Lisa's Reviews > The Big Fellow

The Big Fellow by Vance Palmer
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's review
Oct 22, 11

bookshelves: miles-franklin-read, australia, 20thcentury
Read from October 20 to 22, 2011

Vance Palmer is a name well-known to people of my generation who found his Legends of the Nineties or National Portraits on their reading lists at school, but I had never read any of his fiction until, working my way through the Miles Franklin Award winners on my TBR, it was time to read The Big Fellow which won the award in 1959.

I think it might have come as a bit of a disappointment to readers lured to the title by the award. It is just not in the same class as its predecessors. Voss by Patrick White (yet-to-be-awarded his Nobel Prize) is a brilliant book still widely read; and To The Islands by Randolph Stow was an astonishing work written in luminous prose when the author was only 22. (My reviews of these two novels are at But The Big Fellow hasn’t stood the test of time, if indeed it ever deserved the accolade. (Astonishingly, there are no records of shortlisted books prior to 1987. Did successive judges and the Miles Franklin trustees not have any eye to Australia’s literary history????)

Perhaps the judges felt that they ‘owed’ an award to Palmer because of his contribution to Australian letters? He and his wife Nettie were the foremost literary couple of their era and the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award recognises this by naming the fiction award as the Vance Palmer Prize and the non-fiction award as the Nettie Palmer Prize. As I have noted before, my copy of The Big Fellow is inscribed by Nettie Palmer, ‘To dear Dorothea from Nettie’, which adds a certain frisson to the reading…

But not enough to save the novel from itself. The truth is, (whatever they may say about it at the Australian Dictionary of Biography) it’s a rather pedestrian book, with a desultory plot and in places, rather plodding prose.

To read the rest of my review please visit
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Reading Progress

10/21/2011 page 94
31.54% "Hmmm."
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