The best Australian fiction books of 2020

Every year our staff vote for their favourite books and music of the past 12 months. Here are our top 10 Australian fiction books of the year, voted for by Readings' staff, and displayed in no particular order.

(You can find all our best picks for books and music here.)

A Couple of Things Before the End by Sean O'Beirne

Newcomer Sean O'Beirne presents an incisive and frequently very funny portrait of modern Australia. These stories untangle notions of ‘Australianness’ – mateship, luck, egalitarianism – to reveal the unsettling truths that lurk beneath the nation’s advertising campaigns. O'Beirne proves himself a talented satirist and mimic, showcasing a range of voices, and A Couple of Things Before the End is a wonderfully assured work.

Lucky’s by Andrew Pippos

This unforgettable debut tells the story of a chain of diner-style Greek restaurants in 20th century Australia. Beginning in post-war Sydney, Andrew Pippos traces the many narrative threads of the life of the diner’s founder, the eponymous Lucky, to artfully form an image of migrant Australia. Lucky’s is a charming novel that will be loved by just about anyone who picks it up.

A Room Made of Leaves by Kate Grenville

Kate Grenville became inspired by the idea of Elizabeth Macarthur – the wife of colonial wool baron John Macarthur – having written a secret memoir. A Room Made of Leaves is the result and it’s a fascinating, clever novel that subtly plays with reader’s expectations. Readers who relish discovering the hidden stories tucked within the folds of the official history will be particularly enthralled.

The Dictionary of Lost Words by Pip Williams

In 1901, the word ‘Bondmaid' was discovered missing from the Oxford English Dictionary. This is the story of the girl who stole it… In this absorbing literary mystery, Pip Williams reimagines the beginnings of the first Oxford Dictionary through the eyes of Esme, whose intelligence, empathy and resilience mark her as a character readers won’t forget easily. The Dictionary of Lost Words is a novel that will delight anyone with love of language.

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. A cleverly constructed literary thriller set in near-future Australia, The Mother Fault is a triumph of a book. Kate Mildenhall tells a daring, desperate adventure tale amid ecological disaster, while deftly touching on the intense pressures placed on women by the world around them.

A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing by Jessie Tu

Jena Lin plays the violin. She used to be a child prodigy before an unfortunate event; now she’s addicted to sex. As author Jessie Tu details Jena’s efforts to return to the stage, she interrogates systemic racism and misogyny in the progressive creative world. A Lonely Girl is a Dangerous Thing is an electrifying and provocative work, and a break-out debut of 2020.

Kokomo by Victoria Hannan

When Mina hears that her agoraphobic mother Elaine has been seen outside her house for the first time in 12 years, she immediately jumps on a plane in London to return to Australia. But both mother and daughter are underwhelmed by this reunion and find themselves forced to contend with their past. This sharply observed coming-of-age story is an insightful examination of familial bonds and a tender ode to friendship.

The Animals in That Country by Laura Jean McKay

This highly original novel about a pandemic sweeping Australia has arrived an an eerily apt moment; named ‘zooflu’, the illness causes humans to understand animals and its results are catastrophic. Following hard-bitten narrator Jean as she heads across country to reunite with her beloved granddaughter, The Animals in That Country is a tense and thrilling adventure, as poetic as it is surprising.

The Tolstoy Estate by Steven Conte

Steven Conte’s ambitious second novel is a major achievement. Set during the German invasion of Russia in WWII, The Tolstoy Estate is a gripping work of historical fiction. The Germans have co-opted the former grand estate of Leo Tolstoy as a field hospital and Conte masterfully evokes the bitter cold and rising paranoia at play, while also telling a bittersweet love story.

Song Of The Crocodile by Nardi Simpson

From Yuwaalaraay woman and musician Nardi Simpson, Song Of The Crocodile is a captivating Australian saga that follows three generations of a single family. Simpson movingly unpacks the corrosive and inter-generational impacts of colonisation and racism without ever losing her grip on her character’s inner lives. Her richly lyrical prose, evocative descriptions of landscape, and weaving of Dreaming into the narrative makes for an immersive reading experience.

And one more…

Elizabeth Tan’s Smart Ovens for Lonely People is the winner of our 2020 Readings Prize for New Australian Fiction, and obviously also one of the best Australian fiction releases of the year and an absolute staff favourite. A collection of deeply funny, incredibly clever and wonderfully weird stories, it’s perfect for fans of Carmen Maria Machado, Margo Lanagan and Kelly Link.

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A Couple of Things Before the End: Stories

A Couple of Things Before the End: Stories

Sean O'Beirne

$27.99Buy now

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