Thea Astley

The whole of inland Australia is manoeuvred, manipulated by the weather and by seasons, especially if you are in primary industry. I always like the story, I was travelling north once on the plane and the person next to me said that they hadn’t had rain for seven years. They were living out around Mt Isa and the first time it fell, his five-year-old ran in screaming with fright. But that’s probably one of those north Queensland stories.

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Do not attempt to judge this book by its amazingly beautiful but iconographically confusing cover. A close-up photograph of a single leaf shows its veins and pores in tiny detail. The colours are the most pastel and tender of creamy greens. Superimposed over this lush and suggestively fertile image is the book’s one-word title: Drylands ...

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Thea Astley had a way with words. Her novels are studded with arresting metaphors, atrocious puns, hilarious one-liners, arcane words, technical terms from music, geometry and logic, religious and literary allusions. Her verbal pyrotechnics can be dazzling and infuriating, in equal measure: as Helen Garner once wrote, it is ...

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The record for the largest number of Miles Franklin Literary Awards ever won is jointly held by Tim Winton and Thea Astley, with four wins each. It may seem odd that with three of those already behind her, Astley should also have won the Patrick White Award in 1989 for ‘a writer who has been highly creative over a long period but has not necessarily received adequ ...

It’s Raining in Mango: Pictures from the Family Album was first published in 1987, on the eve of the bicentenary of white settlement in Australia, when many versions of the story of Australia were advanced and debated. Thea Astley’s book presents a family, the Laffeys, as a microcosm of the national story. It is a novel made up of stories told by Connie ...

Thea Astley (25 August 1925–17 August 2004) was an Australian novelist and short story writer. Her first novel, Girl with a Monkey, was published in 1958. She was a prolific and multi-award-winning writer who published fifteen novels and two short story collections and won the Miles Franklin award four times (for The Well Dressed Explorer in 1962, fo ...

Susan Sheridan’s Nine Lives, a ‘group biography’, analyses the life stories and literary achievements of nine Australian women writers. The purpose, according to Sheridan, is not only to rediscover the life story of each, but also, by exploring their publishing and aesthetic context, to create a ‘fresh configuration’ of our literary history.

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Each of the three parts that make up Thea Astley’s new novel, Coda, is prefaced by a newspaper report, real or imaginary, detailing cases of ‘granny-dumping’, the ruthless abandonment of old, frail, and disoriented people by their unidentified children. This sets the scene for a reflection on old age and the rejection of those whose physical and mental capacities no longer meet the stringent requirements of the standard economically viable unit of modem civilisation. The manifest duty of such objects is to be as discreet as possible, providing minimal inconvenience to others (especially their adult children) until they can fade into oblivion.

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Thea Astley’s first novel, Girl with A Monkey (1958), signalled the arrival of a writer with a distinctive style. Astley believes that Angus and Robertson accepted the book, although it would not be a money-spinner like the work of their bestsellers, Frank Clune and Ion Idriess, because their editor Beatrice Davis took the initiative in encouraging ‘a different form of writing from the Bulletin school’. The plain Bulletin style, a consciously shaped style representing ‘natural’ narrative, was still the norm in Australian writing in the 1950s, although that decade also saw the publication of stylistically evocative novels like Patrick White’s The Tree of Man and Voss, Hal Porter’s A Handful of Pennies, Martin Boyd’s The Cardboard Crown, A Difficult Young Man, and Outbreak of Love, and Randolph Stow’s The Merry-Go-Round in the Sea, A Haunted Land, The Bystander, and To the Islands.

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In the thirty or so years that she has been publishing fiction, Thea Astley has mapped out a literary territory very clearly her own, a territory that is defined in the first place by regional geography.

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