In support of the AUSSIE AUTHOR READING CHALLENGE I’m hosting in 2010 (sign-up here) I will be posting a series of articles highlighting great Aussie Authors and their books you may be interested in. Today I’m putting the spotlight on KATE GRENVILLE.
Kate lists Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen as her favourite book of all time.
Kate Grenville was born in Sydney, Australia in 1950. After completing an Arts degree at Sydney University she worked in the film industry (mainly as an editor) before living in the UK and Europe for several years and starting to write.
In 1980 she went to the USA and completed an MA in Creative Writing at the University of Colorado. On her return to Australia in 1983 she worked at the Subtitling Unit for SBS Television.

Grenville’s first book, a collection of short stories called Bearded Ladies, was published in 1984.

One of these complete stories is available to read online, “No Such Thing as a Free Lunch“.

“With these 13 stories, a vibrant Australian voice speaks of universal concerns. This is a collection to be savoured as much for the colloquial ease of the writing as for the hypocrisy it exposes.” (Publisher’s Weekly)

Kate’s first novel, Lilian’s Story received the Vogel/Australian Prize for an unpublished manuscript in 1984, and was published in 1985.

Shielded from emotional and physical abuse by layers of fat, Lilian struggles to escape a suffocating existence in the home of her tyrannical Victorian father and her elegant but ineffectual mother. Madness, cruelty and sexuality permeate the family’s upper-crust Australian world. Lilian Una Singer starts life at the beginning of the twentieth century as the daughter of a prosperous middle-class Australian family. She ends it as a cheerfully eccentric bag-lady living on the streets, quoting Shakespeare. This book traces the progress of her life’s journey, and why she made the choices she did. She’s a person large in spirit as well as body, who wants to invent her own story, rather than allow it to be invented for her. Life presents her with many obstacles including the sinister advances of her father – but in spite of this she succeeds. Triumphantly, she makes her life her own, savouring every moment with the reminder that ‘everything matters’.

“Lilian’s Story is spellbinding.” (She Magazine, UK)

Read an extract from Lilian’s Story and reader’s notes.

The novels Dreamhouse and Joan Makes History were released in 1986 and 1988 respectively.

Dark Places (Albion’s Story) was published in 1994. It takes up the story of Lilian from the earlier novel Lilian’s Story, but this time tells the story from her father’s point of view. It’s a very different version of events.

In Albion’s eyes, Lilian is a kind of parody of himself in female form: she shares his brain and his spirit, but she comes wrapped in the mystery of female flesh. For a man who grew up in the stifling and warping conventions of Edwardian masculinity, this is profoundly disturbing, and his disturbance finally takes a terrible form. In joining himself – literally – with the repressed female within himself, he seems to triumph, but in the end the triumph belongs to his daughter.

Dark Places was nominated for the Booker Prize in 1996 and won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Prize for fiction in 1995.

In 1999, the book for which Grenville won the Orange Prize for Fiction (Britain, 2001), The Idea of Perfection was published. Awarding the prize, chair of the judges, Rosie Boycott, described The Idea of Perfection as “an exquisite, minutely observed study of two people meeting in their middle years. It’s just a truly jaw-dropping book, extremely real, extremely emotional, and there is writing that just blows you away.”
The Idea of Perfection is about two people who seem the least likely in the world to fall in love. Douglas Cheeseman is an a
wkward engineer, the sort of divorced man you’d never look at twice. Harley Savage is a big, plain, abrasive woman who’s been through three husbands and doesn’t want another. Both of them bring all kinds of unhappy baggage to their meeting in the little town of Karakarook, New South Wales, population 1,374. Being in Karakarook is something of a voyage of discovery for both of them. Unlike Felicity Porcelline, a woman dangerously haunted by the idea of perfection, they come to understand that what looks like weakness can be the best kind of strength.

“It’s an outrageously entertaining book – witty, tender and full of no-nonsense lyricism.” (Hepzibah Anderson, The Daily Mail)

An interview with Kate Grenville talking about The Idea of Perfection is available for download at Interviews Archive . An extract from the novel and reading notes are also available online.

In 2005, The Secret River was published. It won many Australian awards, but most notably it was shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize and the Miles Franklin Award.
International praise for The Secret River:

A revelation… an engrossing account of early Australian history… she has written honestly and credibly about the complexity of the relationship between Aborigine and white settler.” (Sunday Tribune, Dublin)

“She gives a fiercely intelligent portrayal of a clash of cultures…in consequence the novel works on two levels: the historical and particular, and the philosophical, bringing into question the extent to which it is possible to own anything, even one’s life.” (Times Literary Supplement)

Read The Observer’s Review of The Secret River (

A Podcast of Kate Grenville discussing The Secret River on the BBC’s World Book Club can be downloaded from this webpage.

Grenville’s published novel her most recent novel, The Lieutenant, in 2008.

In 1788 Daniel Rooke sets out on a journey that will change the course of his life. As a lieutenant in the First Fleet, he lands on the wild and unknown shores of New South Wales. There he sets up an observatory to chart the stars. But this country will prove far more revelatory than the stars above. Based on real events, The Lieutenant tells the unforgettable story of Rooke’s connection with an Aboriginal child – a remarkable friendship that resonates across the oceans and the centuries.

‘The Lieutenant has a potency and beauty that lingers in both the heart and mind’s eye… the scenes between Rooke and Tagaran are superbly writtten, and Grenville conveys not only the sense of true kinship that grows between them, but also the euphoria of connection and understanding between two people from different universes.’ Sunday Telegraph (UK)

See a video of Kate discussing and reading from The Lieutenant on SlowTV

Kate is also a teacher of creative writing, and has written non-fiction titles on that subject, including The Writing Book: A Workbook for Fiction Writers and Writing from Start to Finish: A Six Step Guide .

A selection of reviews of Kate Grenville’s titles from other book bloggers:
The Idea of Perfection – Jabberwock
The Secret River – Penguin Unearthed
The Lieutenant – A Novel Approach