I genuinely love the Stella Prize. The longlisted books become my reading list and the winner often ends up as my favourite read of the year.
On 7 February 2019, the longlist for this year's Stella Prize was announced with 12 nominees. I have already read two of the books and loved them, but many of the other books and authors are unknown to me so I look forward to exploring these titles.
The 2019 longlist is as follows:
Jenny Ackland - Little Gods
This novel is set in the 1980s in rural Victoria. Twelve year old Olive is a smart and brave child who discovers a secret about her family and is determined to learn more about what may have happened many years ago. But her curiosity could lead to repercussions she cannot yet imagine. The judges write that 'Ackland perfectly evokes a childhood both sublime and anguished, and the uncertainty of youth is exquisitely depicted throughout'. I have heard great things about Little Gods and so I will add this book to my list.
Stephanie Bishop - Man Out of Time
The judges described Bishop's book as 'an audacious, splendidly accomplished novel, lit by shimmering prose'. Man Out Of Time focuses on the damaged relationship of Stella and her father Leon. In September 2001 Leon disappears, having suffered from debilitating mental illness. Searching for clues on where he might have gone, his wife Frances and daughter Stella reflect on his deterioration over time.
Belinda Castles - Bluebottle
Set on Sydney's northern beaches, the Bright family live in a clifftop beach shack amid the gorgeous, leafy scenery. Louisa, Jack and Phoebe know their father Charlie can be volatile and moody. A local schoolgirl disappears which has a huge impact on the family as Charlie becomes fixated on the mystery. I am ashamed to say I had not heard of Belinda Castles who won the Vogel Award for her 2006 novel The River Baptists. This is another title to add to my list.
Enza Gandolfo - The Bridge
This novel draws on the true story of the 1970 West Gate Bridge collapse, Australia's worst industrial accident in which 35 construction workers died. Protagonist Antonello was there that day when his colleagues perished and he has to deal with the guilt and grief. Four decades later Jo is finishing high school when a mistake ends in tragedy. The judges describe The Bridge as 'a sharp and moving portrayal of the strength and resilience that lives in people, and a fascinating look at the effects of gentrification'. I love books with a strong sense of place and I reckon this novel would bring Melbourne to life.
Chloe Hooper - The Arsonist
I am thrilled that Hooper's book about the Churchill bushfire has made the longlist. This is the story of the arsonist who deliberately lit fire that destroyed homes, burnt over 80,000 hectares of land and killed eleven people. It follows the fire and its aftermath, as well as the investigation, arrest and trial of the perpetrator. When I read The Arsonist in November 2018 I marvelled at Hooper's investigative skills and her talents as a writer. The judges described this as a 'masterful work of non-fiction' and I would agree. My review can be found on this blog.
Gail Jones - The Death of Noah Glass
Jamie Marina Lau - Pink Mountain on Locust Island
This is the debut novel of a 20 year old writer - so an auspicious start to Lau's literary career. Set in Chinatown, teenage Monk lives with her father in a tiny apartment. A new potential artist boyfriend enters the scene complicating relationships and leading Monk to explore her own sense of self. The judges claim 'this book is like nothing you have ever read before - a kaleidoscope of colours, smells and fragments of life observed by a teenager in Chinatown somewhere in an unknown city.'
Vicki Laveau-Harvie - The Erratics
Bri Lee - Eggshell Skull
I squealed with delight when I saw Bri Lee's name on this list! Her memoir Eggshell Skull is an incredible book that was one of my top reads of 2018. Lee writes about her experience as an associate for a Queensland District Court Judge and then her own battle as she sought justice against a man who had indecently assaulted her. My review can be found on this blog.
Melissa Lucashenko - Too Much Lip
Maria Tumarkin - Axiomatic
Tumarkin's collection of essays traverse a wide range of subjects including child abduction, teen suicide, and the experiences of refugees. The judges describe Axiomatic as 'an unwieldy expansive beast that combines lyrical essay with psychological reportage'. I really love essay collections, but I am not sure that I could endure the subject matter of this collection.
Fiona Wright - The World Was Whole
Fiona Wright won great acclaim for her previous collection of essays, Small Acts of Disappearance. In this follow up Wright explores themes of illness, home, travel and more. The judges describe this as 'a taut and expansive mix of everyday observations, cultural theory, social commentary and memoir'. I am keen to read this volume particularly as she writes about life in Newtown and travel.
In compiling this longlist, the judges claim that they 'chose books that strove for something big and fulfilled their own ambitions'. The two I have read certainly attest to this claim, so I can't wait to explore some of the others. For more information and the complete judges comments, see the Stella Prize website.
The Shortlist will be announced on 8 March - International Women's Day - with the winner revealed on 9 April 2019. Happy reading!