Peppermint Book Club: Looking at the “Culture-Shifting” Stella Prize Shortlist

If there’s one thing better than curling up in your favourite nook with a page-turner of a book, it’d be gushing about your latest read with your closest friends. As JD Salinger’s protagonist says in The Catcher in the Rye, “What really knocks me out is a book that, when you’re all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn’t happen much though.” With the idea of promoting good books, good reading and good conversations, we’ve decided to start a Peppermint Book Club. In this special edition, we’re looking at the books on the recently released shortlist for the 2023 Stella Prize

A major literary award for Australian women and non-binary authors’ writing, the Stella Prize is awarded annually to one outstanding book deemed to be original, excellent and engaging. The six shortlisted books were chosen from over 200 entries spanning genre and form, and include two works of nonfiction, a graphic memoir, one book of poetry and two novels. This year for the first time, all books on the shortlist were published by small or independent publishers.

We Come With This Place by Debra Dank 

Educator, author and proud Gudanji and Wakaja woman Dr Debra Dank’s We Come With This Place is a book that defies definition. A memoir of sorts, it weaves an interconnected web of stories from Debra’s life, her family’s personal history, and the larger story of the Gudanji people and Country. Deeply personal and masterfully moving, Debra captures incredible connections and community between generations across history and evokes a powerfully grounded, physical sense of the Country and place. 

big beautiful female theory by Eloise Grills 

Part feminist manifesto, part comic book, part memoir, part cultural commentary, big beautiful female theory sees Eloise Grills craft a collection of essays that dazzles and delights. Masterfully combining gut-punching vulnerability with gut-busting humour, and mixing her eclectic, energetic art with incisively precise language skill, Eloise explores issues of identity, culture, relationship and the weight of society’s expectations as a fat woman. 

The Jaguar by Sarah Holland-Batt 

Sarah Holland-Batt may just be one of Australia’s finest living poets and in this new collection, she is operating at the peak of her powers. Opening and closing with startling elegies set in the charged moments before and after a death, The Jaguar confronts the body’s animal appetites, metamorphoses, endurance and inescapable inevitable mortality. Masterfully intelligent, and intensely lyrical, underpinned by a confident clarity of voice, under Sarah’s pen classic themes of love and loss become new and electrifying.  

READ MORE – Peppermint Book Club: 10 Books to Kickstart Your Reading in 2023

Hydra by Adriane Howell 

Suspenseful and savage, Adrianne Howell’s debut novel Hydra is a captivating tale of female freedom and restraint. Ambitious antiquarian Anja is set adrift amid career calamities. Using the last of her mother’s inheritance, she leases an abandoned, isolated beachside cottage where her solitude is interrupted by a mysterious presence. Exploring moral culpability, revenge, memory and narrative, our narrator shares intimacies and rage with candour, tenderness and humour.

Indelible City by Louisa Lim 

The story of Hong Kong has long been obscured by competing myths; from the British, the Chinese and its own inhabitants. Raised in Hong Kong as a half-Chinese, half-English child, and working in the region as a reporter for a decade – Louisa Lim felt uniquely positioned to unearth the untold stories of Hong Kong. A deeply researched and personal account, Indelible City features guerrilla calligraphers, amateur historians and archaeologists and the iconic street artist known as “the King of Kowloon”, creating an insightful and original exploration of an extraordinary city. 

Bad Art Mother by Edwina Preston 

In Bad Art Mother, Edwina Preston explores an age-old question – if good mothers are selfless and good artists are selfish, what does this mean for a mother with artistic ambitions? This extraordinary novel follows the Faustian bargain of frustrated poet Veda Gray, invited by a wealthy couple to exchange her young son Owen for time to write. As Owen reflects on his boyhood in the Melbourne milieu, he struggles with the idea of ‘being a man’ – while the women in his life struggle to be recognised as legitimate artists. 

READ MORE – Peppermint Book Club: 22 Books by BIPOC Authors You Need to Read