‘Book of marvels’ takes out all-female Miles Franklin prize

A novel about repatriation and dispossession, set in Australia and Sri Lanka, has been named the winner of Australia’s most prestigious literary prize. Michelle de Kretser took out the $60,000 Miles Franklin Literary Award for her fourth novel, Questions of Travel, a double narrative that examines the plight of asylum seekers and the concept of travel in the internet age.

The book was described by the judges as: ”A rich and ambitious but engaging novel of ideas. It traverses many of the issues which dominate political and cultural debate, but it does so with insight and a genuine narrative drive.

”There are complex questions, which do not have neat, binary solutions, and the strength of the book is that the author doesn’t pretend that they do.”

De Kretser was out of the country, and so was unable to accept the award at the ceremony at the National Library of Australia on Wednesday. Her publisher Jane Palfreyman from Allen and Unwin accepted on her behalf.

”I know Michelle is thrilled and honoured that Questions of Travel has been chosen to win this year’s Miles Franklin Award, and deeply humbled to be the one selected from this illustrious shortlist,” she said. ”Her recent experience as a non-fiction prize judge reinforced her belief that it is entirely arbitrary to judge a work of literature as a winner over other works of literature, as each book will inevitably be read and apprehended in a different way by every person who comes to it. She would therefore want me to thank the judges for making that impossible choice, and for giving up hundreds of their precious hours to read the books submitted this year.”

Also nominated were Romy Ash for Floundering, Annah Faulkner for The Beloved, Drusilla Modjeska for The Mountain and Carrie Tiffany for Mateship with Birds. The awards were the first in the prize’s 56-year history to have an entirely female shortlist.

One judge, Richard Neville, said that while it was sometimes clear from the outset who the winner would be, this year had involved intense discussion as the 72 entries were narrowed down to a longlist of 10, and finally a shortlist of five.

”All the five shortlisted had very different approaches to the way they were dealing with their subjects, so to actually finally narrow it down to one was a ‘first among equals’ – it was really hard,” he said. ”But eventually, we felt [Questions of Travel] was a wise and powerful and very ambitious novel, and it was kind of dealing with issues that are really pertinent to where we are as a nation today.”

Fellow judge Susan Sheridan described Questions of Travel as a ”book of marvels”.

”It covers a huge geographical and spiritual space, has these two stories and it’s absolutely brilliantly written,” she said.

Questions of Travel is de Kretser’s fourth novel, and she had already received acclaim for her Man Booker Prize longlisted The Lost Dog.

The original release of this article first appeared on the website of Hangzhou Night Net.