The votes are in the ABC’s search for Australia’s favourite book, and the winner according to the voting public is Tim Winton’s ‘Cloudstreet’.
Now, these lists may only be useful for conjecture, and I think like most lists, this one also tends to favour the more recently published books. But I must admit, this list is a considerable improvement on the Modern Library reader’s list of the Top 100 Novel’s of the 20th century as voted by the public. Luckily there are no sightings of Ayn Rand and L. Ron Hubbard in this list, it seems there was no need for the Randians or the Scientologists to vote on mass (which even lead to the absymal ‘Battlefield Earth’ leading the Movie Show film of the year poll in 2001)
Among the reader’s favourites it is good to see that novels like ‘My Brother Jack’ and ‘The Fortunes of Richard Mahony’ have not disappeared from the national consciousness, and who could begrude Carey or Winton a spot or two. Although, I have to admit to being a little disappointed that my book of choice, Patrick White’s ‘The Vivisector’ didn’t make the list (neither did ‘Riders of the Chariot’), while ‘Voss’ was somehow languishing at no.20.
However, worse is the complete omission of David Malouf. In my opinion ‘An Imaginary Life’ has to rate among the finest works of Australian fiction and deserves to be entrenched among the top five novels. This would be closely followed by Frederic Manning’s ‘The Middle Parts of Fortune’, Australia’s finest war novel. Unfortunately, the novel’s graphic language and the vicious depiction of detail have played a part in this book never escaping obscure classic status, the clash with 1930s sensibilities limiting the novel’s publication upon its release. Other omissions that come to mind, Christina Stead ‘The Man Who Loved Children’, Frank Moorhouse’s League of Nations novels and what about West Australians Randolf Stow and Elizabeth Jolley? Surely all more deserving of a guernsey than Bryce Courtenay’s ‘The Power of One’.
I’m sure there are plenty of others, what other overlooked classics can readers think of? Another important question, what constitutes an Australian writer? Does Australian born Francis Stuart qualify? If so ‘Black List, Section H’ deserves a mention. Maybe we could be creative, already Mangcu from the Steve Beko Foundation has attempted to strip J.M. Coetzee of his South African heritage: “we will then worry less about Australians such as JM Coetzee winning the Nobel Prize”. Who’ll be the first to start with the chants of un-Australian?