Last year was a great year for books, with some notable titles receiving prizes. In no particular order, here’s a few of our favourites from Australian and national literary awards.

the erraticsThe Stella Prize – The Erratics by Vicki Laveau-Harvie

Laveau-Harvie’s work was almost out of print when it was longlisted for the Stella Prize. Returning to her childhood home in Canada, Laveau-Harvie details her struggle to shield her father and herself from her mother’s erratic behaviour. A compelling memoir about a dysfunctional family but unlike any that will be familiar to readers, The Erratics is dark but still holds a glimmer of hope for a family in crisis. The Stella Prize, named for Stella Miles Franklin, has been awarded since 2013 to an outstanding fiction or nonfiction work by an Australian woman. It was established to address the underrepresentation of women in the literary sector.

the overstoryPulitzer Prize for Fiction – The Overstory by Richard Powers

The Pulitzer Prize is an international prize awarded across various categories, but this wonderfully lyrical book was a favourite. Also nominated for the Booker Prize and often compared to Moby Dick, this a complex and deftly crafted narrative that explores the impact on the lives of nine strangers and the role that trees play in their lives. We loved this book due to its intricate and beautiful language. It’s a slow, lingering read to be savoured.

too much lipMiles Franklin Literary Award – Too Much Lip by Melissa Lucashenko

Acclaimed novelist Lucashenko has won or been shortlisted for many prizes for her book of struggles and society in Bundjalung country, winning the renowned Miles Franklin. Lucashenko’s darkly comic prose and stories of ancestral country, and connection to people and place creates a compelling narrative that is reflective of past. We loved Too Much Lip’s well-crafted characters and found it a striking read. The Miles Franklin award was created by the estate of Stella Miles Franklin, author of My Brilliant Career and supporter of Australian literature. It was first presented in 1957 and is awarded each year to an outstanding novel that features Australian life.

girl woman other the testamentsThe Booker Prize – Girl, Woman, Other by Bernardine Evaristo and The Testaments by Margaret Atwood

This is the first time the Booker Prize has been shared since 1992. This was a controversial announcement in the literary community as the rules of this international prize prohibit a dual winner. Nevertheless, both Evaristo’s ground-breaking book and Atwood’s long-awaited sequel were awarded this acclaimed prize in 2019. Both books are different but equally worthy. Evaristo’s thoughtful and engaging narrative features multiple protagonists, touching upon race, feminism, struggle and hope. Atwood’s timely dystopian narrative takes place some years after The Handmaid’s Tale and answers some of the lingering questions readers (including us here at Book Groups!) have had for decades.

the death of noah glassPrime Minister’s Literary Awards – The Death of Noah Glass by Gail Jones

Also shortlisted for the Miles Franklin, The Death of Noah Glass is a worthy winner. Moving between past and present Sydney, Western Australia and Sicily, and multiple points of view, Jones’ narrative looks at grief, mystery and family, and the ultimate unknowability of others. Her book also delves into the art world and questions the role art can play in our lives. We found Jones’ book deeply moving and memorable. The Prime Minister’s Literary Awards celebrate the contribution to Australian literature.

An American MarriageWomen’s Prize for Fiction – An American Marriage by Tayari Jones

Jones’ powerful novel of a young couple torn apart by injustice explores the complexities of marriage and whether it is possible to put a life on hold. With rich prose that delves into the American Dream, race, love, relationships and justice, we found An American Marriage to be deeply emotive and thought-provoking. The Women’s Prize for Fiction celebrates fiction written by women from all over the world and is noted for highlighting diverse voices.

the shepherd's hutVoss Literary Prize – The Shepherd’s Hut by Tim Winton

Winton’s latest is an eerie almost post-apocalyptic tale, told with his trademark style. Often brutal and violent but also life-affirming, The Shepherd’s Hut tells the story of a fifteen-year-old boy struggling to survive in rural Western Australia and with no one around him that he can trust. Winton is no stranger to literary awards, having won the Miles Franklin four times among countless other accolades. The Voss Literary Prize is a relatively new Australian award, named after historian Vivian de Robert Vaux Voss and awarded since 2014.

Boy Swallow UniverseABIA Award – Boy Swallows Universe by Trent Dalton

Dalton has taken the world by storm with his illuminating debut, following the complicated life of teenager Eli in 1983 Brisbane. Partly based on his childhood, Dalton’s novel of a child struggling to survive in dark circumstances went straight to the bestseller list upon its release and is soon to be made into a TV series. The story of suburban home life gone awry resonated with us and we love the mixture of humour and often tragic subject matter. The Australian Book Industry Awards celebrate the achievements of Australian authors and publishers. Dalton won both the Matt Richell Award for New Writer of the Year and Literary Fiction Book of the Year.

No friend but the mountainsThe Victorian Premier’s Literary Award – No Friend but the Mountains by Behrouz Boochani

The Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards honour achievement by Australian writers and include Australia’s richest literary prize. Boochani’s work was deemed so important that it was permitted to be considered for these awards despite Boochiani not being a citizen or resident. No Friend but the Mountains won both the Victorian Prize for Literature and the Prize for Non-Fiction. Boochani wrote this memoir via WhatsApp messages to translator Omid Tofighian. A new addition to our list this year, this book is compelling, haunting and a must-read, shining a light on treatment of refugees. Boochani left Manus Island for New Zealand in November 2019.

Keep an eye out for these upcoming 2020 literary award announcements:

  • The Victorian Premier’s Literary Award winners on 30 January
  • The Stella Prize longlist announcement on 6 February
  • The Women’s Prize for Fiction longlist announcement on 3 March
  • The ABIA longlist announcement on 2 March
  • The Indie books awards winners announced on 23 March
  • The Miles Franklin longlist announcement in May