Clever plotting, skillful prose: The daring shortlist for The Age book awards

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Judges for next month’s The Age Book of the Year awards have shortlisted 12 books that range from memoir to true crime, biography, essays, speculative fiction, love stories and historical fiction.

This will be the 42nd time the awards have been presented, and the winner of each category – fiction and non-fiction – will receive $10,000 courtesy of the Copyright Agency’s cultural fund. The awards will be presented at Melbourne Town Hall on May 4 as part of the opening night of the Melbourne Writers Festival.

The fiction shortlist is: Limberlost, Robbie Arnott; Every Version of You, Grace Chan; A Country of Eternal Light, Paul Dalgarno; Funny Ethnics, Shirley Le; The Sun Walks Down, Fiona McFarlane; and Faithless, Alice Nelson.

Shirley Le’s first novel, Funny Ethnics, is shortlisted for the Age fiction award.Credit:

The non-fiction list is: The All of It, Cadance Bell; Childhood, Shannon Burns; Suburban Noir, Peter Doyle; Raised by Wolves, Jess Ho; Wandering with Intent, Kim Mahood; and Those Dashing McDonagh Sisters, Mandy Sayer.

The fiction judges — poet and reviewer Thuy On and Miles Franklin-shortlisted novelist Michael Winkler — said they were most drawn to those novels with a sense of daring, “that made us care deeply about their subject matter, and which rewarded the reader with rich characterisation, clever plotting, skilful prose and – rarest of all – a sense of humour”.

They said Arnott’s book spanned decades and showed “subtle story-telling”, Chan’s speculative fiction confronted “the climate crisis and digital dislocation, Dalgarno’s novel was “quirky and compelling”, Le’s contemporary bildungsroman was “simultaneously sassy and vulnerable”, McFarlane’s historical novel “a finely shaded multi-character study framed around a missing child”, and Nelson’s “a story of obsessive love … [moving] assuredly between continents, time periods and moral conundrums”.

The non-fiction judges — author Michael McGirr and reviewer Simon Caterson — said they read an extraordinary array of books by authors who “wrote with courage, conviction and in their prose convey a unique awareness of themselves and the wider world”.

They said Bell’s book was a “richly humane memoir … warm and funny as well as raw”, Burns’ memoir was “an inspiring story of survival … told with insight rather than rancour”, Doyle’s true-crime book “a carefully crafted collection of notes from the urban underground”, Ho’s “a coruscating account of the author’s tough outer suburban upbringing”, Mahood’s “an extraordinary collection of essays from the spaces in which non-Indigenous and Indigenous Australia continue to encounter each other” and Sayer’s biography of the McDonagh sisters “a riveting story of three sisters who were trailblazers in the Australian film industry between the two world wars”.

Last year’s awards were won by novelist Miles Allinson for In Moonland and biographer Bernadette Brennan for Leaping into the Waterfall: The Enigmatic Gillian Mears.

The Age is a partner of Melbourne Writers Festival.

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