my list?  The only one I can think of is Beverly Farmer but I have read only A Body of Water (see my thoughts here) and know too little about her other work to be sure.  Could Alexis Wright be a possibility?  I’ve only read Carpentaria so far, so again, I don’t know if she has a body of work substantial enough to count.  (Though Elias Canetti only wrote one novel, see here).

Are there other Australian authors whose body of work warrants nomination using the criteria I’ve used?


Thanks to Deane, who in comments below has brought to my attention that there are influential voices nominating Murnane.  The article at the Dalkey Archive is an excellent analysis of Murnane’s body of work, and includes this snippet:

The Swedish critic Karin Hansson, one of an influential group of professors and translators who have argued for Murnane to win the Nobel Prize, has stated that “like Husserl and other phenomenologists he considers the study of the potentialities and functions of consciousness, mind, and memory as a primary task in his writing. His attention is directed towards cognitive processes rather than demonstrating the veracity of external conditions.”   Dalkey Archive

Another who agrees with me is at Nicholas Burns at Antipodes Journal.


  1. Interesting question Lisa. I see you haven’t included David Malouf in your list. I think he has to be there too really.

    As for women, I’ve read bit of Beverly Farmer, and like her, but I’m not sure that her fiction is of the type and style you’re talking about. I’d love to say Thea Astley for her extensive body of work, her idiosyncratic style and narrative technique, and her social justice concerns but the silly woman died! Alexis Wright is a great one but the body of work could be an issue as you suggest. I’ll have to think more upon’t.


    • Ah yes, many a great writer has died and rendered him/her self ineligible! (James Joyce, for one).


  2. I’m one ahead of you on the Murnane – I’ve just post a lengthy article on Tamarisk Row (mind you I wrote it about eight months ago) – and I agree that he deserves to be included but when I think of some of the authors who still haven’t won I’m not sure I’d vote for him against them despite his advancing years. I have a friend who corresponds with him regularly and sends him copies of my articles. Castro I had never heard of before today but it was pure fluke that I learned of Murnane’s existence (a chance encounter in an Oxfam bookshop). I had a look on but they only have Shanghai Dancing. After China is the one that jumps out at me but the only copies I can find are in Australia and the States and the postage is prohibitive. If I remember I’ll order a copy the next time my wife goes over and get it sent to her parents’ house. Farmer hasn’t published that much, all within a fifteen year period and nothing since 1995. At least there are inexpensive copies of her book available in the UK. The only book of hers that looks interesting is her earliest collection of short stories, Milk. Nearly all the stories in this first collection concern the interaction between the cultures of Greece and Australia and the misunderstandings that occur between them. I’ve just read and reviewed a début novel by an Australian living in Greece which, although there was much about it that I didn’t like, shows promise and I think it might be interesting to compare the approaches.


    • Hello Jim,. nice to hear from you again:)
      Wow, that is a very impressive article about Tamarisk Row, I haven’t read it all because I haven’t read the book yet though I do have it on the TBR. (But I didn’t realise there was another book to get hold of, the Landscapes one).
      I think you would love Castro, and be equally intrigued by Ouyang Yu. I’ve just checked the Book Depository and they have one of his (Shanghai Dancing) and possibly also The Garden Book (they say it’s out-of-stock, but you can register an interest and they’ll notify you). Drift is available as an eBook but I can’t tell from here if you can access it from overseas, try and see what happens.
      Failing that., when is your wife next due to come over?


      • There’s also A Lifetime on Clouds, Velvet Waters and Emerald Blue. He’s not exactly prolific. I do believe he has one (possibly two) due out soon-ish. My wife goes to America three times a year and her next visit will be in January. I can wait till then. I’m certainly not short of things to read.


        • I had no idea he’s had so much published! Onto my wishlist, all three!


  3. I can only add Malouf to the list. I’m intrigued by the names that you’ve mentioned. I think the Nobel is going to be even more competitive in the coming 5-10 years as there are quite a bunch of really excellent mid-career authors around the world. I’m heartened by this trend , bodes well for fiction. Add my voice to the need for more challenging books getting the recognition that they rightly deserve.


    • So Kinna, will you do a companion piece about some African writers that should be in contention?
      (You know, I rather like the idea of specialist bloggers such as ourselves doing this. Think of it, voices from around the world and representing dozens of cultures, using the cachet of the Nobel name and its high literary standards to badge contenders as being among the best in the world).


      • Totally, I will write one up and post later this month. What fun!


  4. […] 1970. He has, to date, published 9 novels, many of them winning major Australian literary awards. Lisa at ANZLitLovers suggests he is a contender for Australia’s next (should we ever have another one) Nobel […]


  5. […] I wonder if that would change if Murnane won the Nobel Prize for Literature.  I’m not the only one who thinks he is a strong contender.  (You can read my thoughts about that here.) […]


  6. […] The Hum of Concrete is the debut novel of Anna Solding, originally from Sweden but now well settled in Adelaide.  The novel was shortlisted for the 2010 Unpublished Manuscript Award at the Festival Awards for Literature, published this year by a new venture called Midnight Sun Publishing and launched at the Adelaide Writers Week.  The book comes with endorsements from no less than Nobel Laureate J.M. Coetzee and from Brian Castro (who I think deserves to be a Nobel Laureate too). […]


  7. […] Yu, whose prose I have read and reviewed before.  He’s one of our most interesting writers, one who should be on the radar of the Nobel Prize committee, so I’m somewhat surprised that he isn’t one of the authors shortlisted for the major […]


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