Just in. The books shortlisted for the 2011 Miles Franklin Literary Award are:

Bereft by Chris Womersley
That Deadman Dance by Kim Scott
When Colts Ran by Roger McDonald

Of course, the comment has begun (on Twitter) about the fact that there are only three books. Martin Shaw says (@thebooksdesk) ‘A shortlist of 3 becomes a bit of a damning take on the longlist to me – as if the other 6 were just chosen for some local colour!’ I wasn’t at the announcement and the press release hasn’t found it’s way into my inbox yet but Jennifer Byrne from the First Tuesday Book Club (@tuesdaybookclub) tweeted that the judges said, regarding the shortlist of three, ‘they had read lots of books that were not ready for publication and lacked great editing…’ She also reported that the judges said ‘Australian voice’ was the most striking feature of the books nominated.

And of course, they’re all dudes (as in 2009). Roger McDonald and Kim Scott are also former winners.

I haven’t read all three of these, but I’m sure they’re good, quality reads. Chris Womersley’s Bereft certainly is, and I’ll put my money on that. I’m keen to read That Deadman Dance too. But isn’t it striking that Australian life, according to the Miles Franklin judges, is still represented by the past and the outback, and is written in a male voice. Sheep stations, war, colonisation. Like I said, I’m sure the books are good, but I feel the award continues to narrowly define ‘Australian life’ – and the longlist certainly does feel a bit like a cop out. When you look at the final three you feel like those other books never had a chance.

Comments?

I’m sorry this is rough, wanted to get it out quick. I’ll update with some official comments from the judges or links later.

UPDATE

The official comments are up on the Trust website now. See here. The judges say: ‘These shortlisted books have a distinctive, indelible Australian voice. It’s a voice that has nothing to do with reflex nationalism, or jingoism – rather the reverse. The shortlisted books this year are like barometers of the state of our culture: they take the readings, and give them back to us in fiction of extraordinary accomplishment. They force us to look again at ourselves, and to think – hard.’

And here’s some comments on the individual novels:

On Bereft: ‘This is a beautifully written book, spare and compelling. The tragedy and bleakness of the story are, at times, almost unbearable but Womersley’s fine prose and narrative intensity make Bereft unforgettable.’

On That Deadman Dance: ‘That Deadman Dance is alive in the spaces between these two worlds as they collide and collaborate. It tells the story of the rapid destruction of Noongar people and their traditions. At the same time, there is the enchanting possibility of the birth of a new world in the strange song, dance, ceremony and language that are produced by these encounters of very different peoples.’

On When Colts Ran: ‘When Colts Ran, with its cavalcade of flawed, rough cut Australian characters, illustrates poignantly the way the optimism and confidence of rural Australia in the middle of the twentieth century slipped away and how family experience, class and social expectation shaped communities. Roger McDonald evokes that world with an inwardness and poetic verve that is extraordinary.’

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