Kerryn Goldsworthy reviews 'The Fiction of Thea Astley' by Susan Sheridan

Kerryn Goldsworthy reviews 'The Fiction of Thea Astley' by Susan Sheridan

The Fiction of Thea Astley

by Susan Sheridan

Cambria Press $109.99 hb, 182 pp, 9781604979329

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 adequate recognition’. But, as David Carter wrote in an essay for ABR (December 2012–January 2013), the terms of the award are more complex than that: ‘The terms do state that the Award is for “an author who has already made a contribution to Australian literature by the writing ... of published novels, short stories, poetry and/or plays”, with the purpose of encouraging the author “to continue to write such works for publication”.’

Susan Sheridan argues in her new book that Astley’s fiction steadily increased in both depth and complexity over her long career, and that her last six novels – those published from 1986 onwards – were her best. If this is the case, then that Patrick White Award did exactly what it was designed to do – despite the fact that on winning it, Astley herself, with a characteristic mix of self-deprecation, sharpness of tongue, and an Eeyore-like world view, dismissed it as the prize ‘for people who fail’.

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Kerryn Goldsworthy

Kerryn Goldsworthy

Kerryn Goldsworthy won the 2013 Pascall Prize. A former Editor of ABR (1986–87), she is one of Australia’s most prolific and respected literary critics. She taught for almost two decades at the University of Melbourne. Her publications include several anthologies, a critical study of Helen Garner, and her recent book Adelaide, which was shortlisted for a Victorian Premier’s Literary Award in 2012. In November 2012 she was named as the inaugural ABR Ian Potter Foundation Fellow. Her Fellowship article on reviewing, ‘Everyone’s a Critic’, appeared in the May 2013 issue of ABR.

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Published in December 2016, no. 387