A self-published book has been shortlisted for the Miles Franklin award for the first time in the award’s 65-year history, with Michael Winkler’s cult hit Grimmish clearing the final hurdle before Europe’s most prestigious literary prize is announced. Australia on July 20.
Announced Thursday night, Grimmish joins Michael Mohammed Ahmad’s The Other Half of You, Michelle de Kretser’s Scary Monsters, Jennifer Down’s Bodies of Light and Alice Pung’s One Hundred Days to compete for the $60,000 prize.
Winkler’s “exploded non-fiction novel” Grimmish has been called “tiring” and “repulsive” by publishers he has approached, according to the author’s interview with Guardian Australia last week: “Everyone said there was no way to sell it.”
But the book – a sort of experimental meta-biography of boxer Joe Grim, which opens with a fake review and argues throughout – has found its way to readers through independent bookstores, rave reviews and the word of mouth. It also received praise from writers such as Helen Garner, Murray Bail and JM Coetzee.
In their comments accompanying Miles Franklin’s shortlist, the judges described it as an “unusual novel that is by turns playful, funny, heartfelt and deeply thoughtful… Bold and hilarious, Grimmish is a unique and original contribution to Australian Literature.
Also shortlisted is Scary Monsters by Michelle de Kretser, a book that’s actually two books, with a different cover on each side that you can read in any order. De Kretser is one of Australia’s most celebrated authors and won the Miles Franklin Award in 2013 (Travel Matters) and 2018 (Life Ahead). The judges described Scary Monsters, her seventh novel, as “a witty, meticulously observed, and boldly imaginative work that rages against racism, ageism, and misogyny.”
The Other Half of You by Michael Mohammed Ahmed is the third installment in a self-fiction series exploring the life of a young Muslim boy from western Sydney named Bani Adam. In The Other Half of You, which follows Miles Franklin, The Lebs and Ahmed’s first novel The Tribe, Bani is now a man; the book takes the form of his “murderous and harrowing confessional letter to a child”, according to the judges, who hailed it as “the howl of an Australian voice struggling to be heard”.
Jennifer Down’s Body of Light tells the devastating story of a life on the fringes, beginning with a five-year-old girl’s harrowing journey through the state care system. The book is told through an “astonishing voice that reinvents itself from six to sixty,” the judges said. “With ethical precision, Down insists that we do not look away from the destructive consequences of…decades spent in the shadow of institutionalized neglect, socially sanctioned loneliness, unforgivable poverty, and the abuse that follows from it. ensue.”
Rounding out the shortlist is One Hundred Days by Alice Pung, who this year received an Order of Australia for her services to literature. The novel follows a 16-year-old girl who becomes pregnant and is locked in her housing commission apartment by her Philippine-born Chinese mother for 100 days before birth – a tradition of postpartum confinement in many cultures, which can be read both as an act of love or as an act of psychological violence.
“In this story, mothering practices transcend the ordinary and the intimate, becoming instead an epic site of cross-generational cultural struggle between mother and daughter,” the judges said. “Pung has given us a novel of national significance, making visible the stories of those deemed powerless and vividly shaping the mosaic of Australian literature.”
The Miles Franklin is judged by a panel including literary critics Bernadette Brennan and James Ley, literary researcher Mridula Nath Chakraborty, and author and editor Elfie Shiosaki. The panel is chaired by Richard Neville, Librarian Mitchell of the State Library of NSW, who praised the shortlist for its “dynamic and diverse range of voices that address the experience of pain, intergenerational trauma and intergenerational dialogue with compassion, exceptional and rigorous know-how. non-sentimentality”.
Earlier this month, the Miles Franklin Prize removed John Hughes’ The Dogs from its 2022 longlist, after Hughes apologized for plagiarizing parts of it from a “no-nonsense” Nobel laureate. ‘account for it’, as revealed by an investigation by the Guardian Australia. Other cases of apparent plagiarism were subsequently discovered, notably in The Great Gatsby, Anna Karenina and All Quiet on the Western Front. Hughes denied being a plagiarist.