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Hot Girl's Guide to Aussie Literature

Bruna Gomes guides us through seven novels that are must-reads for people who are wanting to get into Aussie literature.

Australian literature has always been the underdog of the Western publishing industry, falling in the shadows of English and American writers. In international literature, Australian writers remain underrepresented and underappreciated. But Aussie writers are an invaluable contribution to the decolonisation and de-westernisation of popular fiction, rewriting and rejecting the patriarchal, colonial, white narratives that have dominated Australian bookshelves and bookshelves worldwide. It is important to seek out our Australian stories and dedicate our time to them. They are full of strong voices, relatable characters, and familiar experiences. 

Below is a list of my favourite Aussie books to get your hands on. They are all equally entertaining as they are strikingly necessary.

Love and Virtue

Diana Reid 

Love and Virtue is the perfect starting place for your exploration of Aussie narratives. Reid writes with a contemporary, youthful voice, capturing the power, vulnerability and complexity of female friendships. Set in Sydney, the novel follows the friendship of Michaela and Eve, two students who live next door to each other on campus. The two girls become punctured by their own hazy memories of a drunken night, and their precocious, nervous personalities travel up and down the juvenile landscape of Sydney, which is a nostalgic delight to read for any Sydneysider. Reid doesn’t shy away from viciousness and hatred, and that is what makes the book so addictive. The friendship of Michaela and Eve is witty, jealous, and teeters on the edge of betrayal. 

The Drover’s Wife 

Leah Purcell

Purcell’s novel, which she has also written as a play and film, retells Henry Lawson’s classic Australian short story of the same name. Purcell gives the drover’s wife a name and a story beyond her isolation in the country. Molly Johnson and her four children are living deep in the Victorian outback, secluded from the world while her husband is out for months droving livestock. But when Yadaka, an indigenous man running from the authorities, shows up at their house one night, Molly is faced with threats much more brutal than the landscape. Drawing on her Indigenous heritage, Purcell reshapes the colonial literary representation of the Australian landscape, challenging what we define to be the inhospitable, violent and unforgiving antagonist of Australia’s history.

Friends and Dark Shapes

Kavita Bedford 

Friends and Dark Shapes perfectly embodies that ghostly feeling of being young yet feeling misplaced and lost. The novel follows a group of young, artsy housemates in Sydney’s inner city as they navigate awkward careers, inescapable grief, and each other. The novel flows in and out of the past, haunting itself, trying to create a full sense of identity by slowly piecing together its own fragments. Bedford captures the lively passion of conversation about life and love alongside a more quiet, mournful contemplation of death and family. For me, Bedford is a rare writer who recognises Sydney as a city that is not unified and whole, but a city that is built of broken, multifaceted pieces and people, and finds a wistful beauty within it. 

No Friend But the Mountains 

Behrouz Boochani

While Boochani is not Australian, his autobiographical novel is an essential read for Australians to gain an understanding of the truth about what happens in our own backyard. No Friend But The Mountains tells the story of Boochani as a refugee from Iran who attempted to seek asylum in Australia but was instead detained on Manus Island in the detention centre for five years. The Kurdish-Iranian journalist wrote the book while imprisoned on the island by texting the story bit by bit through WhatsApp on a smuggled phone. The novel tells of the Australian government’s neglect, brutality, and utter disregard for humanity, building a rich depiction of the humid, filthy and inescapable reality of hundreds of refugees. Boochani uses literature both as a personal tool of storytelling and a political device of activism.

Scary Monsters 

Michelle de Kretser 

Split into two parts, this novel tells a dual narrative about two characters whose lives only minorly yet fiercely connect. While one part is set in 1980s Paris, the other part is set in a futuristic Melbourne in which Lyle, an Asian migrant, must stifle himself to survive the dystopian government that he works for. The two worlds of the novel bend time and look at racism, misogyny and ageism from an upside down perspective, revealing Australia to be a sinister landscape, inhospitable and rotting at the core. The critical lens that de Krester provides is disguised brilliantly by deliciously taught prose – Scary Monsters is a book that can be greedily consumed in a single sitting.

The Swan Book 

Alexis Wright

Alexis Wright writes the story of a mute Indigenous Australian girl, Oblivion Ethyl(ene), in a dystopian future. Wright’s depiction of the Australian setting is a haunted wasteland, nihilistic and cynical save for a flourishing population of black swans who mysteriously show up one day at Oblivia’s home, which is a filthy, swampy lake guarded by the military in the outback. Oblivia, after being collected by the Australian prime minister to be forced into marriage, has an odyssey across Australia, through the desert into the city, a migration that gives witness to the destruction of country. Throughout the novel, the vivid and magical imagery of the black swans is both a refuge and a lens to understand the corruption of Australia. The swans, above all, are a resistance to every ugliness that Australia presents to Oblivia. The Swan Book is a novel whose prose tumbles and lathers into a luxurious and rewarding read. 

Puberty Blues

Gabrielle Carey and Kathy Lette

You may have already watched the 2012 television series based on Carey and Lette’s novel, and if so, that in itself is a fabulous watch that combines adolescent drama and addictive entertainment with the pressing concerns Sydney's beachside sexism and misogyny. The novel, written in 1979 when Carey and Lette were still teenagers, is based on their own experiences as girls in Sydney’s surf-gang world. The novel, ever since its publication, has always been controversial due to its honest explorations of adolescent sex and drug abuse, frankly unravelling the tight sexist and patriarchal codes of surf culture. Puberty Blues revels in the larger-than-life beauty of friendship, and the ultimate sadness that inevitably eventuates from the dangers and risks of toxic masculinity and a desperate desire to connect.


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