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A closer look at the 2017 Stella Prize longlist

Last night the Stella Prize longlist for 2017 was announced.

At Dymocks, we love supporting the Stella Prize. We’ve watched over the years as more of our readers engage with the books that are longlisted and shortlisted for, and eventually win, the Stella Prize, and 2016’s winner The Natural Way of Things was by far the most popular winner yet.

The depth and quality of the lists each year highlight the extraordinary talent of Australia’s female writers, and the 2017 longlist is no exception. Any of these 12 books will be a worthy winner on 18 April.

The Stella Prize judges have assembled a stunning longlist, and it’s a list that includes books from a variety of authors at different stages of their writing lives. The longlist features eight non-fiction books, three novels, and one collection of short stories. Sadly, two of the longlisted authors are no longer with us – Georgia Blain and Cory Taylor both passed away in 2016.

In alphabetical order of surname, here is the 2017 Stella Prize longlist.

1-9780732295691.pngVictoria the Queen by Julia Baird
The extraordinary story of the world's most influential, intriguing and surprising ruler, Queen Victoria.

When Alexandrina Victoria was crowned Queen of the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Ireland on 20 June 1837, she was 18 years old and barely five feet tall. Her subjects were fascinated and intrigued; some felt sorry for her. Writer Thomas Carlyle, watching her gilded coach draw away from the coronation, said: 'Poor little Queen, she is at an age at which a girl can hardly be trusted to choose a bonnet for herself; yet a task is laid upon her from which an archangel might shrink.'

Queen Victoria is long dead, but in truth she has shaped us from the grave. She was a tiny, powerful woman who reigned for an astonishing 64 years. By the time of her Diamond Jubilee Procession in 1897, she reigned over a fourth of the inhabitable part of the world, had 400 million subjects, and had given birth to nine children. Suffrage, anti-poverty and anti-slavery movements can all be traced to her monumental reign, along with a profound rethinking of family life and the rise of religious doubt. When she died, in 1901, she was the longest reigning monarch in English history. Victoria is truly the woman who made the modern world.

A fascinating, provocative and authoritative new biography of Queen Victoria which will make us see her in a new light, from one of Australia's most admired and respected journalists and commentators, Julia Baird.


2-9781925321111.jpgBetween a Wolf and a Dog by Georgia Blain
“Outside, the rain continues unceasing; silver sheets sluicing down, the trees and shrubs soaking and bedraggled, the earth sodden, puddles overflowing, torrents coursing onwards, as the darkness slowly softens with the dawn.”

Ester is a family therapist with an appointment book that catalogues the anxieties of the middle class: loneliness, relationships, death. She spends her days helping others find happiness, but her own family relationships are tense and frayed. Estranged from both her sister, April, and her ex-husband, Lawrence, Ester wants to fall in love again.

Meanwhile, April is struggling through her own directionless life; Lawrence's reckless past decisions are catching up with him; and Ester and April's mother, Hilary, is about to make a choice that will profoundly affect then all. Taking place largely over one rainy day in Sydney, and rendered with the evocative and powerful prose Blain is known for, Between a Wolf and a Dog is a celebration of the best in all of us: our capacity to live in the face of ordinary sorrows, and to draw strength from the transformative power of art.

Ultimately, it is a joyous tribute to the beauty of being alive.

3-9780733632280.jpgThe Hate Race by Maxine Beneba Clarke
“Against anything I had ever been told was possible, I was turning white. On the surface of my skin, a miracle was quietly brewing…”

Suburban Australia. Sweltering heat. Three bedroom blonde-brick. Family of five. Beat-up Ford Falcon. Vegemite on toast. Maxine Beneba Clarke's life is just like all the other Aussie kids on her street.

Except for this one, glaring, inescapably obvious thing.

From one of Australia's most exciting writers, and the author of the multi-award-winning Foreign Soil, comes The Hate Race: a powerful, funny, and at times devastating memoir about growing up black in white middle-class Australia.

4-9780994395771.jpgPoum and Alexandre by Catherine de Saint Phalle
This is the story of two flawed eccentrics. Everything they do subverts their firm intention of keeping up appearances. They meet just after the war in liberated Paris but they cannot quite free themselves from the many strings attached to them - the old aunts, the sisters, the cousins, the nuns and the ominous concierges that dog their footsteps.

Alexandre is a banker and a Resistant; he has never gone to school and lives in a world of numbers and Roman emperors. Poum has never darkened the threshold of a school either, signed a cheque or ever quite lived like other mothers do. She resides in the Odyssey and in her bed, hiding from the mysterious disapproval of their relatives, for they both seem to persist in some irreparable faux pas which has them wading through a lifetime pickle. Their daughter, Catherine, would like to help but she seems to be part of the problem.

This is no ordinary childhood, and Catherine de Saint Phalle's acceptance of her parents, despite their prominent flaws, shines through, propelling us head first into their strange, yet beautiful, Parisian world. Poum and Alexandre is a searingly honest, humorous and moving ode to family and place, and a meditation on the ways they ultimately define us.

5-9781742234717.jpgOffshore by Madeline Gleeson
What has happened on Nauru and Manus since Australia began its most recent offshore processing regime in 2012?

This essential book provides a comprehensive and uncompromising overview of the first three years of offshore processing since it recommenced in 2012. It explains why offshore processing was re-established, what life is like for asylum seekers and refugees on Nauru and Manus, what asylum seekers, refugees and staff in the offshore detention centres have to say about what goes on there, and why the truth has been so hard to find.

In doing so, it goes behind the rumours and allegations to reveal what is known – and what still is not known – about Australia’s offshore detention centres.

6-9781926428758.jpgAvalanche by Julia Leigh
At the age of 38 acclaimed novelist Julia Leigh made her first visit to the IVF clinic, full of hope. So started a long and costly undertaking of nightly injections, blood tests, surgeries and rituals.

Writing in the immediate aftermath of her decision to stop treatment, Leigh lays bare the truths of her experience: the highs of hope and the depths of disappointment; the grip of yearning and desire; the toll on her relationships; the unexpected graces and moments of black humour. Along the way she navigates the science of IVF; copes with the impact of treatment; and reconciles the seductive promises of the worldwide multi-billion-dollar IVF industry with reality. 

Avalanche is the book that's finally been written on IVF treatment: a courageous, compelling and ultimately wise account of a profoundly important and widespread experience. At the heart of this work is an exploration of who and how we love. It's a story we can all relate to u about the dreams we have, defeated or otherwise, for ourselves, our loves and relationships.

7-9781743538579.jpgAn Isolated Incident by Emily Maguire
When 25-year-old Bella Michaels is brutally murdered in the small town of Strathdee, the community is stunned and a media storm descends.

Unwillingly thrust into the eye of that storm is Bella’s beloved older sister, Chris, a barmaid at the local pub, whose apparent easy-going nature conceals hard-won wisdom and the kind of street-smarts only experience can bring. As Chris is plunged into despair and searches for answers, reasons, explanation - anything - that could make even the smallest sense of Bella’s death, her ex-husband, friends and neighbours do their best to support her. But as the days tick by with no arrest, Chris’s suspicion of those around her grows.

An Isolated Incident is a psychological thriller about everyday violence, the media’s obsession with pretty dead girls, the grip of grief and the myth of closure, and the difficulties of knowing the difference between a ghost and a memory, between a monster and a man.

8-9781926428567.jpgThe High Places by Fiona McFarlane
“What a terrible thing at a time like this: to own a house, and the trees around it. Janet sat rigid in her seat. The plane lifted from the city and her house fell away, consumed by the other houses. Janet worried about her own particular garden and her emptied refrigerator and her lamps that had been timed to come on at six.”

So begins "Mycenae," a story in The High Places, Fiona McFarlane's first story collection. Her stories skip across continents, eras, and genres to chart the borderlands of emotional life. In "Mycenae," she describes a middle-aged couple's disastrous vacation with old friends. In "Good News for Modern Man," a scientist lives on a small island with only a colossal squid and the ghost of Charles Darwin for company. And in the title story, an Australian farmer turns to Old Testament methods to relieve a fatal drought. Each story explores what Flannery O'Connor called "mystery and manners." The collection dissects the feelings--longing, contempt, love, fear--that animate our existence and hints at a reality beyond the smallness of our lives.

Salon’s Laura Miller called McFarlane's The Night Guest "a novel of uncanny emotional penetration… How could anyone so young portray so persuasively what it feels like to look back on a lot more life than you can see in front of you?" The High Places is further evidence of McFarlane's preternatural talent, a debut collection that reads like the selected works of a literary great.

9-9781922182135.jpgWasted by Elspeth Muir
In 2009 Elspeth Muir's youngest brother, Alexander, finished his last university exam and went out with some mates on the town. Later that night he wandered to the Story Bridge. He put his phone, wallet, T-shirt and thongs on the walkway, climbed over the railing, and jumped thirty metres into the Brisbane River below.

Three days passed before police divers pulled his body out of the water. When Alexander had drowned, his blood-alcohol reading was almost five times the legal limit for driving.

Why do some of us drink so much, and what happens when we do? Fewer young Australians are drinking heavily, but the rates of alcohol abuse and associated problems--from blackouts to sexual assaults and one-punch killings--are undiminished.

Intimate and beautifully told, Wasted illuminates the sorrows, and the joys, of drinking.

10-9781760291860.jpgThe Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose
A mesmerising literary novel about a lost man in search of connection - a meditation on love, art and commitment, set against the backdrop of one of the greatest art events in modern history, Marina Abramovic's The Artist is Present.

She watched as the final hours of The Artist is Present passed by, sitter after sitter in a gaze with the woman across the table. Jane felt she had witnessed a thing of inexplicable beauty among humans who had been drawn to this art and had found the reflection of a great mystery. What are we? How should we live?

If this was a dream, then he wanted to know when it would end. Maybe it would end if he went to see Lydia. But it was the one thing he was not allowed to do.


Arky Levin is a film composer in New York separated from his wife, who has asked him to keep one devastating promise. One day he finds his way to The Atrium at MOMA and sees Marina Abramovic in The Artist is Present. The performance continues for seventy-five days and, as it unfolds, so does Arky. As he watches and meets other people drawn to the exhibit, he slowly starts to understand what might be missing in his life and what he must do.

This dazzlingly original novel asks beguiling questions about the nature of art, life and love and finds a way to answer them.

11-9781925355772.jpgDying: A Memoir by Cory Taylor
(Please note, this blurb was written before Cory Taylor's death.)
Cory Taylor is one of Australia's celebrated novelists, the author of the brilliant Me and Mr Booker (winner of the Commonwealth Writers Prize, Pacific region), and My Beautiful Enemy (shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Award). At the age of sixty, she is dying of melanoma-related brain cancer. Her illness is no longer treatable.

As she tells us in her remarkable last book, Dying: A Memoir, she now weighs less than her neighbour's retriever. Written in the space of a few weeks, in a tremendous creative surge, this powerful and beautifully written book is a clear-eyed account of what dying has taught Cory: she describes the tangle of her feelings, she reflects on her life, and she remembers the lives and deaths of her parents. She tells us why she would like to be able to choose the circumstances of her own death. 

Dying: A Memoir is a breathtaking book about vulnerability and strength, courage and humility, anger and acceptance. It is a deeply affecting meditation on dying, but it is also a funny and wise tribute to life. This is a powerful, poignant and lucid last testament, at once an eloquent plea for autonomy in death, and an evocation of the joys, sorrows and sheer unpredictability and precariousness of life. Taylor wonders if she has found the right tone for her story. Her readers will find that she has. It's a fine contribution to our much-needed dialogue with death.

12-9780994395719.jpgThe Media and the Massacre by Sonya Voumard
Sonya Voumard's The Media and the Massacre is a chilling portrayal of journalism, betrayal, and storytelling surrounding the 1996 Port Arthur massacre.

Inspired, in part, by renowned American author Janet Malcolm's famously controversial work The Journalist and the Murderer, Voumard's elegant new work of literary non-fiction examines the fascinating theme of 'the writer's treachery.'

The author brings to bear her own journalistic experiences, ideas and practices in a riveting inquiry into her profession that is part-memoir and part ethical investigation. One of her case studies is the 2009 book Born about the perpetrator of the Port Arthur massacre, Martin Bryant, and his mother Carleen Bryant. Carleen sued, and received an undisclosed settlement, over the best-selling book's use of her personal manuscript.

In the lead-up to the 20th anniversary of the Port Arthur massacre, The Media and the Massacre explores the nature of journalistic intent and many of the wider moral and social issues of the storytelling surrounding the events and their place in our cultural memory.

Click here to view the full longlist. Have you read any of the books on the longlist? Do you have an early pick for the winner? Leave us a comment and let us know. 

 
 

Posted by Global Administrator on 08/02/2017