The Stella Prize winner has been announced for 2021 and truly showcases the trials, triumphs and changes that have occurred over the past year. With over 160 entries in the beginning, the judges narrowed it down to the top 6, before selecting a winner. Conversation topics ranging across race and discrimination, pandemics, gender equality and our environment have been represented in this year’s finalists. Whether it be books promoting women leading teams, communicating stories of people overcoming situations of domestic violence or encouraging the leadership development of women, books are such a powerful medium. Books that were eligible had to have been published between 1st January and 30th December 2020 by women writers and non-binary writers.
Revenge: Murder in Three Parts – written by S.L. Lim
This fantastic novel is about a Chinese Malaysian family that favours their son to their daughter. Yannie, the books’ main character, faces constant emotional and physical abuse from her family – particularly her brother, Shaun. Her mother even jokes about Yannie’s ‘brush with death’ at a family gathering following her brother’s brutal attack where she ends up collapsing on the floor after being beaten.
Shaun is sent to university by his parents, whilst Yannie is forced to care for her parents and support them. Following her mother’s death, Yannie travels to Sydney to find her brother where she seeks out her revenge on him.
The novel explores outdated family dynamics, gender inequality, sexuality and abuse of power.
Witness – written by Louise Milligan
Witness explores the stories of women that have been sexually assaulted and have chosen to fight for justice through the court system. ABC reporter and journalist, Louise Milligan has questioned the current legal system and has highlighted its continual failure to protect victims of sexual assault. Witness reflects on the additional trauma that victims face standing up in court.
The book tells stories of defence barristers patronising and demeaning victims, asking what they were wearing or how much they had to drink. With court transcripts that have never been published before, Milligan lays out the fundamental flaws of our court system and the need for change.
Stone Sky Gold Mountain – written by Mirandi Riwoe
Mirandi Riwoe Has once again made the Stella shortlist, with her novel Stone Sky Gold Mountain. Previously she made the shortlist in 2018, with her debut novel ‘The Fish Girl’. Stone Sky Gold Mountain gives Australian history a new modern and contemporary makeover. Set in the Queensland goldfields during the 19th century, the book focuses on Ying and Lai Yue, who are siblings that fled home in China in order to seek out their fortune in Australia, as well as Meriem, a young woman who works for a sex worker on the outskirts of a place called Maytown. Ying disguises herself as a male and finds employment at a Chinese shop in Maytown. It is here that she seeks out friendship with Meriem who finds comfort in the gentle kindness of Ying. Lai Yue, who works as a carrier on an overland journey, is scared by the memories of a love that has been lost. Riwoe’s writing is extremely moving and beautiful and is not to be missed. Images of the beautiful Australian landscape are scattered throughout her lyrical writing, whilst also conveying the discrimination and cruel treatment outsiders faced. Readers will be able to draw comparisons between the Queensland gold rush era and modern Australia when it comes to experiences of racism and injustice.
The Animals in That Country – written by Laura Jean McKay
The Animals in That Country is an unusual concept and storyline. If you have ever wondered what animals are thinking, and what they would in fact say if they could speak with humans, this novel portrays an imaginative and rather poetic exploration into this possibility. The author started writing the book well before the coronavirus epidemic occurred in 2020. Part of her inspiration behind the book was her infection with a mosquito borne disease called chikungunya disease, during a visit she had in Bali. The novel centres around a flu pandemic that is widespread across Australia, named the ‘zoo flu’.
The zoo flew has one particular side effect; people can now understand animals. Often the characters do not like what they hear from the animals. The main character, Jean, is a zoo guide that has a special bond with one dingo in the enclosure named Sue. As a result of the flu, Jean discovers the bond is not exactly what she thought, as Sue’s thoughts towards her are rather unfavourable. Both Jean and Sue go on a dangerous road trip in order to rescue Jean’s granddaughter. McKay explores the human-animal relationship and conveys the impact that humans have on the natural world.
Fathoms: the world in the whale – written by Rebecca Giggs
The book begins with a stranded whale; tragic and saddening, yet spectacular. Seeing this beautiful creature, she wants to understand everything about it. She ponders why it has ended up outside of the water and has washed up on the shore, what it symbolises and represents, and how the body will be shifted. The writing moves from a poetic language style to more philosophical explorations, where Giggs finds surprising answers. The whale’s body represents the way in which we interact with nature and the way that we dispose of everything, from toxic chemicals to waste.
The winner was announced on 22nd April 2021, with the prize going to ‘The Bass Rock’, written by Evie Wyld.
The Bass Rock – written by Evie Wyld
The novel features stories of different women across different times. In modern day, a woman called Viviane is visiting the family home. Decades earlier, we explore the grim marriage of Ruth, as well as the life of a young woman named Sarah, who in the early 1700’s is accused of being a witch. Their stories are all connected to the same Scottish sea and land. Gothic images are a theme throughout, so think of dark timber wood stain and overcast days. The novel is both powerful and unsettling, as it explores the oppression of women throughout history through the lives of these women. A well-deserved winner, The Bass Rock is one book that you must read. It is truly a fantastic reading experience and will leave a lasting impression on you.