Posted by: Lisa Hill | June 26, 2014

2014 Miles Franklin Award

I don’t believe it.

The judges have bypassed Richard Flanagan’s brilliant novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North, (see my review and a Sensational Snippet ) AND Alexis Wright’s stunningly innovative  The Swan Book(see my review) and awarded our most important prize, the Miles Franklin Award to All the Birds, Singing written by Evie Wyld, an author who doesn’t even identify as Australian.

I’ve read 50 pages of it and it was so dreary I couldn’t make myself finish it.

 


Responses

  1. I just saw the news on the ABC website. I have to say I had a different reaction than you – I was thrilled. I loved All the Birds, Singing, one of the best books I read last year. I did also love Flanagan’s book and Tim Winton’s too, but I’m pleased to see an emerging writer win the award. My only hesitation is, as you pointed out, that Evie Wylld does not call herself an Aussie.

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  2. I am sad that Richard Flanagan is not winning any of the major awards as I adored that book. I also think it’s an important book and thus deserves recognition. I haven’t read All The Birds Singing and not sure now if I should.

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  3. I did think Flanagan might win this because of all the talk I’ve heard about it, but as you know I loved All the birds, singing. I must say, though, that I don’t think the rules say that the winner must be Australian – just that it must be written in English and deal with “Australian life”. Evie Wyld may still technically be Australian – but I don’t think it matters either way in terms of the rules?

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    • Well, Sue, obviously the judges agree with you.
      But whatever about the rules, and the technicalities, I think that this award to a writer who hasn’t lived here for years, who calls herself British and is named as a best British writer, is not in keeping with the spirit of Miles Franklin’s bequest. I think that matters a lot, to Australian writers, and especially those who have written much better books than this one.
      They might just as well jettison the entire award now, for all the credibility it’s got as an Australian award. What on earth does it say about Australian writing if the prize doesn’t go to an Australian writer? It’s the cultural cringe all over again.
      After campaigning to be able to do so, I’m certainly not donating a cent of my money to the MF now, and I’m not leaving it any money in my will either.

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      • I’m not sure they agree with me! I haven’t read enough of the shortlist to have anyone agree with me or to know whether I would have chosen it over the others. All I can say is that I liked the book a lot, and I do think it meets the criteria. We can argue whether they should have that criteria but I don’t think we can say this one doesn’t meet it.

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        • We’ll have to agree to disagree…

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  4. Well, well, well! According to an article on ‘The Australian’ newspaper’s website, you don’t actually have to be Australian to qualify for the award (an English author has been shortlisted before), so long as the novel itself reflects Australian life in any of its phases. On that basis, I don’t have a problem with Evie Wyld winning per se…. *but*, although I enjoyed ‘All the Birds, Singing’, I admired Flanagan and Wright’s works more. It will be interesting to see how Wyld’s novel stands the test of time. I think we’ll be talking about Flanagan and Wright’s books for longer. I feel particularly sorry for Flanagan. How many times has he been up for it without winning (with so many great novels)? A few. A penny for his thoughts, eh?

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    • My heart aches for him. It’s an insult to all Australian writers, but especially to Flanagan and Wright.

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    • That’s right John … you’ve reminded me, it was Matthew Kneale with The English passengers I think. Somehow your comment jogged my memory. Like you I really thought Flanagan or maybe Wright would win.

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  5. Lisa, give it another try. It took me awhile to get into the story. A strange and surreal read. Once I got into it, I couldn’t put it down.

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    • Sorry, Meg, I appreciate your opinion, but no thanks. As I’ve said, I thought it was a dreary book, but I gave it 50 pages, more than it deserved.

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  6. Seems a strange choice Lisa as there was so many other great books by other writers her books always strike me as quite creative writer type novels

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    • I liked her first one, thought that was wonderful. But this one, ugh.

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  7. Oooh the controversy is alive here! I left a long comment at Sue’s so won’t bang on again about it here, but I couldn’t disagree with you more Lisa. A dreary book, not at all, but isn’t this the way of it, always? I don’t think it’s an insult to Australian writers. Many deserving writers of excellent quality haven’t been acknowledged with prizes, or have been listed and not won. All the time books are published that seem undeserving and also awards given to books that some people consider undeserving. Them’s the breaks, I suppose. I do feel bad for Flanagan even though I didn’t like his book anywhere near as much as I liked Wyld’s. I don’t feel sorry for Winton cause he’s got a bag of them, but I loved his book too.

    I am stunned though by the judges’ decision. I wonder who they were, is it a publicly-known thing?

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    • LOL Jenny, the controversy is shutting down here. The judges can get the publicity they want from somewhere else.
      I’ve said my piece, and I’m sticking by it – there’s no point in repeating myself. I don’t want to talk about books here that I haven’t read and have no intention of reading, I’ve moved on already!

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  8. What I love so much about your blog Lisa is that we get honesty ( a trait often hard to find in the reviewing world). Thank you for that.

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  9. I like Richard Flanagan’s writing though have not read the most recent. It’s on our list for August book group read though. I think the reason RF does not win is because of his outspoken nature and politics. He speaks out a lot on injustices within Australia and although I agree with him with what he preaches a lot of people don’t like it at all. Awards are so political which is why I don’t follow any of them seriously. Have not read the “birds singing”. Interesting thread of discussion here.

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  10. Totally agree about the book – read it last week and thought it was dreadful – very shallow and so predictable I could have written the next chapter myself as it went along. It did make me go and find all about female shearers in Oz (about 12 ) because I was incensed at the stereotyping of the shed as I personally know several camp cooks who are top shelf. It was a very lazy book.

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  11. Hi Lisa
    Whatever we might think about what is, and what isn’t, Australian content, the Miles Franklin has never been an award for Australian writers. Australian content: yes. Australian writers: no.

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  12. Interesting diverse opinions here, I haven’t read any of the books you favour but I read All the Birds Singing and didn’t enjoy it at all and the whole shearing shed experience irked a bit as there were things that didn’t make sense to a sheep farmers daughter who spent far too many holidays doing the job of a rousie. Anyway, thanks for highlighting the other reads and I hope they do better next year.

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    • Thank you, Claire – I hope you get a chance to read the others:)
      Your comment about the school holidays has made me realise just how lucky I was as a kid. It’s hard when parents are in business (of whatever kind) and the kids are expected to help at weekends and holidays. My school holidays were spent in complete idleness.

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      • And it didn’t stop after school either, I remember when I had one of my first jobs out of university and decided to take a couple of days off before Christmas to come home and relax only to be informed I would be up at 5am as there were 2 days of shearing to be done. I decided after that that the office was a preferable environment. :)

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        • Yikes!

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          • It seems childhood never ends in the eyes of parents, well maybe not until we become one ourselves. Needless to say, I left for the city and never looked back, and now I understand why so many of the farmers wives are women from cities, (like my own mother) the romantic allure (illusion) of countryside living :)

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            • I must admit that while I am immensely grateful to people who choose that lifestyle, I find it incomprehensible.

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              • I guess some are born into it, others pursue it with a passion and then there are the misguided who must endure it. :)

                It inspires some interesting stories and characters for sure.

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                • Yes indeed, it’s the catalyst for some of our best lit

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  13. Interesting choice for the Miles Franklin award and interesting debate in the comments! I very much agree with you on this one, Lisa. I don’t understand why they gave the award to a British writer (atleast she calls herself British). I also don’t understand the conditions that they have for a book to qualify for the award – that the book should be about the Australian way of life but the nationality of the author is not important. I think either the reverse should be the rule – the author should be Australian but the theme of the book could be anything – or they could have both the conditions – the author should be Australian and the theme should be Australian. Sometimes writers write books which are set in other countries and cultures – for example Peter Stamm’s ‘Unformed Landscape’ is set in Norway and all the characters in the book are Norwegian, but Stamm is Swiss and the book is written in German and it is regarded as a Swiss book. If an Australian writer wrote a book like this (set in a different country and culture), it wouldn’t be eligible for the Miles Franklin award, which I think is a shame. And if, for example, Peter Stamm wrote a novel like this set in Australia, it would be eligible for the Miles Franklin award. Which I find very odd.

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    • Hello Vishy, thanks for dropping by. I think the questions we should be asking ourselves are, what do we want this award to achieve, and what did Miles Franklin who set it up want it to achieve? I know what Miles Franklin wanted to achieve, I’ve read the biography by Jill Roe and I am quite certain that Miles Franklin would be turning in her grave. A struggling author herself, she wanted to support Australian authors, no question about that.
      And what do we as Australians want this award to achieve? Do *we* want our most prestigious award to go to anyone anywhere as long as they write some part of the book set in Australia? Why should we do that? Why should current benefactors adding to MF’s original bequest money want to do that? Whatever for?
      Or do we want to support Australian authors who struggle for attention on the world stage? Who, in the small Australian market for literary fiction, need a financial boost to be able to write full time for a while. I don’t think the MF should ever be an encouragement award, or a gender-balance award, but I do think it should fulfil its original purpose and reward the very best in writing about Australian life, by Australian writers.
      This year, the judges haven’t got it right on either criteria, IMO.

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      • I loved your comment and I totally agree with you, Lisa. It is sad what happened. I hope the MF judges are reading this and they mend their ways next year.

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        • LOL VIshy, I don’t think they’ll be taking any notice of an obscure Australian blogger!

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  14. I’ve just had a go at this for. Book club and I’m right there with you on dreary. And sloppy, inaccurate on Australia, throwing whatever words she could in the first couple of pages to make it sound Authentic. The first to really jar was a currawong and white galah doing something together. Sitting in a tree, calling? I don’t remember. But a white galah?
    Perhaps the judges have never seen one either.

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    • Hello Lyn, well, you did better than me. I borrowed it from the library out of a misplaced sense of duty, but I couldn’t get past the first few pages. What did the book club think of it?

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    • PS Maybe she was thinking of a cockatoo?

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