The best of Australian fiction 2021
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.
In Moonland by Miles Allinson
In present-day Melbourne, a man attempts to piece together the mystery of his father’s apparent suicide, as his young family slowly implodes. At the ashram of Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh, in 1976, a man searching for salvation must confront his capacity for violence and darkness. And in a not-too-distant future, a woman with a life-altering decision to make travels through a climate-ravaged landscape to visit her estranged father.
Love and Virtue by Diana Reid
Michaela and Eve are two bright, bold women who befriend each other their first year at a residential college at university, where they live in adjacent rooms. They could not be more different. But something happens one night in O-week - a drunken encounter, a foggy memory that will force them to confront the realities of consent and wrestle with the dynamics of power. Initially bonded by their wit and sharp eye for the colleges’ mix of material wealth and moral poverty, Michaela and Eve soon discover how fragile friendship is, and how capable of betrayal they both are.
The Performance by Claire Thomas
The false cold of the theatre makes it hard to imagine the heavy wind outside in the real world, the ash air pressing onto the city from the nearby hills where bushfires are taking hold. The house lights lower. The auditorium feels hopeful in the darkness. As bushfires rage outside the city, three women watch a performance of a Beckett play. As the performance unfolds, so does each woman’s story. By the time the curtain falls, they will all have a new understanding of the world beyond the stage.
One Hundred Days by Alice Pung
In a heady whirlwind of independence, lust and defiance, sixteen-year-old Karuna falls pregnant. Not on purpose, but not entirely by accident, either. Incensed, Karuna’s mother, already over-protective, confines her to their fourteenth-storey housing-commission flat, to keep her safe from the outside world - and make sure she can’t get into any more trouble. As the due date draws ever closer, the question of who will get to raise the baby - who it will call Mum - festers between them.
Devotion by Hannah Kent
Hanne Nussbaum is a child of nature - she would rather run wild in the forest than conform to the limitations of womanhood. In her village of Kay, Hanne is friendless and considered an oddity … until she meets Thea.Forced to flee religious persecution the families of Kay board a crowded, disease-riddled ship bound for the new colony of South Australia. A new start in an old land. God, society and nature itself decree Hanne and Thea cannot be together. But within the impossible … is devotion.
Bodies of Light by Jennifer Down
So by the grace of a photograph that had inexplicably gone viral, Tony had found me. Or: he’d found Maggie.A quiet, small-town existence. An unexpected Facebook message, jolting her back to the past. A history she’s reluctant to revisit: dark memories and unspoken trauma, bruised thighs and warning knocks on bedroom walls, unfathomable loss. She became a new person a long time ago. What happens when buried stories are dragged into the light?
Wild Abandon by Emily Bitto
In the fall of 2011, a heartbroken young man flees Australia for the USA. Landing in the excessive, uncanny-familiar glamour and plenitude of New York City, Will makes a vow to say yes to everything that comes his way. By fate or random chance, Will’s journey takes him deep into the American heartland where he meets Wayne Gage, a fast-living, troubled Vietnam veteran, would-be spirit guide and collector of exotic animals. These two men in crisis form an unlikely friendship, but Will has no idea just how close to the edge Wayne truly is.
Born Into This by Adam Thompson
The stories in Born Into This throw light on a world of unique cultural practice and perspective, from Indigenous rangers trying to instil some pride in wayward urban teens on the harsh islands off the coast of Tasmania to those scraping by on the margins of white society railroaded into complex and compromised decisions.
Dark as Last Night by Tony Birch
In this collection we witness a young girl struggling to protect her mother from her father’s violence, two teenagers clumsily getting to know one another by way of a shared love of music, and a man mourning the death of his younger brother, while beset by memories and regrets from their shared past. Throughout this powerful collection, Birch’s concern for the humanity of those who are often marginalised or overlooked shines bright.
Seven and a Half by Christos Tsiolkas
A man arrives at a house on the coast to write a book. Separated from his lover and family and friends, he finds the solitude he craves in the pyrotechnic beauty of nature, just as the world he has shut out is experiencing a cataclysmic shift. The preoccupations that have galvanised him and his work fall away and he becomes lost in memory and beauty. He begins to tell us a story …