Posted by: Lisa Hill | July 18, 2020

Expressions of Interest: Thea Astley Week in August

Thea Astley (Wikipedia)

Every other year, I run a ‘week’ to celebrate the work of iconic Australian writers.  So far I’ve hosted Christina Stead Week (2016) and Elizabeth Jolley Week (2018).  This year I have chosen Thea Astley who is one of my favourite authors, and since she was born and died in August, (25 August 1925 – 17 August 2004) those dates seem like an appropriate time to celebrate her remarkable oeuvre.

So Thea Astley Week will run from August 17th-25th (though of course readers can contribute reviews outside those dates, of course.)

As it says at Wikipedia, Thea Astley…

… was a prolific writer who was published for over 40 years from 1958. At the time of her death, she had won more Miles Franklin Awards, Australia’s major literary award, than any other writer. As well as being a writer, she taught at all levels of education – primary, secondary and tertiary.

Astley has a significant place in Australian letters as she was “the only woman novelist of her generation to have won early success and published consistently throughout the 1960s and 1970s, when the literary world was heavily male-dominated”.

But as Karen Lamb’s bio, Thea Astley, Inventing Her Own Weather, reveals, there is much more to Thea Astley.  As I said in my review:

In telling the story of Astley’s life as a writer, the book traverses Queensland’s emergence from a cultural backwater,  the massive social changes stemming from the Whitlam years, the dynamics of the Australian publishing industry and most importantly of all, the story of Astley the ‘anti-feminist’ who fought all her life for women’s writing to be accorded respect, recognition and adequate remuneration.  They should have named the Stella Prize the Astleys, it would have been so much more apt, IMO.

Now, as you know if you’ve read my previous posts about Thea Astley and her work, she was the multi award-winning author of fourteen novels and three short story collections.  Amongst other prizes, she won the Miles Franklin four times, Premiers’ awards, the Patrick White award and the ALS medal, not to mention an OAM (Order of Australia),  so it seems bizarre that she was constantly badgering her publishers to do more for her and complaining about a lack of recognition.  But Karen Lamb makes a very convincing case that this seemingly perverse behaviour stemmed from a deep insecurity and from an acute awareness that male writers were supported differently both in terms of sales-generating publicity and with promotion of their books into international markets.  Especially in the early years of Astley’s writing career…

I’ve read more than the novels reviewed here on the blog — see the list below to see my reviews — but I have five on the TBR, and although I am making no promises because my priority at the moment is to review Aussie authors publishing new novels at this difficult time, I will read at least one of them and more if I get time.  But I am also hoping that hosting Thea Astley Week will encourage other readers to revisit and review her works, or to discover her writing for the first time.  The plan is to grow a Thea Astley page, similar to the Elizabeth Jolley page here, and the Christina Stead page which harvested all the reviews that grew out of those weeks. (Update, the next day, the Thea Astley page is now live, and it has additional reviews to mine listed below, thanks to Bill from The Australian Legend and Sue from Whispering Gums. )

The good thing about Thea Astley’s books is that if you are a bit discouraged about reading at the moment, she (like Elizabeth Jolley) eschewed the chunkster and her novels are concise, though of course you can read her short stories or the posthumously published collection of her poetry if you are time poor.

If you are interested and you think you’d like to join in, please comment below, and tell us what you’ve chosen to read if you’ve already decided.

Most of Astley’s books are readily available (see the selection (which includes inexpensive reissues from Text Classics, Popular Penguins and A&U House of Books) at Readings Books here, and you can try Brotherhood Books for secondhand copies here).  There are new and secondhand copies at Fishpond: if you search from them please use the link in the RHS menu of this blog to get there so that I get a miniscule commission on any sales.  And of course if your libraries are not locked down, you should be able to find plenty of Astley’s books there too.

Titles to choose from are:

Novels (links on the titles go to Wikipedia)

Short Stories

  • Hunting the Wild Pineapple (1979)
  • Collected Stories (1997)

Poetry

Selected Poems (2017, posthumous UQP edition)

*The image of Thea Astley is from Wikipedia where it appears to be available for Fair Use.


Responses

  1. I’m glad you decided to go ahead. Here is my review for A Kindness Cup
    https://theaustralianlegend.wordpress.com/2017/01/13/a-kindness-cup/
    I will undertake to review An Item from the Late News, and I have a collection of short stories (plus one in The Babe is Wise) so hopefully I can run to a second post.

    Like

  2. I will send you my reviews… I have a couple of these on my TBR but one you haven’t reviewed is An item from the late news. However I reserve the right to change my mind!

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    • Hey WG. No changing minds. If you want AIFTLN I’ll do Drylands

      Like

      • Ok ok, I’ll stick with it. (I’ve already done Drylands on my blog anyhow!)

        Liked by 2 people

  3. I would be interested in taking part, as I’ve read several of her books and also have a few still to read.

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    • That’s great, Victoria, and welcome!

      Like

  4. I’ll do one I have here that’s still on my To Read list – Reaching Tin River. OK, you’re on, Lisa!

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    • Excellent! I’m going to start with Girl with a Monkey, it will be interesting to see what her debut novel was like…

      Like

  5. I hope someone reads Hunting the Wild Pineapple, it’s Astley at her hilariously sarcastic best…
    Tin River was published in 1990 and Girl with a Monkey in 1958 so this might be interesting Lisa!

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    • Now I’m gnashing my teeth because that was on display at my library last time I was inside it…and I didn’t borrow it because it was short stories and short stories are not my thing.

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      • I think Astley is always worth a look Lisa – even when not at her best she’s still pretty wonderful! The first story in Vanishing Points is gorgeous too – the second not so much. Short stores don’t usually appeal to me either, but Astley is an exception.

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        • I have my exceptions too, and I would have taken it home except that I knew I already had some of her novels at home:)

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    • I have read Reaching Tin River, and loved it, but before blogging. I do have Hunting the wild pineapple (of which I’ve only read the titular story), and will do it if I can, in addition to An item from the late news.

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      • That will be great, Sue:)
        PS I’ve updated this post to refer readers to the Thea Astley page which is now live, and where there are links to your reviews and Bill’s.

        Liked by 1 person

  6. If I can, I will. I have one novel and the biography somewhere, but August is a pretty busy month already so I will make no promises. I would like to join in so I will try…

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    • You are one of my most consistent readers, which I really appreciate, so anything you can do — during the week or some other time — will be appreciated:)

      Liked by 1 person

  7. Hi Lisa, I could do Coda, one of my favourites.

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  8. I’ve just added ‘Hunting the Wild Pineapple’ to my library list … :-)

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  9. Hi Lisa, I have completed my review of Coda.I would like you to read it, and for you to make the necessary changes.Do I send it to this email address.

    Thanks Margaret Broughton

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    • That’s wonderful, I’ll be only too happy to host it. Please email it to anzlitloversATbigpondDOTcom, and if you’d like to, include a mini-bio about yourself as an intro for the guest post!

      Like

  10. […] which is a nice lead-in to Thea Astley Week which I’m hosting this month from the 17th to the 25th, dates which coincide with her death and birth.  Thea Astley never won […]

    Like

  11. And here is my review of ‘Hunting the wild Pineapple’. It will appear on my blog next week (for I am early for a change).

    https://www.goodreads.com/review/show/3466069847

    Like

    • Thanks, Jennifer, you are way ahead of me. I am trying to read the books featuring at the MWF so I haven’t even started as Astley yet!

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  12. Here’s my review of An item from the late news: https://whisperinggums.com/2020/08/23/thea-astley-an-item-from-the-late-news-bookreview/

    Like

  13. Hi Lisa. I am forever late to the party but I have just finished The Well-dressed Explorer. I also have a shelf of Thea’s novels on Goodreads for anyone interested.

    ttps://www.goodreads.com/review/list/6852430-fourtriplezed?ref=nav_mybooks&shelf=thea-astley

    I have now read her first four books and have all the others and will be reading them in order as time permits.

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    • Hello, it’s so good to hear from you:)
      I’ve ‘liked’ your review at Goodreads, and especially admire what you say about “her extraordinary ability to write a turn of phrase that has one cringing for the protagonists who come under the cutting satire of her acidic pen”. But I hope you’re wrong that she won’t be read much in the future!

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      • “But I hope you’re wrong that she won’t be read much in the future!” Yes I do as well but many a great writer seems to pass by new generations sadly.

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        • True. But she has a team of dedicated readers here and their contribution to Thea Astley Week means that many people will have had the chance to learn more about her and her books, so #FingersCrossed her reputation will live on.

          Like


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