A self-published book has been nominated for Miles Franklin for the first time in the award’s 65-year history, with Michael Winkler’s cult hit Grimmish clearing the last hurdle before Australia’s most prestigious literary award is announced on 20 July.
Announced Thursday night, Grimmish joins Michael Mohammed Ahmad’s The Other Half of You, Michelle de Kretsers Scary Monsters, Jennifer Downs Bodies of Light and Alice Pungs One Hundred Days to compete for the $ 60,000 prize.
Winkler’s “exploded non-fiction novel” Grimmish was called “tiring” and “dismissive” by the publishers he approached, according to the author’s interview with Guardian Australia last week: “Everyone said there was no way they could sell it.”
But the book – an experimental, meta-like biography of boxer Joe Grim, which opens with a faux-review and argues throughout – found its way to readers through indie bookstores, jubilant critics and word of mouth. It also won praise from writers including Helen Garner, Murray Bail and JM Coetzee.
In their comments that accompanied the Miles Franklin shortlist, the judges described it as an “unusual novel, which in turn is playful, funny, heartfelt and deeply reflective … Bold and funny, Grimmish is a uniquely witty and original contribution to Australian literature. . “
Also on the list are Michelle de Kretsers Scary Monsters, a book that is actually two books, with a different cover on each page that you can read in both order. The Circles is one of Australia’s most famous writers and won the Miles Franklin in 2013 (Questions About Travel) and 2018 (The Life to Come). The judges described Scary Monsters, her seventh novel, as “a witty, carefully witnessed and boldly imaginative work that rages against racism, old age and misogyny”.
Michael Mohammed Ahmed is the other half of you is the third part of an autofiction series exploring the life of a young Muslim boy in western Sydney named Bani Adam. In The Other Half of You, which follows the Miles Franklin shortlisted The Lebs and Ahmed’s first novel The Tribe, Bani is now a man; the book takes the form of his “body-bleeding, soul-stirring confession letter to a child”, according to the judges, who hailed it as “the howl of an Australian voice striving to be heard”.
Jennifer Downs Bodies of Light tells the devastating story of a life on the outskirts that begins with a five-year-old girl’s shaky journey through the state’s care system. The book is told through an “amazing 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 accompanying abuse.”
Rounding off the shortlist is One Hundred Days by Alice Pung, which was awarded an Order in Australia for services to literature this year. The novel follows a 16-year-old girl who becomes pregnant and is locked in her housing commission apartment by her Filipino-born Chinese mother for 100 days before giving birth – a birth tradition in many cultures that can be read as both an act of love or an act of emotional abuse.
“In this story, maternal practice transcends the ordinary and intimate, and instead becomes an epic site of intergenerational cultural struggle between mother and daughter,” the judges said. “Pung has presented us with a novel of national significance, by highlighting the stories of those considered powerless and vivid patterns in the mosaic of Australian literature.”
The Miles Franklin is judged by a panel that includes literary critics Bernadette Brennan and James Ley, literary scholar Mridula Nath Chakraborty and author and editor Elfie Shiosaki. The panel is chaired by Richard Neville, Mitchell Librarian at the State Library of NSW, who praised the shortlist for its “range of dynamic and diverse voices addressing the experience of pain, intergenerational trauma and intergenerational dialogue with compassion, exceptional craftsmanship and rigorous unsentimentality”.
Earlier this month, the Miles Franklin Award drew The Dogs by John Hughes from his 2022 longlist after Hughes apologized for plagiarizing parts of it from a Nobel laureate “without knowing it”, as revealed in a study by Guardian Australia. Several cases of apparent plagiarism were subsequently found, among others from The Great Gatsby, Anna Karenina and All Quiet on the Western Front. Hughes has it denied that he is plagiarism.