Last week my book, A wrong turn at the Office of Unmade Lists, won Small Press Network’s ‘Most Underrated Book Award’ – you can read about it here if such a thing takes your fancy.
It’s a funny award, but also important. Loads of good books are completely overlooked by reviewers and readers, not because they’re not worth reading but because there are millions of books out there and only a few of them have enough marketing money thrown at them for them to be noticed. Books that don’t get marketed generally just disappear. I’m amazed by how much difference even a little thing like this award makes – twice as many people on Goodreads now reckon they want to read my book, for example.
So I thought I’d pass on a little of the love, for that brief second while people are paying attention to me. Here are some books published by Australian small presses over the last few years, each incredibly brilliant, and each largely overlooked. If you want to read something extraordinary, have a go at one of these (blurbs are taken from my sadly incoherent Goodreads reviews):
Gone, by Jennifer Mills, published by UQP. With his made-up name and a quest for a house that exists only in a photo he found at the bottom of someone else’s backpack, with his ‘memories’ which seem entirely stolen from other people he meets along the way, ‘Frank’ is the ultimate unreliable narrator. Even as he hitchikes his way towards his ‘home’ and as Mills reveals bits and pieces of his mental illness, his fantasies, we never get to a point where we actually know what has happened to him or who he is. Gone is full of bone-chilling dread, and its study of Australia’s people and landscape mean it is a book we should all read to better understand ourselves. Buy it here.
Come Inside, by GL Osborne, published by Clouds of Magellan. This mysterious, elliptical, eerie story of a shipwreck, a museum, an unknown girl, a missing girl is creepy and strange and impossible to figure out. Your brain may have no idea what’s going on, but your subconscious will be deeply satisfied. Buy it here.
Letters to the end of love, by Yvette Walker, published by UQP. Utterly heartbreaking. The most beautiful sustained piece of writing I’ve read in years. A miraculous understanding of the depths of sweet, old, taken-for-granted ground-in love. You’ll cry on the peak-hour train. OK, I did. Buy it here.
Truck Song, by Andrew Macrae, published by Twelfth Planet Press. Trucksong – a dystopian outback tale of AI trucks and a boy who longs to tame them – riffs off Russell Hoban’s ingenious Riddley Walker in a tangily Australian way. The language is brilliant: completely ocker without ever feeling like a smug latte-sipping parody. The descriptions of this dry, desperate and weirdly sexy techy world are grouse. Buy it here.
Tarcutta Wake, by Josephine Rowe, published by UQP. This collection of tiny stories is a brilliant read-out-loud book, and if you’re going to read it i recommend doing it that way, even if just to yourself. Your mouth will thank you; it will feel special and profound as it reads these beautiful, miraculous words and sentences. I adored these stories’ shard-like, unfathomable nature. Buy it here.
Las Vegas for Vegans, by AS Patric, published by Transit Lounge. Each little piece in this short story collection is pure, clear poetry. Some of it is frightfully sad; some weird in just the way I like, full of people’s imaginings of how things might be, and the way those imaginings take over from the real world. A glorious read. If you don’t like short stories, try Patric’s equally brilliant novella, Bruno Kramzer, published by Finlay Lloyd. Buy it here.
A late addition (thanks to Paddy O’Reilly for reminding me): Anguli Ma, by Chi Vu, published by Giramondo. Vietnamese refugees in 1980s Footscray are stalked by a demon, who may or may not be an abattoir worker. There aren’t enough stories about the non-Anglo experience of living in Australia; particularly not enough stories that aren’t memoirs of growing up non-Anglo here. I want to read more fiction like this, that reveals an Australia I’ve been oblivious to my whole life.This book made me look at the neighbourhood where I live in a whole other way. It made me look at Australia and the people around me in a whole other way. I felt like I had new eyes while reading this. Buy it here.
I’m obviously a little fixated on unconventional story lines, strange language and unresolved endings, so if you’d like something a little more traditional, I also recommend:
Who we were, by Lucy Neave, published by Text. This is elegant, clean, professional writing. The story of two biologists confronted with the random cruelty of 1950s anti-Communist America is gripping. Their different responses to it create heartbreaking complications for their marriage. And I loved that Lake George featured: is this the first time it’s ever been in a novel? Buy it here.
Later this week I’ll be interviewing Annabel Smith about her new novel, The Ark: this is a book which deserves to be seriously rated and to never appear on a list like this.
Some other coverage of the MUBA win:
- The Australian’s wrap of recent lit prizes
- Australian Women Writers
- The Guardian – Martin Shaw’s blog
- Interview on Radio National’s Books & Arts Daily
- News story on Bookseller & Publisher
- Talking about Adam Roberts’ underrated Jack Glass on Triple R’s The Grapevine (somewhere around 2hr25mins).
- Martin Shaw (again!) on literary prizes and summer reading.