Monday, November 29, 2010


The Australian, 27 November 2010

I HAVE written a few pieces in this newspaper, and on my blog, about David Foster's surprising attack on J. M. Coetzee.

For anyone coming in late, Foster (pic left Anthony Johnson) accused Coetzee of having "no class" because he continued to contest literary awards despite having won the Nobel and two Bookers. That Foster made the comments while accepting the Patrick White Award was eccentric timing, even if he did describe that prize (worth $18,000) as "a form of literary losers' compo".

That's an amusing line, and it's worth remembering that Foster is a funny writer, a breed that isn't thick on the ground. And while Foster's criticism of Coetzee was ill-judged and misguided, it's a shame it overshadowed his achievement in winning the award established by the great writer with whom he has been compared.
A self-inflicted shame, of course. So I'd like to say here that I am among those readers who consider Foster's 1997 Miles Franklin winner, The Glade Within the Grove, to be some sort of masterpiece, a novel that belongs in the first rank of Australian writing. It's also worth remembering that the book was shortlisted for the (lucrative) IMPAC Dublin Literary Award and lauded by critics here and overseas.

E. Annie Proulx, as she was known then, called it "an important and stunningly original novel". The TLS confided that Foster "tempts us to feel that here the work of the novel is done so well that there can be no achievement beyond it". Closer to home, Geoffrey Dutton wrote: "The Glade Within the Grove asks the deepest questions, of love and life and where the gods have gone. It is a novel of great importance, by any standards." So, David Foster, congratulations on winning the Patrick White Award. You deserve it.

* * *
I WANT to add that in the occasional dealings I've had with Coetzee through the years he has been unfailingly courteous and helpful. I also admire his involvement with Sydney-based animal welfare group Voiceless, of which he is patron.

* * *

SPEAKING of the IMPAC award, which at E100,000 ($138,000) is the world's richest fiction prize, 10 Australians have made the long list, including Coetzee for Summertime (one of my favourite books of the past few years).

The others are: Kalinda Ashton (The Danger Game), Peter Carey (Parrot and Olivier in America), Nick Cave (The Death of Bunny Munro), Marion Halligan (Valley of Grace), M. J. Hyland (This is How), David Malouf (Ransom), Alex Miller (Lovesong), Craig Silvey (Jasper Jones) and Evie Wyld (After the Fire, a Still Small Voice).

Throw in New Zealander Alison Wong (As the Earth Turns Silver) and we have an Antipodean XI. I know Hyland and Wyld are as much English as Australian but we'll claim them. We haven't had an IMPAC win since Malouf took home the inaugural prize in 1996 for Remembering Babylon. The shortlist is due in April.

No comments: