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Spanning fiction and non-fiction, the six shortlisted titles showcase the extraordinary ingenuity on offer across the Australian literary landscape, and invite readers to reach beyond their own perceptions, to question social and political systems, and to examine their place in the world. 

The winner will be announced in a special evening of storytelling and ideas broadcast on 22 April - so you have until then to read the shortlist!

 

FATHOMS: THE WORLD IN THE WHALE by Rebecca Giggs

Rebecca Giggs

Fathoms: the world in the whale

by Rebecca Giggs (Scribe Publications)

Fathoms: the world in the whale is a haunting piece of narrative non-fiction that asks pertinent questions about how globalisation, consumption and our obsession with convenience is threatening the environment in connected and devastating ways. It is the impact of this interconnectedness – the messy entanglement with other humans, with the environment, and with animals – that is at the heart of Fathoms.

Rebecca Giggs is expansive and generous in her thinking, and her philosophical and scientific research. One of the many strengths of this imaginative book is that Giggs does not use anthropomorphism to draw us in. Instead, she deftly coaxes a sense of intellectual and moral responsibility by using whales as a starting point for urgent conversations.

With searing compassion and intellectual curiosity, Giggs has delivered a profound work that demands we rethink the ways we live – and how we seek and fail to protect delicate environments by confronting our individual and collective choices.

 

REVENGE by S.L. Lim

S.L. Lim

Revenge: Murder in Three Parts

by S.L. Lim (Transit Lounge)

S.L. Lim’s novel is a psychological portrayal of what happens when an unhinged, manipulative, violent man controls a domestic space – and the ruinous impacts it has on the lives of women and girls in his orbit.

Reminiscent of the menacing domestic oppressions explored in the novels of Elizabeth Harrower, Lim writes about the life of Yannie: a bright, brainy girl whose intellectual ambitions and longings are thwarted by her brother, Shan. Shan’s menace is enabled by his parents as a child, and as an adult, by educators and employers. Despite the unravelling of Yannie’s aspirations – and familial and social demands that she be subservient – her spirit is bold, brave, and gutsy.

Lim’s writing is tight and impeccably controlled. The fraught, charged atmosphere pervading this novel never abates. Across 230 tense pages we witness the entire life of Yannie unfold, as she shifts from a clever yet obstructed and diminished girl, to a grown woman on a quiet quest for retribution.

 

THE ANIMALS IN THAT COUNTRY by Laura Jean McKay

Laura Jean McKay

The Animals in That Country

by Laura Jean McKay (Scribe Publications)

Laura Jean McKay’s prescient The Animals in That Country begins as a flu-like pandemic spreads its way across the countryside, rendering those afflicted with the ability to understand what animals, both wild and domestic, have to say. The plot is centred on Jean, together with the dingo Sue, embarking on a chaotic road trip to retrieve her granddaughter from her estranged son, who has spirited her away. As well as an intriguing plot, the author has gifted the reader a most unusual protagonist, the hard drinking and smoking, somewhat unreliable grandmother, Jean.

As the action progresses the voices of the various animal species become more urgent. Their dialogue is poetic yet also visceral, disturbing, challenging and often funny. The Animals in That Country explores our – often fraught – relationships with family, animals, environment and country and how we commodify and abuse each and all of these. A must read.

 

The 2021 Stella Prize Shortlist

Illustration by Juliet Sulejmani

WITNESS by Louise Milligan

Louise Milligan

Witness

by Louise Milligan (Hachette Australia)

Louise Milligan’s timely and incredibly important book canvasses the systematic and organised hounding of sexual abuse victims who seek justice in Australian courts.

With erudite analysis, Milligan puts on trial the judges, prosecutors and legal professionals who frame their unashamed and dogged discrediting of sexual abuse victims as “all in a day’s work”. Milligan reveals victims of sexual abuse crimes being re-traumatised via the criminal justice system and its professionals, and shows how victims’ experiences in courts are frequently devastating and irreparable.

Exposing a legal system in dire need of overhaul, Milligan details how chronic distortion and undermining of victim testimony and experiences is enabled by a legal framework that sees abusers set free, legal professionals dispassionately moving on to their next case, and victims left reeling.

 

STONE SKY GOLD MOUNTAIN by Mirandi Riwoe

Mirandi Riwoe

Stone Sky Gold Mountain

by Mirandi Riwoe (University of Queensland Press)

In Stone Sky Gold Mountain, Mirandi Riwoe has subverted the historical Gold Rush-era novel and provided us with a lyrical, character-driven piece of historical fiction that explores identity, friendship, belonging, and what it means to exist on a land that is not your own.

Told from the perspective of two Chinese recent immigrants (siblings Mei Ying and Lai Yue) and Meriem, a white woman who works for for a sex worker on the outskirts of Maytown on Kuku-Yalanji land, Riwoe creates nuanced characters whose perspectives are often absent from this particular era of fiction or used as a footnote in history. In doing so, she has injected a unique exuberance to the genre and illuminated the experiences of people during that time beyond the pervasive white colonial narrative.

With lyricism and intelligence, Riwoe writes loyally to a period of history while simultaneously reminding the reader of the parallels between the 1870s and modern Australia: the violence and racism against First Nations people and new immigrants at the hands of white settlers; the casualised misogyny; and the varying experiences of people based on their class. Riwoe is clear-eyed and unsentimental in her approach – these comparisons are not made heavy-handedly, but presented as they are: an undeniable part of Australia, then and now.

 

THE BASS ROCK by Evie Wyld

Evie Wyld

The Bass Rock

by Evie Wyld (Penguin Random House)

At once confronting, chaotic and charming, Evie Wyld’s The Bass Rock is a perplexingly brilliant novel that will challenge and test the reader. Set across multiple time periods, and with three distinct narrative voices throughout, the book blurs the line between the past and the present, the real and the imagined, the natural and the unnatural world.

The Bass Rock is about family and love, and the ways that both can undo a person – as both storm and haven. It’s about the legacy of male violence and the ways in which these traumas ripple and reverberate across time and place.

Wyld’s development of her large and diverse cast of characters is incredibly precise, and the novel continues to surprise to the very last page. This book will leave readers uncertain and questioning, but also full of the imagery and atmosphere Wyld brings to life so masterfully on the page.

 


Books in the Stella Shortlist are available in store and online now.

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