Thursday, July 24, 2008

Australian stories - I'm addicted

I think I’ve become addicted to quality Australian writing.

Quite by accident, I’ve read more Australian writers than any other this year (just check this blog), and after a brief break last week with Mma Ramotswe, I found I was hungry to return to Australian stories.

I had planned to read a classic piece of American literature next, but I was side-tracked by a $3.50 find in a book café. It was Melina Marchetta’s 1992 hit Looking for Alibrandi, a coming-of-age story set in Sydney, spanning a year in the life of 17-year-old Josephine Alibrandi.

The plan was to add this title to the reading pile for a later date, but the lure of a critically acclaimed contemporary Australian story was too strong. So I read it, in three sittings ... and loved it.

I saw the film adaptation back in 2000, which I enjoyed, but – no surprises – the novel is so much richer in its characterisation, conflicts, pathos and humour.

Josie is a second generation Italian-Australian. She's a bright girl, raised by her single mother, and has a scholarship to one of Sydney’s most prestigious schools. Her class and cultural background put her at odds with the world of privilege around her, and the freedom her friends enjoy is in stark contrast to the traditional values imposed on her by her Sicilian grandmother.

Looking for Alibrandi is a story about discovering identity, appreciating cultural heritage and family ties, learning tough lessons about love, and recognising the realities and fallacies of class distinction.

It’s about romance, life, death, estrangement and self-discovery, and explores the consequences of choices – even those made with the best of intentions.
Classed as young adult fiction, it's yet another story that transcends its label. It captures an era of Australia (both good and bad) that we, as a nation, haven't quite outgrown.

Major book chains these days are packed to the ceiling with blockbuster international titles, with only the most prominent of Australian writers able to score reasonable shelf space and time. What a shame.

I love great stories, regardless of who writes them and where they are set. But I must admit it has surprised me to discover this deep passion for Australian stories, and I’m not sure whether it's my stage of life, or simply the fact I’m bothering to read more of them.

So, my questions this week:

For readers of this blog in Australia: do you read Australian authors? If so, who, and why?

I pose the same questions to those who are outside Australia. And for those who answer yes, I wonder: do those stories with a strong focus on Australian people, culture and issues resonate with you? Do they, in fact, shape the way you see our country?


Rebecca said...

I read "The Rouseabout" by Rachael Treasure about a year ago - it must be the farmgirl in me, but I really enjoyed it. It's about a farmer's daughter who enjoys B&S's, rum, working hard, playing hard etc until her life changes quite dramatically. I won't go too much into the plot but it's definitely worth a read. It has great imagery and and made me feel proud of my parents' agricultural efforts over some very hard years.

I have also just finished "The Household Guide to Dying" which is by an Australian author, Debra Adelaide. It's getting rave reviews at the moment, but I have mixed feelings about it. Some parts were very emotional while others were ho-hum. It took a while to get into and there are some times when I don't want to read a book that makes me think, I just want to read and escape from the real world for a while.

Gustav said...

I do not read enough Australian novels. I suppose I am still trying to make up for time that I lost reading legal books and law cases at law school. That means I have gone down the path of reading the old classics more than contemporary stories, especially Australian stories.

The last Australian novel I read was "The Sound of One Hand Clapping" by Richard Flanagan. I love the first paragraph in the book:

"All this you will come to understand but can never know, and all of it took place long, long ago in a world that has since perished into peat, in a forgotten winter on an island of which few have ever heard. It began in that time before snow, completely and irrevocably, covers footprints. As black clouds shroud the star and moonlit heavens, as an unshadowable darkness comes upon the whispering land."

I will be reading more Australian novels in the future which will provide valuable insight into what it means to be Australian.