A Sampling of Fiction with an Australian or New Zealand Disposition

Liane Moriarty (center) with Nicole Kidman and Reese Witherspoon of the “Big Little Lies” TV series based on Moriarty’s novel. (Getty Images.)

Australia and New Zealand are not that close geographically, but they ARE in the same general region of the world. So, I’m going to include them both in a post about the literature I’ve enjoyed from past and present writers who’ve spent all or some of their lives in those two countries.

I’m doing this as I’m about to read Apples Never Fall, the latest book by Australian author Liane Moriarty — one of my favorite contemporary novelists. I think her Big Little Lies is among the top books of the 21st century, and I also enjoyed her Nine Perfect Strangers, The Husband’s Secret, The Hypnotist’s Love Story, and Truly Madly Guilty. Moriarty expertly mixes readability, social consciousness, and humor as she spotlights three-dimensional women, their friendships (and rivalries) with other women, their oft-complicated relationships with men, and family dynamics. Often with some elements of mystery.

Perhaps Moriarty’s most famous Australian author predecessor was Colleen McCullough, writer of the widely read The Thorn Birds (which inspired a widely watched miniseries) and other compelling novels such as Morgan’s Run. A superb author.

Over in New Zealand, that country’s best-known past author might be Janet Frame. I particularly like her Yellow Flowers in the Antipodean Room — a disturbing novel about a seemingly dead man who ends up alive, and what happens after that.

More recently in New Zealand, Eleanor Catton wrote the impressively ambitious novel The Luminaries set during her country’s 1860s gold rush. Catton, who was born in Canada but came to New Zealand as a girl, authored The Luminaries while still in her 20s — and won the Booker Prize for that 848-page work.

Nevil Shute was an Englishman but spent his later years in Australia, where he set his most famous novel — the gripping, apocalyptic On the Beach.

Geraldine Brooks grew up in Australia, became a journalist, and ended up in the U.S. Her intense novel March — which focuses on the American Civil War experiences of the father from Louisa May Alcott’s Little Women — won the Pulitzer Prize.

James Clavell also did the Australia-to-U.S. thing during a life in which he wrote novels such as the riveting Japan-based epic Shogun and worked in the movie business.

Worth mentioning, too, is Australian writer Frank Moorhouse, whose interesting Grand Days novel focuses on a young Australian woman working for the League of Nations in 1920s Switzerland.

There was also New Zealand’s masterful short-story writer Katherine Mansfield.

Of course, many novels with an Australian or New Zealand setting have been written by authors who didn’t live in either country. Among them is A Rogue’s Life — a brief, good-not-great work by English writer Wilkie Collins of The Woman in White and The Moonstone renown.

I’ve only named novels and authors I’ve read. Any thoughts on them? Any thoughts on other novels and authors with an Australian or New Zealand connection?

My literary-trivia book is described and can be purchased here: Fascinating Facts About Famous Fiction Authors and the Greatest Novels of All Time.

In addition to this weekly blog, I write the 2003-started/award-winning “Montclairvoyant” topical-humor column for Baristanet.com every Thursday. The latest piece — about a mass resignation of committee members after Township Council interference — is here.

111 thoughts on “A Sampling of Fiction with an Australian or New Zealand Disposition

  1. Hi Dave, I held off replying straight away on this one because I wanted to link to the upcoming long list announcement for the Stella Prize (out today) – see https://stella.org.au This is a major literary prize which promotes ‘gender equality and cultural change in Australian literature’. It is named after the celebrated Australian author Miles Franklin, whose official first name was Stella. There are always plenty of amazing titles to explore on the longlists each year. I am looking forward to diving in to this year’s selection. And on a completely different note, let me also highlight the work of Tim Winton who is a fascinating human and writes beautiful books.

    Liked by 3 people

  2. Hello Dave, the lovely Maria Donovan pointed me in your direction re southern hemisphere authors. Your post is both pleasing and disconcerting because I try hard to get people to read Australian authors. I am not sure of the criteria because some of the books mentioned are oldies – but goodies. Ruth Park NZ Aussie author famous for The Harp In The South and Graeme Simsion known for his trilogy The Rosie Project spring to mind. I read a lot of crime and mystery novels and grew up with Ngaio Marsh, New Zealand author, with an Order of the British Empire, known for her detective novels featuring Inspector Roderick Alleyn of Scotland Yard no less. The newer authors are a different species altogether and I am more well informed about them 🙂 Gretchen.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, Gretchen! I greatly appreciate the mention of various newer authors! You definitely know a lot about more recent Australian and New Zealand literature!

      My post was not the deepest look at authors with a connection to those two countries, because I mostly blog about books I’ve read and I’m a “generalist” who tries to read some of everything (geography-wise, genre-wise, when-written-wise, etc.) so I’m not an expert on too many specific fiction topics. 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  3. All I could tell…a close relative moved to Sydney Australia, and another of my my beloved cousin ( deceased) moved long ago with his British wife . The Children 3 girls live there .
    Can’t recall reading any of the Australian authors.

    Nicole Kidman was a brilliant actor. Last one I saw was ” The Upside”, It’s all based, partly, on the true story quadriplegic millionaire Philippe Pozzo di Borgo and his former aide, Abdel Sellou . In here she was a meek personal assistant.

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      • Thank you, Bebe! Interesting that you have current and past relatives who moved to Australia!

        I haven’t seen a lot of Nicole Kidman on screen (given that I’m not much of a movie or TV watcher), but I was impressed with what I have seen — including her playing Virginia Woolf in “The Hours.”

        You would love “The Thorn Birds.” Great novel!

        Yes, it’s Black History Month, which I believe runs from January 1 to December 31 every year. 🙂

        Liked by 2 people

        • On Black Hisotry Dave, I was walking this afternoon and I do know so many in our area, was mostly DT town.
          BUT now it is slowly changing, two lawns have signs ” Hate has no place in this House”.

          Anyways this lady I know, friendly, builders wife , and chatty sometimes goes off in tangents. Today she was resting on her front patio and started talking to me about this and that.
          Then she goes , she does not like signs in front of the houses. ” Black Lives matter, because all lives matter”. I said wait a minuite…….

          I have heard that clueless phrase from some folks .
          How they don`t get it I wonder…

          Liked by 2 people

          • Fewer Trump signs? If so, Bebe, a nice development. But I agree that the “All Lives Matter” phrase is a way to minimize “Black Lives Matter.” Of course all lives matter, but African-Americans have faced and still face more discrimination and a unique form of discrimination. If an organization was having a fundraiser for, say, breast cancer, should we respond by saying “All Cancers Matter”? No.

            Liked by 2 people

            • Actually there was never a Trump sign, ever.:)..as if they all were embarrassed to have rhat in their yard I just knew they were Trump supporters.. When Romney was running there was plenty of signs .
              So agree with you , I had enough arguing with them.

              Also when houses are in the Market , it is no longer a Master Bedroom, It the the main bedroon or something else.
              One has to move with time, not okay to be so clueless.

              Because ” Black lives matter”.

              Liked by 1 person

  4. In the category of non-native writers setting things in Australia, allow me to add DH Lawrence’s 1923 novel “Kangaroo.”

    Guilty-ish fun fact: I picked this novel up years ago, and it’s hiding down under something or other in my book and audio recording repository (aka my teensy apartment), but I have yet to read it– my TBR pile. laid end to end, would probably choke a river, or stacked, would certainly dwarf the largest of those hopping marsupials that inspired the Lawrence title.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Ha, jhNY! 🙂 (The way you described your TBR pile.)

      “Kangaroo” is a D.H. Lawrence novel I was not familiar with. Just read about it on Wikipedia, and it seems quite interesting — with some semi-autobiographical elements.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. Rather than recount my very few encounters with Fiction from Down Under, I should like, given recent events, to recommend an author with who I have some readerly familiarity: Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky, (1887-1950), a native of Ukraine, though of Polish extraction. Educated at the University of Kiev, he became a lecturer and critic on theater and music in Kiev, then moved to Moscow, where he continued his lectures and criticism for a time, before being frozen out of the public sphere.

    He lived in a tiny room in the city for the rest of his life, writing novellas and stories to an audience for whom he was unable to publish, though he made several aborted attempts to see those works in print. In 1950, he suffered a debilitating stroke, lost his ability to read, and died at year’s end. For decades his archive of unpublished prose lay in the blanket chest of his lifelong companion, Anna Bovshek, until its discovery in 1976. But it wasn’t until the full thaw of perestroika in 1988 that Krzhizhanovsky’s fantastic philosophical fictions were published at last.

    I can recommend, having read, “The Autobiography of a Corpse”, a collection of stories, “The Letter Killers Club”, and “The Return of Munchausen”. Each of these titles is published by NYRB Classics in paperback, and each is worth every cent of its price.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Thank you, jhNY! Very timely to mention an author with Ukraine ties, and your comment did him justice. Sounds like an amazing writer who was treated horribly — something quite a few writers experienced at the hands of Russian authorities during different periods of time. At least Sigizmund Krzhizhanovsky’s work was rediscovered posthumously, though of course far too late for him to enjoy and benefit.

      Liked by 1 person

      • You’re welcome! “The Return of Munchausen” is the most easily digested of the three titles I listed, a clever, funny and erudite indictment of the early Soviet period. The best overview of the range of Krzhizhanovsky’s interests and approaches to fiction-making would be “The Autobiography of a Corpse”, a collection. I found “The Letter Killers Club” the most challenging, concerning a secret group of writers pledged to conceive of stories, yet commit nothing to paper, who meet weekly to present their ever more perfected conceptions, each a kind of philosophical parable, to each other in a room of black empty bookshelves. “The police may pay a visit. Let them: no one searching emptiness has ever managed to find anything.”

        Liked by 2 people

  6. This has opened up some new avenues, Dave. Thanks! How about Elizabeth Jolley? Born in England, raised in a household ‘half English and three quarters Viennese’, settled in Western Australia. A friend sent me one of her short novels, ‘The Newspaper of Claremont Street’, knowing I have a fondness for eccentricity and the grotesque. I think I must read more of her work myself!

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  7. Oh my, I didn’t realize I had this geographical gap in my reading! The only thing I can think of id Thorn Birds – which I read decades ago, and still remember learning more about sheep shearing than I thought possible!
    Your posts are always so eye opening, Dave. They challenge just the right amount.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Donna, for the comment and the kind words!

      I got to “The Thorn Birds” very late myself — just last year, after several commenters here recommended it. I’m glad they did — an excellent novel. And, yes, definitely a lot of “background” info in Colleen McCullough’s book about rural life in general and sheep in particular. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

  8. Mmm, Australia? I think I’ve been there 🙂

    I have a few favourite Australian books. Patrick White’s Tree of Man, Miles Franklin’s My Brilliant Career, Kenneth Cooke’s Wake in Fright, Craig Silvey’s Jasper Jones just off the top of my head. I haven’t read Nevil Shute yet, but A Town like Alice is coming up on my TBR soon and I have On the Beach a bit further down. I’m very much looking forward to both. I also haven’t read The Moonstone yet, but I loved The Woman in White and have no doubt that I’ll love this one too.

    I loved The Luminaries and would very much like to reread it one day. I feel like I got a bit caught up in not knowing what was going on that I missed a lot of detail. Quite an ambitious novel for such a young writer.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Thank you, Susan! Ha — you’ve been in Australia indeed! 🙂

      I appreciate all the Australian book recommendations! Several now on my to-read list — with a couple there before, but it doesn’t hurt to put them there again.

      You’re the one who recommended I read “The Luminaries” (and “Grand Days”), and I’m glad you did! Yes, a really ambitious novel for such a young writer.

      “The Moonstone” IS great — one of the first detective novels.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. HI Dave, I thought about this topic on and off today. I have read The Thorn Birds, Morgan’s Run and the controversial, The Ladies of Missalonghi (she was accused of plagiarism), all by Colleen McCullough. I loved all of these books. From New Zealand, I have a collection of the Hairy Maclary children’s pictures books by Lynley Dodd. My favourite is Slinky Malinki. Another famous Australian writer is PL Travers who wrote Mary Poppins, another favourite book of mine.

    Liked by 4 people

    • Thank you, Robbie!

      I also loved “The Thorn Birds” and “Morgan’s Run,” and I’ve had “The Ladies of Missalonghi” on my list. When you mentioned the plagiarism allegation, I looked it up for details and saw Colleen McCullough was accused of copying many elements from L.M. Montgomery’s “The Blue Castle” — which is one of my very favorite novels. Yikes!

      I didn’t realize P.L. Travers was from Australia! I’ve never read her work, but have certainly seen the “Mary Poppins” movie. 🙂

      Liked by 4 people

      • HI Dave, I had not read The Blue Castle when I read this book and I was shocked when I read the accusations. I think it’s very embarrassing to be accused of plagiarism. The book/s about Mary Poppins are so much better than the film. The author had the most amazing imagination and I read all of her books to both of my boys. I also enjoy the movie, but I love musicals and I love Julie Andrews and Dick van Dyk.

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  10. Breath by Tim Winton, a western Australian writer, was excerpted on the AP English Literature prose essay in 2021. It’s an interesting 1970’s coming of age novel about surfing and navigating teenage friendships.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. I’ve read almost every book by Geraldine Brooks who has the rare talent of making every book different, creating a character’s viewpoint that is so real and unique. One of my favorites is The Secret Chord, about the life of King David as shared by Nathan the Prophet. It may sound “dry” but honestly, WOW, Incredible storytelling.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you, Suzette! I appreciate that you were the person who recommended “March” to me, and I look forward to reading Geraldine Brooks again. “The Secret Chord” does sound VERY interesting.

      Like

  12. You come up with uber interesting themes.
    I was panicking as I read. I didn’t recognize anything Then suddenly – Shogun! I Remember it as a great read, although there is so much in the 1000+ pages, it’ hard to remember. I read it over 25 years ago.
    Okay, it’s not set in Australia, but it is mentioned in your post.

    How about “Picnic At Hanging Rock” by Joan Lindsay?
    Pretty spooky, I say.

    Liked by 4 people

  13. Thank you for bringing these to my attention. I read On the Beach in high school. It still gives me chills. And The Thornbirds was great. A better book than it was a tv series and the series was wonderful. I’ve enjoyed several of Liane Moriarty’s books. But all the others you mentioned were new to me.

    Liked by 5 people

    • Thank you, nananoyz!

      Chilling is the exact description for “On the Beach.” So poignant seeing various characters depicted as disaster approached. 😦

      I never watched “The Thorn Birds” TV series but loved the dramatic novel when I FINALLY read it last year.

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  14. Oh, I do love how you take us around the world with books, Dave. As it happens, last year I read a fascinating non-fiction book, that linked New Zealand with Britain on 2 occasions.

    A Secret Sisterhood: The Literary Friendships of Jane Austen, Charlotte Brontë, George Eliot, and Virginia Woolf by Emily Midorikawa, Emma Claire Sweeney, With a forward by Margaret Atwood. I finally did read Margaret Atwood, even if only in a foreword, which I must say was brilliant. I think Margaret and I will be meeting up soon. But I digress.

    Charlotte Bronte’s and her friend, Mary Taylor first met at Roe Head School, Mirfield. Mary, who became a women’s rights advocate, was far more daring that Charlotte and ended up in New Zealand, where she wrote the novel Miss Miles or a Tale of Yorkshire Life 60 years Ago. I have attempted to find the book, which I did, but the paper back is quite pricey and it hasn’t been brought into kindle.

    A few years ago I was introduced to New Zealand writer and poet, Katherine Mansfield by my dear blogger friend, Gallavanta (Mandy Henderson). Katherine Mansfield’s poetry is lovely, poignant and has nuanced depths. What I did not know until I read “A Secret Sisterhood” was that Katherine Mansfield and Virginia Woolf had a very complex and tempestuous relationship.

    This is one of my first recorded recitation of Butterfly Laughter

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  15. My nan was a big fan of Catherine Gaskin and Dorothy Eden. She was especially fond of Gaskin, who was born in ireland but moved to Australia’s Sara Dane book which is about a female convict. The semi forgotten Eden was a best seller in her day. She was from NZ. I think part of the fascination for my nan was books that involved fresh starts out in that part of the world, regardless of how they turned out, although obviously not all the books these authors wrote were set there. Some fascinating books mentioned here though Dave. Great blog.

    Liked by 7 people

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