Posted by: Lisa Hill | June 20, 2012

All That I Am, by Anna Funder wins the 2012 Miles Franklin Award

Anna Funder has added to the swag of awards she’s already collected by winning the 2012 Miles Franklin Award for All That I Am.

My review is here.

©Lisa Hill

Author: Anna Funder
Title: All That I Am
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton (Penguin) 2011
ISBN: 9781926428338

Fishpond: All That I am


  1. I am so glad I read this book last week – I have read the winner before it was declared! I really liked the book even though, like you Lisa, it did take me awhile to engage with the characters and story. However, once I did I couldn’t put it down. The writing is very good but I wish there had been more “Australian content”. I suppose the Miles Franklin Award is evolving and opening more doors for Australian authors and readers.



    • Hi Meg, I just don’t agree with the changes they’ve made this year. Miles Franklin knew exactly what she was doing when she specified that the winning book should be the ‘novel of the year which is of the highest literary merit and presents Australian Life in any of its phases’. She lived in a time when Britain dominated publishing the way America does now, and she wanted to encourage Australian writing so that Australians could read about their own country in their own Australian English. That encouragement is needed as much now as ever it was, because Australian authors are under pressure to produce books that will sell overseas, and that means capitulating to what the international market wants, not what we want. (I speak from experience. When my publisher was taken over by an American company, I refused to de-Australianise it for American school-children, so they refused to reprint it.)
      Geordie Williams wrote his PhD on why the MF criteria should be changed, and he’s very influential. He’s got his way with the changes that the trust made this year, but I think that Australian literature is the loser. (I also think that the decision is morally wrong, interfering with someone’s Will like that). IMO the doors that have opened are doors to the culture, language and history of the US, the UK and Europe, and they have slammed shut on books that really do speak to Australians about things that matter to us. Our major award has gone to a book that is European in its culture and its orientation. It’s very disappointing.


  2. I do understand where you are coming from, and I do agree. I was disappointed that All That I Am did not have much ‘Australian content’. It is a pity that this award was allowed to be changed, it seems to me like an illegal act, and no doubt Miles Franklin would be devastated if she knew of the changes to her award.


    • It seems to me that the reason no one takes very much notice of the PM’s award – even though it’s worth a lot more money – is because it can go to any old book about any old thing. Australians have always taken notice of the Miles Franklin because it was about Australian books. Now it’s not, it will become just another award that doesn’t mean much to anyone except to the person who wins it.


  3. There is significant Australian content in All That I Am. The story begins in Sydney and arguably would not have been told by Anna Funder without that Australian link. Australians can be “European” in style and literature. Australians don’t have to just write about their ‘burbs or their outback in ocker accents. It’s a global world. Australians can be and are globally concerned. Our literature does not need to be staunchly parochial.
    I respect – and might even agree – with your outrage re the changes to the terms of the Miles Franklin, but I don’t agree at all with the way you’ve applied it to All That I Am. I think that novel would’ve been perfectly acceptable under the original terms. I think the book is overrated – I don’t know a single reader who didn’t find the first third very average – but I don’t think it’s insufficiently Australian.


    • Hello Claire, thanks for sharing your thoughts. We are in furious agreement about this book being over-rated!
      But re the Aussie content: I’m sure you know if you read this blog regularly that I’m not suggesting that Australians should only write about their suburbs or outback or in ocker accents, or that they should shelve global concerns. Far from it LOL. Nor am I adverse to Australians writing from the POV of other cultures, indeed I have argued that I’d like the Australian publishing industry to seek out the voices of our immigrant community and tell their stories. But the terms of Miles Franklin’s will are very specific and I don’t think that a book that is primarily about the fight against Nazism more than 60 years ago on the other side of the world is about Australian life in all its phases. Similarly, much as I loved it, I don’t think that The Street Sweeper should have been eligible either. These books are eligible for all our other prizes but IMO not this one.
      If All That I Am had been about the Aborigines who were the only Australians who protested to the German embassy here about the treatment of Jews, that would have been entirely different.


  4. Also, have you seen footage from the ‘ceremony’?? Could they not have found some chairs? The award certainly needs a revamp but changing the terms of it probably isn’t the way…


    • *chuckle* No, I haven’t seen the ceremony, but hey, it was in Queensland, the state that’s abolished its literary award so I guess they were lucky to have a building to hold it in LOL.


  5. may it be a booker contender lisa ? ,I may try this one I have like the sound of it since first heard it mentioned ,all the best stu


    • Oh, Stu, who can tell? I doubt it, but there’s a swag of prizes that suggest that plenty of other people think it’s brilliant.


  6. I am thrilled with this win by Anna Funder and don’t agree that it is not Australian enough- whatever that means. Australia is full of ageing refugees, displaced persons, migrants from the time of the Europe of this novel and their stories and our understanding and recognition of how they faced the universal question posed in this novel are so important to our growth and development as a nation. The question is “For evil to exist it only remains that good men do nothing” and in Australia our history has seemed pretty free of the need to confront this question by virtue largely of geography etc Except of course it is not free of this dilemma. Kate Grenville’s novel “The Lieutenant” has the main protagonist deciding he cannot collude with displacing and taking by force the land belonging to the local Aboriginal people for example. Our current shrill and hysterical debate re a few thousand refugee boat arrivals are for me another instance of the need for us all to grow up and actually debate some universal topics in a mature way. Bearing witness, not turning the other cheek – poor Ruth in “All that I am” knows about her husband – she just doesn’t want to see it. Same with Australia – the greatest works of Australian literature are universal in their themes – we just need to see that too.


    • Hi Jude, thanks for sharing your thoughts. I guess you can see from my responses to other comments that I don’t agree: I don’t think that having a worthy topic with heroic protagonists makes up for the structural and characterisation flaws in this ‘novel, nor does Sydney as Ruth’s eventual destination make this an Australian novel. I want the novel that wins what used to be a unique Australian prize but is now no different to any other, to be about significant issues that matter to us woven into a story with people and places recognisable to us. It doesn’t seem so very much to ask of just one prize, the one that Miles Franklin beggared herself to set up.
      Of course I’m only too well aware that by criticising the decision I’m buying into the desire to generate publicity for the MF with controversy. I just wish they’d generate respect and enthusiasm for the prize and Australian literature in general by choosing a damn good book that Australians could take to their hearts – and I don’t think that’s going to happen with All That I Am.


  7. […] Funder, All That I Am (Penguin Group Australia), see my review Kate Grenville, Sarah Thornhill (Text Publishing Company), see my review Gail Jones, Five Bells […]


  8. […] All That I Am by Anna Funder, see my review […]


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