I had high hopes for my participation in this challenge. I wanted to read Handfasted by Catherine Helen Spence and other 19th Australian women writers but, in the end, I ran out of time. Cravenly I included tiny novellas like Puberty Blues and The Bay of Noon in my ten novels. I even included The Villa of Death, which is by an Australian writer but set in England, and has Daphne du Maurier as the sleuthing heroine!
Here’s my list from favourite to least favourite:
- A Kingdom by the Sea – Nancy Phelan (Wonderful account of childhood around The Spit in Sydney in the 1920s and 30s; it is a bygone era beautifully evoked)
- Tirra Lirra by the River – Jessica Anderson (perceptive novel about ageing and looking back over life; I loved spending time with Anderson’s witty and sardonic narrator)
- The Bay of Noon – Shirley Hazzard (Quintessentially of its time, the fifties/sixties; an intelligent but naïve young English woman finds herself drawn to the lives of a worldly Italian couple; philosophical and beautifully written)
- The Engagement – Chloe Hooper (Very clever Gothic thriller with psychological edge: I love it when Australian writers do this sort of thing well)
- Fortress – Gabrielle Lord (Suspenseful account of a school teacher and her class kidnapped by a gang of violent youths, has a great touch in portraying the relationship between the children and, our heroine, their teacher, coupled with clever plot twists)
- Reading by Moonlight – Brenda Walker (Falls between the two stools of a memoir of surviving cancer and literature appreciation; but clear, effective writing and intelligent, perceptive thoughts, redeem it)
- The Villa of Death – Joanna Challis (No deathless prose but Daphne du Maurier as the heroine is an entertaining character, the setting of a thinly-disguised Manderley is interesting, the mystery plot ticks away and it is fun guessing links to the real du Maurier’s life and novels)
- We of the Never Never – Jeannie Gun (Glad I read this work about a NT cattle station at the end of the 19th century for a particular portrayal of outback life, but it is a series of sketches rather than a novel)
- Butterfly Song – Terri Janke (Very readable novel that melds the contemporary life of an indigenous student with a mystery set in the Torres Strait in the 1940s)
- Puberty Blues – Gabrielle Carey and Kathy Lette (a disappointment after the wonderful television series).