The longlist for the 2016 Stella Prize demonstrates the current strength of Australian women’s narrative, featuring both highly accomplished new writers and many works that represent a culmination of the skills of established writers. Excellent writing generates a culture of reading and appreciation of literature that in turn stimulates further literary creativity, and 2016 will prove to be a good year for this process of collective inspiration in our literary ecology.
Many of the works on the longlist are set in the countryside, adding to a tradition in Australian literature that offers both idyllic and unsettling accounts of rural life. Women writers have, historically, contributed most powerfully to this tradition, and the rural fictions on the longlist remind us of the frailty of the natural world, the value of documenting the appearance of the landscape and the way that contradictory motivations can play out most visibly in isolated situations. Writing about childhood and adolescence is another Australian literary tradition that many of the longlisted works contribute to. Children in these books are watchful, alert to adult tensions that may have extreme consequences for them, and this watchfulness makes for compelling reading. Many explore women’s creativity in the form of storytelling, painting or pottery, taking us into proximity with art at its source. Now in its fourth year, the Stella Prize celebrates Australian women’s literature at its most powerful and inventive.
– Brenda Walker, chair of the 2016 Stella Prize judging panel
The 2016 Stella Prize longlist is:
The Women’s Pages by Debra Adelaide (Pan Macmillan)
The Women’s Pages details two sources of attachment and constraint: maternal and literary. Dove, a writer, is haunted by Emily Bronte’s novel Wuthering Heights, which she read to her mother, at her mother’s request, during the final stages of her mother’s illness and death. Dove’s own novel is interspersed with memories, current experiences and with her central creative task of shaping the internal novel, offering a fascinating insight into literary and personal heritage, and into the decisions of a working writer and an enthralled reader. In the process, Debra Adelaide explores women’s prescribed roles in twentieth-century Australia.
The Women’s Pages is a limpid depiction of the relationship between mother and child, seen through an intense preoccupation with literature, and an observant charting of the day-to-day experiences of individual women.
About Debra Adelaide
Debra Adelaide is the author or editor of over twelve books, including The Hotel Albatross, Serpent Dust and the best-selling The Household Guide to Dying. In 2013 she published her first collection of short stories, Letter to George Clooney. Her most recent novel is The Women’s Pages. She is an associate professor in creative writing at the University of Technology, Sydney.
The Other Side of the World by Stephanie Bishop (Hachette)
The Other Side of the World begins in an icy English winter when Charlotte, a painter, and her academic Indian husband Henry move to Western Australia in search of a new, lighter life. The suburbs of Perth in the 1950s are far more difficult to negotiate than Charlotte could have imagined. Beginning as a story about migration and the constraints of domesticity, The Other Side of the World expands into a tale of the nature of belonging, the complexity of motherhood and the dangers of nostalgia. The freedoms and duties imposed by culture, gender, race and class all emerge in this study of one particular marriage as it unravels in the West Australian heat.
Stephanie Bishop’s prose has a delicate, watercolour loveliness that belies the ferocity of her material. Two characters struggle to resolve an impossible contradiction: bound together by affection and need, their destinies ultimately diverge. Stephanie Bishop holds this struggle in perfect equipoise throughout.
About Stephanie Bishop
Stephanie Bishop’s first novel was The Singing, for which she was named one of the Sydney Morning Herald’s Best Young Australian Novelists. Her second novel, The Other Side of the World, was shortlisted for the 2014 Australian/Vogel’s Literary Award. She holds a PhD from Cambridge and is currently a lecturer in creative writing at the University of New South Wales.
Panther and the Museum of Fire by Jen Craig (Spineless Wonders)
Panthers and the Museum of Fire is about a woman returning a manuscript to the sister of its deceased writer. It is immersively written in a stream-of-consciousness style that takes the reader directly into her reflections on life, friendship and, importantly, her own writing.
The unpretentious truths and agonies, soul-searching and tenuous self-regard of the artist’s life are brilliantly and immediately depicted, in writing that deploys European modernist literary techniques in an Australian setting. In Jen Craig’s novella, voice, character and vocation combine in a sophisticated and accessible narrative.
About Jen Craig
Jen Craig’s short stories have appeared in publications including HEAT and Southerly. She collaborated with the composers of the chamber opera A Dictionary of Maladies in Switzerland in 2005. Her first novel, Since the Accident, was published in 2009. Panthers and the Museum of Fire is her second book.
Six Bedrooms by Tegan Bennett Daylight (Random House)
The ten stories in this collection take the reader through the six bedrooms of teenagers. A cast of feckless, brilliant and believable characters experience first sexual encounters, illness, death and grief. All the stories in Six Bedrooms connect the reader with the world of adolescence, in a strong and urgent representation of the vulnerabilities and the loneliness of the young.
Tegan Bennett Daylight navigates her territory with great energy and skill. Her writing is fine-edged and precise, delivering an insider’s view of the minutiae of teenage lives. These stories elicit great concern for the young, and also for the state of parenthood. They are thoughtful, full of understanding about situations and motivations, and, almost painfully, believable.
About Tegan Bennett Daylight
Tegan Bennett Daylight is a teacher, critic and fiction writer. She is the author of several books for children and teenagers, and the novels Bombora, What Falls Away and Safety. She lives in the Blue Mountains with her husband and two children.
Hope Farm by Peggy Frew (Scribe)
Hope Farm concerns thirteen-year-old Silver, who has spent her life being moved from ashram to ashram and commune to commune by her mother Ishtar. In 1985 the latest move – at the urging of her mother’s new lover – is to Hope Farm, a run-down, weed-strewn property in rural Victoria, where the commune’s adults stubbornly cling to the faded promise of their ideals.
Peggy Frew displays an acute understanding of the powerlessness of a child: Silver is at the mercy of adults who are oblivious to the depth of her emotions and strength of her intellect. She also portrays the sometimes pathetic, sometimes funny, sometimes harmful actions of the book’s adults, without allowing them to become caricatures or villains. In spite of its darkness, Hope Farm is written in prose infused with love and wonder for the world.
About Peggy Frew
Peggy Frew’s debut novel, House of Sticks, won the 2010 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an unpublished manuscript. Her story ‘Home Visit’ won The Age short story competition in 2008. She has been published in New Australian Stories 2, Kill Your Darlings and Meanjin. Peggy is also a member of the critically acclaimed and award-winning Melbourne band Art of Fighting.
A Few Days in the Country: And Other Stories by Elizabeth Harrower (Text Publishing)
Elizabeth Harrower’s short fiction, gathered for the first time in A Few Days in the Country, is as vibrant today as when it was first published some decades ago. She convincingly depicts a dark and often unacknowledged side of human behaviour: from a glamorous couple who might be termed psychopathic in contemporary times, to petty acts of vindictiveness perpetuated by characters with domestic authority, each story is a glimpse into the way power can work in individual lives. There are also tender tales about the anxieties of friendship and burgeoning adulthood.
This is a superlative collection, written with great clarity and precision and an understanding of the subterranean intensities of human interactions. It gathers together a constellation of stories from a variety of sources, and exhibits the unerring skill of one of Australia’s most significant writers.
About Elizabeth Harrower
Elizabeth Harrower is the author of the novels Down in the City, The Long Prospect, The Catherine Wheel, The Watch Tower and In Certain Circles, which was shortlisted for the Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Fiction in 2015. A Few Days in the Country is her first collection of short stories.
A Guide to Berlin by Gail Jones (Random House)
A Guide to Berlin pays homage to a great writer, Vladimir Nabokov, whose own fiction provides the title, and to Berlin: a city that is a focus of political and architectural wreckage as well as liberation and civilisation. The novel is both an examination and an enactment of storytelling. A young Australian woman is invited to join a group of international travellers currently living in Berlin. They have a shared interest in the work of Nabokov, and they meet to discuss his writing and to share their own stories.
The stories are varied and intriguing; bringing the politics and experiences of each traveller into sharp conjunction with the others. Gail Jones’s novel is designed with architectural precision, inhabited by illuminating discussions of literature, art and life.
About Gail Jones
Gail Jones is the author of two short story collections, a critical monograph, and the novels Black Mirror, Sixty Lights, Dreams of Speaking, Sorry and Five Bells. Three times shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award, her prizes include the WA Premier’s Award for Fiction, the Nita B. Kibble Award, and the Age Book of the Year Award.
The World Without Us by Mireille Juchau (Bloomsbury Publishing)
Set on the north coast of NSW in the aftermath of a young girl’s death from cancer, The World Without Us traces the varying effects of grief on the remaining members of her family while emphasising the wider world in which those lives are embedded: a world in which ecological breakdown operates both as metaphor and disturbing fact. Mireille Juchau uses anxieties about the fragility of the natural systems that sustain our lives as a referent for her story of love and loss.
The World Without Us is an acute portrait of individuals who persist in the aftermath of loss, recorded in prose that is witty and self-aware, and capable of making poetry from the most mundane aspects of the everyday. It is a book that reminds us that a single human loss can fall with terrible force on those who are left behind.
About Mireille Juchau
Mireille Juchau is a Sydney-based writer of novels, short fiction, essays, scripts and reviews. The World Without Us is her third novel, and won the 2016 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for Fiction. She has a PhD in writing and literature and teaches at universities and in the community.
A Short History of Richard Kline by Amanda Lohrey (Black Inc.)
Richard Kline is middle-class, well-educated, well cared for and well paid, but he has suffered his entire life from chronic ennui. Sex, work, therapy, love and parenthood all help for a little while, but the boredom, the emptiness and the sense of suffering always return. When Richard encounters the Indian spiritual guru Sri Mari and is inexplicably moved to tears, he begins to believe in the possibility of fulfilment.
Making the spiritual quest of a self-absorbed, discontented, often smug and self-important man feel relevant and interesting to readers is a big task, but Amanda Lohrey engages from the outset. Her characteristically precise, sometimes startling language and use of a shifting point of view allow the reader to be both within and outside of Richard’s experience, to feel as he does and to think about what that feeling means. The result is a moving, challenging and ultimately unsettling novel, which uses one man’s search for meaning to ask big questions about how to live.
About Amanda Lohrey
Amanda Lohrey is the author of the acclaimed novels The Morality of Gentlemen, Camille’s Bread and The Philosopher’s Doll; the novella Vertigo; as well as the award-winning short story collection Reading Madame Bovary. She has also written two Quarterly Essays: Groundswell and Voting for Jesus. In 2012 she was awarded the Patrick White Literary Award.
Anchor Point by Alice Robinson (Affirm Press)
Anchor Point is a novel about survival, friendship and family. Laura is just ten years old when her mother disappears and her life becomes complicated and serious. She takes on adult tasks and responsibilities, including caring for her younger sister and helping her father with his struggle to maintain their farm.
Anchor Point is a vehicle for Alice Robinson’s concerns about climate change and the world our children will inherit. Droughts and bushfires are metaphors for the loneliness, confusion and grief that lie in relationships that have gone awry, but there is also a visible love and respect for the Australian landscape in all its changes and this novel contains remarkably observant landscape writing. Robinson’s voice is assured, her prose is crisp and poetic, and the story is executed with care and a light touch.
About Alice Robinson
Alice Robinson is a lecturer in creative writing at Melbourne Polytechnic. She has a PhD in creative writing from Victoria University, and her work has appeared in publications including Kill Your Darlings, Overland, The Lifted Brow and Arena Magazine. Anchor Point is her debut novel.
The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood (Allen & Unwin)
In The Natural Way of Things ten women are imprisoned on an isolated property, forced into hard labour in scorching heat while wearing rough uniforms and vision-impairing bonnets. They are given no reason for their incarceration, but they gradually determine that each has been involved in a public sex scandal, making them dangerous, embarrassing or inconvenient to men who have the power to punish them. As their food runs out and it becomes evident that their guards have also been abandoned by whatever power placed them there, the women are forced to look to each other for survival.
Exposing the threads of misogyny, cowardice and abuses of power embedded in contemporary society, this is a confronting, sometimes deeply painful novel to read. With an unflinching eye and audacious imagination, Charlotte Wood carries us from a nightmare of helplessness and despair to a fantasy of revenge and reckoning.
About Charlotte Wood
Charlotte Wood is the author of five novels and a book of non-fiction, and editor of The Writer’s Room Interviews magazine. Her last novel, Animal People, was longlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award and her other books have been shortlisted for many prizes including the Christina Stead Prize for Fiction.
Small Acts of Disappearance by Fiona Wright (Giramondo)
Small Acts of Disappearance is a collection of essays on anorexia, a disorder as disturbing as it is mysterious, even to its own sufferers. Documenting Fiona Wright’s experience from the beginning of her affliction, when she was a student, to her hospitalisation with a life-threateningly extreme version of the illness, the essays display a candour and an intelligence that describe the course of her illness with great precision and illuminate the sufferer’s motives and actions over time.
The narrative is crosshatched with other experiences and subjects: travel, autobiography, and literature – in particular writers who have used their art to anatomise the extremity of compulsion. The range of Wright’s research, from contemporary neurobiologists to old school modernists, and the quality of her insights make Small Acts of Disappearance a valuable book. Wright brings a sometimes melancholy, sometimes comic, well-informed honesty to an important subject.
About Fiona Wright
Fiona Wright’s poetry book, Knuckled, won the Dame Mary Gilmore Award for a first collection. Her poems and essays have been published in the Australian, Meanjin, Island, Overland, The Lifted Brow, Seizure and HEAT.
For further information regarding the 2016 Stella Prize longlist, click here.