Last week, the winners of the Prime Minister’s Literary Awards in Australia were announced.
The annual awards, established in 2007, were designed as "a new initiative celebrating the contribution of Australian literature to the nation's cultural and intellectual life." There are four categories (fiction, non-fiction, young adult, children’s fiction, and Australian history); each category winner receives $80,000, making it Australia's richest literary award in total. The awards are open to works written by Australian citizens and permanent residents for books first published in the calendar year prior to the awards.
The fiction prize was split between two authors, The Life of Houses by Lisa Gorton and The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood.
The Life of Houses: This novel explores the hidden tensions in an old established Australian family that has lived for generations in a large house in a coastal town in south-eastern Australia. These tensions come to the surface when the granddaughter Kit is sent by her mother to spend a holiday with her grandparents, and the unmarried aunt who looks after them, in their old and decaying house by the sea. Kit barely knows them, because her mother is estranged from the family and never talks to or visits them. Recently divorced from Kit’s father, she sends her daughter to her parents now so she can pursue an affair with her new lover. Kit’s presence brings the old quarrels to life as family memories take hold of the present, brought to a flashpoint by the anger and resentment of Kit and her mother, and the dementia and sudden illness of her grandparents.
The Natural Way of Things: Drugged, dressed in old-fashioned rags, and fiending for a cigarette, Yolanda wakes up in a barren room. Verla, a young woman who seems vaguely familiar, sits nearby. Down a hallway echoing loudly with the voices of mysterious men, in a stark compound deep in the Australian outback, other captive women are just coming to. Starved, sedated, the girls can't be sure of anything—except the painful episodes in their pasts that link them.
Charlotte Wood depicts a world where a woman's sexuality has become a weapon turned against her. The characters, each marked by their own public scandal, are silenced and shackled by a cruel system of corporate control and misogyny. In a Kafkaesque drag of days marked only by the increasing strangeness of their predicament, the fraught, surreal, and fierce reality of inhabiting a female body becomes frighteningly vivid.
But it's in the very bind of this senseless system that Yolanda and Verla discover their ability to forge a bond powerful enough to bring it down. Drawing strength from the animal instincts they're forced to rely on, the girls go from hunted to hunters, along the way becoming unforgettable and boldly original literary heroines that readers will both relate to and root for.
For the shortlists and winners in all the categories, go to https://www.arts.gov.au/pm-literary-awards/current-awards.