Winner of the 2017 Voss Literary Prize Announced
Congratulations to the winner of 2017 Voss Prize Mark O’Flynn for his novel The Last Days of Ava Langdon. The prize was announced at the annual meeting of the AUHE on 1 December.
Congratulations to Mark and to his publisher the University of Queensland Press for a wonderful book about the extraordinary Ava Langdon. Inspired by the story of that singular Australian writer Eve Langley, Flynn’s central character is “so wonderfully drawn”, according to the judges “that we experience vicariously her emotional chaos as she bounces from optimism to anguish to creative fervour”. As with the characters of Kate Grenville and Elizabeth Jolley, “We laugh along with them, but we also feel their pain, recognising in it the loneliness of being human.”
O’Flynn is also a poet and, for the judges, “this shows in his vivid descriptions of the bush surrounding Ava’s shack, her perambulations around the streets of Katoomba, the startling images he and Ava employ, and their love of obscure and original words, verbal jokes and allusions.” The prize was a special thrill for AUHE’s many fans of Langley.
And in an exception for the Voss award, this year the judges felt that a second title was worth special recognition and highly commended Jessica Rowe’s A Loving, Faithful Animal (also from University of Queensland Press). The judges described it: “Set in the post-Vietnam war period, it explores the psychic wounds inflicted on those who were sent to fight, and the wounds they, on return, inflicted on their families. It is an intricate novel, told in five voices, precise in language and devoid of sentimentality. It asks, in the words of the New York Times reviewer, ‘whether we ever move fast enough to escape this deep damage’.” Congratulations to Jennifer too.
Judges’ Report: 2017 Voss Literary Prize
The winner of the 2017 Voss Literary Prize ($5,000) for the best Australian novel published in 2016 is
Mark O’Flynn, for The Last Days of Ava Langdon, published by University of Queensland Press.
It’s no secret that Mark O’Flynn references that singular Australian novelist Eve Langley as he embeds himself, and us, in the consciousness of his fictional fabulist, Ava Langdon, on the last day of her life, 1 June 1974. His intent is signalled by Ava, enjoying her bottle of sherry in Hinkler Park on a cloudy Katoomba day: ‘I will not be a captive to biography’, she cries, swishing her machete at a laurel hedge and startling a nearby mother and child.
The character of Ava is so wonderfully drawn that we experience vicariously her emotional chaos as she bounces from optimism to anguish to creative fervour, refracting the everyday world through her imagination, in turn philosophical and febrile. Ava, with her alter ego, Oscar Wilde, is more ‘real’ to us than the biographical Eve, who spent her final years as a recluse in a shack outside Katoomba, scribbling never-to-be-published novels (the final one the uncompleted The Saunterer), dying alone and lying undiscovered for several weeks.
Ava’s eccentric exuberance, undercut by a darker strain of mental instability, resonates with Kate Grenville’s Lilian Singer (drawn from Bea Miles) and so many of Elizabeth Jolley’s characters. Common to them all is the love the authors have for their characters and the tenderness with which they are portrayed. We laugh out loud with them, but we also feel their pain, recognising in it the loneliness of being human.
O’Flynn has written previously of Eve Langley, and perhaps the challenge of finding her ‘voice’ for his 2002 play, Eleanor and Eve (which portrayed a fictional meeting between Eve Langley and Eleanor Dark), along with his study of Langley’s writings, accounts for Ava’s pitch-perfect voice as she constructs narratives of her own life and narratives for each of the townspeople – cruel and compassionate – who cross her path that day when she sets off to post her final manuscript, The Saunteress, to Douglas Stewart at Angus & Robertson.
O’Flynn is a poet and this shows in his vivid descriptions of the bush surrounding Ava’s shack, her perambulations around the streets of Katoomba, the startling images he and Ava employ, and their love of obscure and original words, verbal jokes and allusions. But whereas Ava’s novels sprawl over hundreds of single-spaced pink pages, O’Flynn’s Last Days of Ava Langdon is a model of compression, a joy to read, and a spur to reacquainting ourselves with the historical and authorial Eve Langley, the Eve Langley of literary scholars, the ever shape-changing Eve Langley.
The judges also commended Josephine Rowe for A Loving, Faithful Animal (University of Queensland Press). Rowe’s book is a compassionate portrayal of intergenerational trauma – the way trauma undergone by one generation can be passed on to succeeding generations. Set in the post-Vietnam war period, it explores the psychic wounds inflicted on those who were sent to fight, and the wounds they, on return, inflicted on their families. It is an intricate novel, told in five voices, precise in language and devoid of sentimentality. It asks, in the words of the New York Times reviewer, ‘whether we ever move fast enough to escape this deep damage’.
Judges: Elaine Lindsay, Margaret Henderson, Matt McGuire, Ann Vickery and Joy Wallace.
2017 Shortlist for the Voss Literary Prize
Congratulations to these six Australian writers, short-listed for the annual Voss literary prize in 2017, awarded to the best novel published in the previous year.
The shortlisted titles are:
Jack Cox, Dodge Rose
Jennifer Down, Our Magic Hour
Toni Jordan, Our Tiny, Useless Hearts
Zoe Morrison, Music and Freedom
Mark O’Flynn, The Last Days of Ava Langdon
Josephine Rowe, A Loving, Faithful Animal
Four of these six titles are debut novels and the other two come from established authors whose writing breaks new ground in different ways. A very lively contemporary Australian literary scene is opening new windows onto our shared lives in truly innovative ways – AUHE commends these novels to their readers.
The Voss award for the best novel published in Australia in 2016-2017 will be announced on 1 December at the annual meeting of the AUHE in Adelaide.
About the Prize
The Voss Literary Prize is an award dedicated to the memory of Robert de Vaux Voss (1930-1963), an historian and lover of literature from Emu Park in Central Queensland, who studied History and Latin at the University of Sydney and Modern Languages at the University of Rome. His will stipulated that a literary award be established to reward the best novel from the previous year. The executors of the estate have appointed the Australian University Heads of English (AUHE), the peak body for the study of English at Australian universities, to oversee and judge the award.
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