Stella Prize Shortlist


The announcement of the 2018 shortlist for the annual Stella Prize happened today, on International Women’s Day. From a long-list of twelve, six have made the shortlist, and it is a diverse, eclectic and powerful selection of the voices of Australian women. The importance of this, at a time when women’s voices are demanding to be heard in all spheres is important: the diversity in these books should be interesting, and I have at least two on my to read list, and one on my read list. Of the others, I am yet to decide if I will add them to my growing to be read lists and piles, as they look just as interesting as the ones I have chosen to read.

This year’s shortlisted books and authors are diverse and relevant and show the breadth of writing by Australian women. The themes in the books are about family, politics, identity and what has been, and what might come. The diversity of these stories is what gives them their power.


The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree by Shokoofeh Azar


This book is an extraordinarily powerful and evocative literary novel set in Iran in the period immediately after the Islamic Revolution in 1979. Using the lyrical magic realism style of classical Persian storytelling, Azar draws the reader deep into the heart of a family caught in the maelstrom of post-revolutionary chaos and brutality that sweeps across an ancient land and its people. Azar is the consummate storyteller, using the panoply of Persian mythical and mystical entities to bring life, humour, hope, resignation, and profound insights to the characters and their world.

Terra Nullis by Clare G. Coleman

terra nulliusJacky was running. There was no thought in his head, only an intense drive to run. There was no sense he was getting anywhere, no plan, no destination, no future. All he had was a sense of what was behind, what he was running from. Jacky was running.

The Natives of the Colony are restless. The Settlers are eager to have a nation of peace, and to bring the savages into line. Families are torn apart, reeducation is enforced. This rich land will provide for all.

This is not Australia as we know it. This is not the Australia of our history. This TERRA NULLIUS is something new, but all too familiar.

This is an incredible debut from a striking new Australian Aboriginal voice.

The Life to Come by Michelle de Krester


Michelle-de-Kretser_The-Life-to-Come-669x1024.jpgSet in Sydney, Paris and Sri Lanka, The Life to Come is a mesmerising novel about the stories we tell and don’t tell ourselves as individuals, as societies and as nations. It feels at once firmly classic and exhilaratingly contemporary.

Pippa is a writer who longs for success. Celeste tries to convince herself that her feelings for her married lover are reciprocated. Ash makes strategic use of his childhood in Sri Lanka but blots out the memory of a tragedy from that time. Driven by riveting stories and unforgettable characters, here is a dazzling meditation on intimacy, loneliness and our flawed perception of other people.

Profoundly moving as well as wickedly funny, The Life to Come reveals how the shadows cast by both the past and the future can transform, distort and undo the present. This extraordinary novel by Miles Franklin-winning author Michelle de Kretser will strike to your soul.



An Uncertain Grace by Krissy Kneen


Krissy-Kneen_An-Uncertain-Grace_High-Res-669x1024.jpgSome time in the near future, university lecturer Caspar receives a gift from a former student called Liv: a memory stick containing a virtual narrative. Hooked up to a virtual reality bodysuit, he becomes immersed in the experience of their past sexual relationship. But this time it is her experience. What was for him an erotic interlude, resonant with the thrill of seduction, was very different for her—and when he has lived it, he will understand how.


A convicted paedophile recruited to Liv’s experiment in collective consciousness discovers a way to escape from his own desolation.

A synthetic boy, designed by Liv’s team to ‘love’ men who desire adolescents, begins to question the terms of his existence.

L, in transition to a state beyond gender, befriends Liv, in transition to a state beyond age.

Liv herself has finally transcended the corporeal—but there is still the problem of love.

An Uncertain Grace is a novel in five parts by one of Australia’s most inventive and provocative writers. Moving, thoughtful, sometimes playful, it is about who we are—our best and worst selves, our innermost selves—and who we might become.


The Fish Girl by Mirandi Riwoe

Mirandi-Riwoe_The-Fish-Girl.jpgSparked by the description of a ‘Malay trollope’ in W. Somerset Maugham’s story, ‘The Four Dutchmen’, The Fish Girl tells of an Indonesian girl whose life is changed irrevocably when she moves from a small fishing village to work in the house of a Dutch merchant. There she finds both hardship and tenderness as her traditional past and colonial present collide.

Told with an exquisitely restrained voice and coloured with lush description, this moving book will stay with you long after the last page.


Tracker by Alexis Wright


Alexis Wright returns to non-fiction in her new book, a collective memoir of the charismatic Aboriginal leader, political thinker and entrepreneur Tracker Tilmouth, who died in Darwin in 2015 at the age of 62.

Taken from his family as a child and brought up in a mission on Croker Island, Tracker Tilmouth worked tirelessly for Aboriginal self-determination, creating opportunities for land use and economic development in his many roles, including Director of the Central Land Council of the Northern Territory.

Tracker was a visionary, a strategist and a projector of ideas, renowned for his irreverent humour and his determination to tell things the way he saw them. Having known him for many years, Alexis Wright interviewed Tracker, along with family, friends, colleagues, and the politicians he influenced, weaving his and their stories together in a manner reminiscent of the work of Nobel Prize–winning author Svetlana Alexievich. The book is as much a testament to the powerful role played by storytelling in contemporary Aboriginal life as it is to the legacy of an extraordinary man.

I look forward to hearing which of these books wins in April. Reading about them, I think the judges have a very tough decision to make.




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