12 Australian novels & story collections to read this month
September was a blockbuster month for Australian fiction. We’ve compiled a list of 12 newly released novels and story collections from our local shores, including a regular storm of exciting emerging voices.
State Highway One by Sam Coley
Alex hasn’t been back to New Zealand in years. But when he and his estranged twin sister Amy lose their parents in a shock accident, they decide to seize this opportunity to reconnect as siblings. Setting off on a road trip across the country and along State Highway One, the twins find themselves scratching at wounds that have never really healed and reckoning with a past they want to forget. Sam Coley won the 2017 Richell Prize for Emerging Writers for this moving debut novel about what it means to return home.
Dreams They Forgot by Emma Ashmere
The stories in this debut collection from Emma Ashmere explore illusion, deception and acts of quiet rebellion. Two sisters await the tidal wave predicted for 1970s Adelaide after Premier Don Dunstan decriminalises homosexuality. An interstate family drive is complicated by the father’s memory of sighting UFOs. Two women drive from Melbourne to Sydney to see the Harbour Bridge before it’s finished. An isolated family tries to weather climate change as the Doomsday Clock ticks.
Ordinary Matter by Laura Elvery
In 1895 Alfred Nobel rewrote his will and left his fortune made in dynamite and munitions to generations of thinkers. Since 1901 women have been honoured with Nobel Prizes for their scientific research twenty times, including Marie Curie twice. This inventive story collection is inspired by these women whose work has altered history and saved millions of lives. Spanning more than a century and ranging across the world – they interrogate the nature of inspiration and discovery, motherhood and sacrifice, illness and legacy.
The Tolstoy Estate by Steven Conte
In the first year of the doomed German invasion of Russia in WWII, Germany establishes a hospital at Yasnaya Polyana, the former estate of Leo Tolstoy. Able to speak a smattering of Russian, Surgeon Paul Bauer is assigned to be the liaison between the Germans and the estate’s fiery director, Katerina Trusbetzkaya. As a tentative friendship develops between them and the war turns against Germany, Bauer’s commanding officer, Metz, becomes increasingly unhinged. From the winner of the inaugural Prime Minister’s Literary Award, The Tolstoy Estate is an engrossing work of historical fiction.
Broken Rules and Other Stories by Barry Lee Thompson
This interlinked collection of short stories gives voice to characters that are growing up marginalised and living in working-class England and Australia. An adolescent son and his parents on their annual holiday to Bournemouth become intrigued with the glamour and otherness of an American family from Boston. An adult son and his mother navigate an unnerving relationship based on dependence and ritual. A sex-worker empathises with the life of an elderly client. Thompson’s lucid writing focuses on the mysteries we are all involved in when we are out of our depth and exposed to our emotions.
The Mother Fault by Kate Mildenhall
Mim’s husband is missing. No one knows where Ben is, but everyone wants to find him - especially The Department. Mim is questioned, made to surrender her passport and threatened with the unthinkable - her two children being taken into care at the notorious BestLife. Cornered, Mim risks everything to go on the run to find her husband. From the stark backroads of the Australian outback to a terrifying sea voyage, Mim is forced to shuck off who she was - mother, daughter, wife, sister - and become the woman she needs to be to save her family and herself.
The Morbids by Ewa Ramsey
Two years Caitlin she was a normal twenty-something with a blossoming career and a plan to go travelling with her best friend. Then there was the accident, and Caitlin can’t shake the feeling that she’s only alive by mistake. She deals with her thoughts by throwing herself into work, self-medicating with alcohol, and attending a support group for people with death-related anxiety. But when her best friend announces she’s getting married in Bali, Caitlin realises she must overcome her fear of death and learn to start living again.
The Burning Island by Jock Serong
Eliza Grayling lives by herself in Sydney, looking in on her reclusive father in case he has injured himself while drunk. There is a shadow in his past - something to do with a man who bested him thirty-three years ago. When Joshua Grayling is offered the chance for a reckoning with his nemesis, Eliza is forced to go with him on his quest, on an uncertain voyage to the Furneaux Islands in Bass Strait. This literary historical thriller is a follow-up to Serong’s acclaimed 2018 novel, Preservation, which was based on real events surrounding a shipwreck’s survivors in the late 1790s.
Sorrow and Bliss by Meg Mason
This novel is about a woman called Martha. She knows there is something wrong with her but she doesn’t know what it is. Her husband Patrick thinks she is fine. He says everyone has something, the thing is just to keep going. Martha told Patrick before they got married that she didn’t want to have children. He said he didn’t mind either way because he has loved her since he was 14 and making her happy is all that matters. By the time Martha finds out what is wrong, it doesn’t really matter anymore. It is too late to get the only thing she has ever wanted.
Poly by Paul Dalgarno
After years of a near-sexless marriage, Chris and his wife Sarah throw themselves into the depths of polyamory. Their new life features late nights, love affairs and rotating childcare duties. When Chris and Sarah welcome Zac Batista, Uruguayan child prodigy and successful 22-year-old, into their home, they’re grateful at first. But as tensions grow between family and lovers, Chris begins to wonder if something sinister is brewing. Poly is a raw, hilarious, and moving portrait of contemporary relationships in all their diversity, and an intimate exploration of the fragility of love and identity.
Revenge by S.L. Lim
In this richly nuanced novel, a family favour their son over their daughter with unforeseen consequences. Shan attends university before making his fortune in Australia while Yannie must find menial employment and care for her ageing parents. After her mother’s death, Yannie travels to Sydney to become enmeshed in her psychopathic brother’s new life, which she seeks to undermine from within. This is a novel that rages against capitalism, hetero-supremacy, mothers, fathers and families. It’s a story about what happens when you want to make art but are born in the wrong time and place.
The Wreck by Meg Keneally
1820: Sarah McCaffrey, fleeing arrest for her part in a failed rebellion, is aboard The Serpent, bound from London to the colony of New South Wales. When the mercurial captain’s actions drive the ship into a cliff, Sarah is the only survivor. Adopting a false identity, she becomes the right-hand woman of Molly Thistle, who has grown her late husband’s business interests into a sprawling real estate and trade empire. As time passes, Sarah begins to believe she might have found a home - until her past follows her across the seas…