It seems sometimes literary fiction performs a bellwether function: signalling changes; alerting us to the directions in which a society is headed. The Miles Franklin shortlist seems to bear this out in six novels whose topics shimmer with relevance: the continuing wounds of colonisation for people and the environment ; language and all its possibilities and failures; ditto families; and the issues that are intrinsic to fiction, like conflict and character, trauma and resilience, sex and art. And, in the case of these six novels, lost or vanished family members and the uncertain status of the dead. The overall effect is of fragments of impressions, a prism that reflects and deflects the light cast by childhood: the presence and absence of the younger sister Anna, and then of the rejected mother and the incompetent father, until the remaining sister, Junie, is left almost alone, with every breath freighted by the disappearance of her sister:. Junie can look back on the past, when Anna was there.
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