Beyond Australian shores, Gerald Murnane is recognised as one of Australia's most original and distinctive writers, and in a recent profile coinciding with the release of his latest work of fiction in America, The New York Times headlined the question; 'Is the Next Nobel Laureate in Literature Tending Bar in a Dusty Australian Town?
And yet none of Murnanes 12 works of fiction have ever been longlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary awards.
Approaching his 80th year, Murnane has only now made it on the longlist for the 2018 awards with Border Districts, heading a strong list of former winners and emerging authors competing for one of Australias most important literary prizes and a purse of $60,000.
This late acknowledgment might be just as well, or a little too late depending on ones perspective, since Murnane has declared his latest fiction, a meditation on the move from city to country life, to be his last. Murnane lives in Goroke, Victoria, and has never flown on a plane and barely left the state.
The author's publisher, Ivor Indyk, said Murnanes importance had been recognised by a small group of readers for some time, but it was pleasing to see that the emotional appeal of his writing was, at last, attracting a wider readership.
"He is not a secretive or difficult writer, he writes in a way which is completely true to his understanding of how the mind makes a place for itself in the world."
Also on the longlist is three times Miles Franklin winner Peter Carey (Jack Maggs, 1998; Oscar and Lucinda, 1989; and Bliss, 1981) who has been longlisted for A Long Way from Home and twice winner Kim Scott for Taboo.
Michelle de Kretser, author of the 2013 Miles Franklin winner Questions of Travel, is nominated for The Life to Come.
Australian small presses dominate for the second year. Murnanes stablemate at the University of Western Sydney-based Giramondo Press, Felicity Castagna, has been selected for No More Boats, a look at Tampa and dog-whistle politics through the eyes of an Italian migrant.
Newcastle academic Michael Sala has been recognised for The Restorer, his piercing examination of emotional abuse inside a family. He is one of three longlisted novelists – the others are Eva Hornung (The Last Garden) and Wayne Macauley (Some Tests) – from independent publisher Text. It was Macauley who provided the introduction to the Text Classic reissue of Murnane's 1982 novelThe Plains.
An extremely important Australian writer Murane's The Plains is an extraordinary work of great intellect and imagination, according to writer and academic Debra Adelaide.
However, his fiction often makes for challenging reading, with Murnane returning again and again to small details that build powerful stories based on his memories.
"Murnanes style is also repetitive and hypnotic, so it does attract both admirers and critics," Associate Professor Adelaide said.
"There is usually no line between fiction and memoir in anything he writes. Aside from The Plains, there's almost no plot and little representation of character, hes just interested in presenting versions of the processes of his mind."
The Miles Franklin Literary Award was established through the will of My Brilliant Career author Stella Miles Franklin and has been presented since 1957 to novels considered to be of the highest literary merit and presenting Australian life in any phase.
The longlist spans historical, fantastical, realist, satirical, allegorical and autobiographical genres, according to Mitchell Librarian of the State Library of NSW and head of the Award judging panel, Richard Neville.
The 2018 Miles Franklin Literary Award longlist is:
- Peter Carey, A Long Way from Home, Penguin Random House
- Felicity Castagna, No More Boats, Giramondo Publishing
- Michelle de Kretser, The Life to Come, Allen & Unwin
- Lia Hills, The Crying Place, Allen & Unwin
- Eva Hornung, The Last Garden, Text Publishing
- Wayne Macauley, Some Tests, Text Publishing
- Catherine McKinnon, Storyland, HarperCollins Publishers
- Gerald Murnane, Border Districts, Giramondo Publishing
- Jane Rawson, From the Wreck, Transit Lounge
- Michael Sala, The Restorer, Text Publishing
- Kim Scott, Taboo, Picador Australia (Pan Macmillan Australia)
The announcement of the winner will be made on Sunday, August 26, in Melbourne.
Linda Morris is an arts and books writer for The Sydney Morning Herald.
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