Posted by: Lisa Hill | February 2, 2019

Vale Andrew McGahan (1966-2019)

The Guardian is reporting that the award-winning Australian novelist Andrew McGahan has died today, aged only 52.

Born in Queensland but a long time resident of Melbourne, McGahan was the author of 10 critically acclaimed novels.  His debut novel Praise won the 1991 Vogel Literary Award and it went on to became an Australian bestseller.  Wikipedia tells me that this book is

often credited with launching the short-lived Grunge Lit or Dirty realism movement – terminology that McGahan himself (along with most of the writers to whom it was applied) rejected.  In 1995 McGahan followed up with 1988, a prequel to Praise, partially based on time the author spent working at a lighthouse in the Northern Territory during Australia’s bicentennial year.

Praise has been on my TBR for ages but I haven’t read it yet.

McGahan’s third novel was a venture into crime fiction.  Last Drinks, (2000) explored the fertile ground of political corruption in Queensland in the wake of the Fitzgerald Inquiry. It won a Ned Kelly Award.

Major success came with The White Earth, (2004) a first edition of which lives among my Miles Franklin Award winners.  My book group read it in 2006, so there is no review here at ANZ LitLovers, a situation which I shall rectify as I work my way through reading (and re-reading) all the winners of this award.  The White Earth also won The Age Book of the Year and the Commonwealth Writers Prize, and it was a bestseller too, an unusual feat for a literary novel in Australia.

Underground, (2006) is on my TBR as well, described by Wikipedia as

an absurdist satire attacking the more extreme manifestations of the War on Terror in Australia. It received mixed reviews and caused conservative commentator Andrew Bolt to declare McGahan an “unhinged propagandist”.

(Which IMO makes McGahan an author worth reading, as is any other book attacked by Bolt).

Wonders of a Godless World, which won the 2009 Aurealis Award for Science Fiction, joined my TBR in 2009 and this is one that makes me really cross with myself that I still haven’t read it.  It is, apparently, a work entirely without dialogue or proper nouns and delving into such topics as geology, weather and immortality and madness.  I don’t read much SF but this is one that appeals.

Other books to look out for include the Ship Kings fantasy seafaring series

  • 2011 The Coming of the Whirlpool, (Book 1)  This was shortlisted for the 2012 Indie Awards (Children’s category), and the CBCA Book of the Year and was a finalist in the 2011 Aurealis Awards for Children’s Fiction.
  • 2012 The Voyage of the Unquiet Ice (Book 2)
  • 2014, The War of the Four Isles (Book 3)
  • 2016 The Ocean of the Dead (Book 4 and the last of the series).

McGahan also wrote for the stage and screen and won an AFI award for Best Adapted Screenplay for the screenplay of Praise; it won the Film Critics Circle of Australia Award for Best Adapted Screenplay; and the Queensland Premier’s Award, Best Drama Script.

As I write this, I am conscious that I have read only one of this major novelist’s works, and so I have to confess that it was McGahan’s versatility in writing across genres that has always made me hesitate, even after I’ve bought his books.  Clearly, I need to redress this deficiency because McGahan should be represented here…

ANZLitlovers extends condolences to the friends, relatives and colleagues of Andrew McGahan.  He was a significant literary figure and will be sorely missed.


  1. Oh, that is sad, Lisa. Admittedly the only book I’ve read by him is his first and I thought it so vile and repulsive I was never tempted to read anything else by him again! (I was much more naive back then, I probably wouldn’t even blink twice now if I read it.)


    • LOL kimbofo. I read the first two around the time they came came out – over 1995/6 – and I liked them. They were not “nice” but they were gave me insight into a world I didn’t know!

      Liked by 1 person

      • I was living / studying in Brisbane when it came out… I remember the hype about it…

        Liked by 2 people

    • Yup, know exactly what you mean…

      Liked by 1 person

  2. RIP Andrew.

    I’ve only read one Andrew McGahan novel and that is Underground. I have 3 others that I am yet to read. I also am very conscious that Underground is my only novel so far so will judge his work when I have read further. Undergroundheld my attention but was a bit forced for me. I like my satire to be reasonably believable but this one didn’t it for me personally. I passed it onto a fairly bohemian friend and he thought is fantastic.

    As to Bolt calling anyone an “unhinged propagandist” that is a big statement coming from the epitome of the Dunning-Kruger effect.


    • LOL I had to look up the DK effect to check whether this comment infringed my comments policy, but since my policy only applies to “personal attacks on me, on authors or on other contributors” *chuckle* I think we can let it stand!


  3. I have scheduled my own tribute for later tonight because I like to have a bit of a gap between posts – half a day is about as much, though, as I reckon I can give in this situation!

    As I wrote in my tribute, we were talking about McGahan and his illness at reading group this week. Little did we know that his end was so very near. Very sad.


  4. I enjoyed his first couple of novels – I was a big fan of our short lived Grunge Lit movement- but not so much his excursions into other genres.


    • LOL when I checked the Wikipedia link to grunge lit, I realised that I hadn’t read a single one of them. Not even Garner’s Monkey Grip because when I tried it (which I’ve done twice), I found myself thinking, why would I want to know about people like this?


  5. […] I know that Lisa (ANZLitLovers) has written a tribute but I do want to write one too, because he’s an author who made an impression on me. After […]


  6. Always sad when a person dies so young. I have not read any of his works but find the discussion of him really interesting.


  7. Yes, these days we don’t expect people to die at such an age. When I was a young woman, it was quite common for people to die in their fifties from heart attacks and various cancers, but it just shows you how much medicine has changed in forty years.


  8. I’ve only read 2 of the 4 books from McGahan’s teen series – they were tremendous & i have no good excuse for not finishing the series, except that time & my stupendous TBR got away from me. It was very sad to hear about his passing at such a young age.


    • I’d be interested to read those, because his adult books apparently have such gritty realism, I wonder if he tones that down in the YA series…


      • He does. I found them quite beautiful. Fantasy with naval overtones. I really must finish series now.

        Liked by 1 person

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