A first-generation Asian immigrant has won Australia’s most prestigious literary award – for the second time.
Michelle de Kretser has won this year’s Miles Franklin Literary Award for her novel The Life to Come, which was announced on Sunday at the Melbourne Writers Festival.
She is the third woman after Thea Astley (four times) and Jessica Anderson (twice) to win the $60,000 annual prize more than once.
Established in 1957 through the will and bequest of My Brilliant Career author Stella Maria Miles Franklin, the award highlights a novel “of the highest literary merit” that presents “Australian life in any of its phases”.
“I am so pleased that in this past week which saw a lurch to the right in Australian politics, that this book has won the Miles Franklin and that a first-generation Asian immigrant has won the award,” the Sydney-based author said.
“That sends a very good message to the majority of Australians who refuse the politics of race and hatred.”
The book, published by Allen & Unwin, took three years to craft into its five extended chapters, which show how shadows of the past and future can transform, distort and undo the present.
The novel follows writer Pippa who longs for success, Celeste who tells herself feelings for her married lover are reciprocated, while Ash clears a tragedy from his childhood in Sri Lanka from his mind.
She used fragmented narratives as a way to let the reader see Pippa at different moments in her life, through others’ eyes and let our feelings for her shift depending on the context.
“I was interested in doing that in showing how our feelings, our understanding of reality really depends on the context on which we see someone operating,” the Sri-Lankan and Australian-identifying author said.
“Our understanding of truth is always partial.”
The book also makes Australians put a mirror to themselves, and how the world sees them.
“It was important to just write about some of those issues of race, migration and asylum seeking in the novel because … they are ongoing matters of importance to Australia and the world,” the author said.
She said it was a “huge honour” to win again, having had success in 2013 for her novel Questions of Travel.
“Sentence by sentence, it is elegant, full of life and funny. With her characteristic wit and style, Michelle de Kretser dissects the way Australians see ourselves, and reflects on the ways other parts of the world see us,” chair of the judging panel and State Library of NSW Mitchell Librarian Richard Neville said.
Mr Neville was joined on the panel by journalist and columnist Murray Waldren, Sydney bookseller Lindy Jones, book critic Melinda Harvey and Emeritus Professor Susan Sheridan.
The Life to Come is Ms de Krester’s fifth novel. It has also been shortlisted for a 2018 Stella Prize.