The Macquarie PEN Anthology of Australian Literatureis a weighty tome with an ambitious aim – to bring together the best of Australian literature from all periods in a single volume. To do this, the book includes 1500 pages, and was compiled by a team of seven editors and with financial and academic input from organisations around Australia.
A review of such a volume is difficult because such a review cannot discuss the quality of the writings so collected, but must instead focus on the success of the choices made and their presentation. And such a collection is sure to be successful in the eyes of some, yet debated or even derided by others. For this reviewer, the book is a success both as a collection of quality Australian literature, but also as a point of discussion about what has and hasn’t been included. If readers and academics discuss whether more genre fiction should have been included, or why a particular favourite author hasn’t been included, this can only be healthy – because they are discussing just what does make up the best of Australian literature.
As to what the book actually contains – there are 513 works from 307 authors, including fiction, nonfiction and poetry. Each author is introduced with a brief biographical note and there are also several introductory essays – a general introduction to the collection, as well as introductions from each of the contributing editors who focussed on specific areas or eras of Australian literature.
This is a collector’s item which will please any lover of Australian literature, and will also make a wonderful academic tool from high school to university level. It is supported by a website, at www.macquariepenanthology.com.au, which includes a teaching guide for secondary schools and more.
Six years in the making, the Macquarie PEN Anthology of Australian Literature is an exciting offering with much to offer Australia’s literary and academic communities.
Macquarie PEN Anthology of Australian Literature, General editor: Nicholas Jose
Allen & Unwin, 2009
This book can be purchased online at Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.