Miles Franklin Literary Award 1996




1996 Winner – Highways to a War by Christopher Koch

Commenting on the winner's novel, the Judging Panel wrote:

"The central character in Christopher Koch's haunting novel, Highways to a War is the strong tall, blond Australian war photographer, Mike Langford, whose essential character is reflected in inner strength , independence and a sense of moral value. Using his own memories, Langford's audio tapes and photographs of his colleagues, the narrator Ray, takes us on a journey of discovery about Langford – who he is now and how he deals with moral and ethical dilemmas. Though Highways to a War is set against the long and bitter saga of the Vietnam War and the subsequent Cambodian conflict, that is such an important component of the social and political landscape of Australian in the Latter part of this century, it is really a novel about loss. Mike Langford's early Tasmanian experience has shaped his character and he carries his haunted past everywhere with him."

Miles Franklin Literary Award 1996 Shortlist

The White Garden, Carmel Bird
The House in the Light, Beverley Farmer
Bracelet Honeymyrtle, Judith Fox
The Touchstone, Paul Horsfall
Highways to a War, Christopher Koch
Camille's Bread, Amanda Lohrey
The Sitters, Alex Miller

Judges' Report

"This year a record number of 64 entries were received for the 1996 Miles Franklin Literary Award from which the judges selected seven books as outstanding, that is having high literary merit as defined in the terms of the conditions of entry for this award. It is interesting to note that any of this year's entries deal with spiritual awareness in a secular world.

Carmel Bird's The White Garden is inspired by Sydney's Chelmsford psychiatric hospital scandal and also by Vita Sackville-West's writings on her famous garden as Sissinghurst in Kent. While this novel is loosely structured as a mystery is deals with a complex and bizarre set of events which took place in the Manadala clinic in Melbourne. Bird explores sexual neurosis and religious mania in the inmates of this clinic suffered under the treatment of the charismatic and mad superintendent sometimes known as Dr. God.

The House in the Light by Beverly Farmer is a delightful blend of memories and dreams explored through the Australian heroine's return, at Easter, to the Greek Village she first visited with her husband many years ago. Now divorced, she confronts and finds reconciliation with her former mother-in-law, a splendidly drawn figure. This novel is about relationships, morality and spirituality and is sent in the context of Greek and Australian traditions.

Judith Fox's Bracelet Honeymyrtle explore notions of the power of religious, acceptance of duty and domestic chores through the eyes of Annie Grace, an 80 year old woman. Through love, at age 60, Annie is able to defy her dominating mother, find space for herself within the cramped religious dimension of her upbringing and step out into life, yet maintaining continuity with her past and indeed with her successors.

The Touchstone is Paul Horsfall's first novel, and is rich in history, humour and a sense of the macabre. Seymour Bazett is a Rabelaisian character who has spent his life burying and exhuming history in his garden. This is a comic version of Australian history, for example in the post war era, Seymour's narrative of himself lapses because through those years nothing happened, It has been sometime since we have seen writing of such imaginative exuberance.

The central character in Christopher Koch's haunting novel, Highways to a War is the strong tall, blond Australian war photographer, Mike Langford, whose essential character is reflected in inner strength , independence and a sense of moral value. Using his own memories, Langford's audio tapes and photographs of his colleagues, the narrator Ray, takes us on a journey of discovery about Langford – who he is now and how he deals with moral and ethical dilemmas. Though Highways to a War is set against the long and bitter saga of the Vietnam War and the subsequent Cambodian conflict, that is such an important component of the social and political landscape of Australian in the Latter part of this century, it is really a novel about loss. Mike Langford's early Tasmanian experience has shaped his character and he carries his haunted past everywhere with him.

Camille's Bread by Amanda Lohrey uses a straightforward narrative style with easy dialogue and explores life, love and relationships. Many issues are covered in the novel, ranging from parenting, Japanese massage, Chinese meditation, natural health remedies and religion, to the virtues of a vegetarian life-style and the satisfaction from cooking health food. Lohrey uses a deceptively simple style, her characters are interesting and believable and the sens of place, the inner city suburbs of Sydney, is particularly well evoked.

Alex Millers' The Sitters is a spare, carefully crafted and beautifully written novella, a meditation on the relationship between past, present and future through the creativity of the artist. The central character is an aging artist who is concerned that his work is seen as meaningless. Miller creates a strong, evocative sense of time and place and explores the feeling of his character with great sensitivity and compassion."