Truth a crime fiction novel, won the Miles Franklin Award for literary merit this year. This was a exciting news for a moment before it was eclipsed by emergence of a new Prime Minister, Australia's first female Prime Minister but, it turns out, just another politician all the same, so back we go the interesting stuff: A genre novel has won the Miles Franklin.
Miles Franklin herself was a good writer. She wrote books like My Brilliant Career, which was made into a film with Judy Davis in the lead, and My Career Goes Bung. That second title shows a sense of humour and knowledge of life. Her life as a writer was actually a difficult one, partly because as a woman of her time (1879-1954) she was always going to find those patriarchal barriers to publishing. Her name was actually Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin. You can guess why she chose "Miles Franklin" as her pen name - when she used a name at all.
Miles Franklin was one of those writers who were interested in social justice and was active in various causes, including feminism, but particularly the promotion of Australian literature. When she died, she left in her will a sum of money to be used for an award for Australian literature. This became the Miles Franklin Award.
This award is still going. It has its controversies. For one thing, the quality of being "literary" is firmly tied to the mainstream novel in the minds of the judges. (Here's a link to a post that skitters around the notion of a genre novel having literary quality, the comments to it are particularly interesting) This means that a genre novel has, until now, no hope of being considered. Don't get me started on this subject. I can personally think of one SF writer who wrote well enough to win the Miles Franklin. That writer was George Turner, who was a co-winner of the Miles Franklin in 1962 for his novel concerning alcoholism, The Cupboard Under The Stairs. His co-winner was the well known Thea Astley for The Well Dressed Explorer. Turner later took up writing SF and demonstrated literary quality in his own work while encouraging it in aspiring writers around him. A sloppy turn of phrase, or even a turn of phrase that distracted the reader from thinking about the story, would be noticed and picked up on by George. SF fans loved him. However, he didn't win any more Miles Franklin Awards.
Now Peter Temple's crime novel, Truth, has won the award for 2010. The only book of his that I have read so far was White Dog. A friend describes Temple's work as "blokey". It's about guys. White Dog certainly involves violence and a showdown that involves a fight with a white dog. It was very firmly set in Melbourne - in fact during one scene I got out the local street map to make sure the characters were driving the right way. It made more sense once I found that they had started in a one way street.
Literary award winning novels are often boring, to my taste, and so I often don't bother reading them unless I hear from someone else that it's actually good. However, after hearing an interview with Temple about Truth, I look forward to giving it a go when I find it in the local library.