22. ilb 07. - 17.09.2022

Sonya Hartnett

Sonya Hartnett was born in 1968 in Melbourne, Australia where she still lives today.  The media specialist published her first novel, ‘Trouble All the Way’ at the age of 15 and has written around twenty variously pr ize-winning novels since then which have received several pr izes. For her young people’s novel ‘Wilful Blue’, she received a grant from the ‘Literature Board of the Australia Council’ in 1992 and in 1996, the ‘IBBY Ena Noel Award’. Her young people’s novel, ‘Sleeping Dogs’, an op pr essive psycho- pr ofile of a disturbed farmer family, only focused on itself against a background of op pr essive heat, animal stench and hard work, was her literary breakthrough. For this novel she received the ‘Victorian Premier’s Literary Award Sheaffer Pen Prize’ in 1996 and in 1999 she was nominated for the ‘German Youth Literature Prize’. After ‘Thursday’s Child’ (2002) which was compared to the big novels of Steinbeck and Faulkner, and recognised with the Aurealis Award (2000) as well as the Guardian Children’s Literary Prize (2002), Hartnett published her second novel for adults, ‘Of a Boy’ (2002), which was awarded the Commonwealth Writers’ Prize 2003.

Sonya Hartnett is in the meantime regarded as one of the most important pr otagonists of the young generation of young people’s book authors.  A characteristic of her work is her portrayal of down to earth reality which she combines with elements of the ‘Gothic novel’ and ‘magical realism’. Her writing is influenced by Ivan Southall, Robert Cormier and the big Russian narrators.

While in ‘Stripes of the Sidestep Wolf’ (1999) it is the legendary Tasmanian Tiger which keeps both the heroines, Satchel and Chelsea, in suspense, in ‘Forest’ (2001) it is from the viewpoint of the animals themselves from which Hartnett develops her stories.  Powerful and poetic, more ballad than pr ose writing, this story stands in the tradition of ‘Watership Down’ and ‘Animal Farm’. Precisely told and with great empathy, Hartnett describes in an elegant, poetic pictorial language, the odyssey of three cats: Kian, Jem and Cally who, after the death of their mistress, find themselves again in the inhospitable surroundings of the forest.

Sonya Hartnett’s books are pr ovoking and controversial. Without any false consideration to social taboos, she throws a clear view on topics such as family breakdown, aggression, suicide, incest, obsession and loneliness.  Only rarely are her stories harmoniously resolved. In her pr ize awarded youth novel ‘Sleeping Dogs’, she reflects the tortuous atmosphere on the run-down farm of the Willow family where the violent father leads a hateful and authoritarian regiment.  Only the love to his sister Michelle, allows Jordan, the black sheep of the family, not to despair at the brutal beatings of his father until one day a stranger enters the world of the Willows and brings it out of balance.  The ending of this novel leaves the reader alarmed and quite helpless.  The author dares what many would not: to leave things without any evaluation, reconciling conclusion or moral message, and with this she attributes her young readers with a degree of perception, maturity and ability to judge.

“Princes” (1998) tells the unsettling story of the apparently peacefully cohabiting twins Indigo and Ravel, who have lived outside of society in an almost derelict house since the baffling disappearance of their parents. The first born, Indigo, who is seemingly more able to cope, is fully at the mercy of his obsessions and tries to kill his withdrawn brother with rat poison. The up until then unconditional trust is destroyed after this attempted murder and soon allows Ravel to make an appalling discovery. The idea of split personality is carried to extremes by Hartnett – she allows her young readers to look again into the abyss of the human soul.

Her most recent publications include the children’s book “The Silver Donkey” (2004) as well as the teenagers’ novel “Surrender” (2005), which won the Victorian Premier’s Literary Award 2005, the pr ize of honour at the Michael L. Printz Award and was nominated for the Dublin Literary Award 2007. In 2007 her erotic novel “Landscape with Animals” was published under the pseudonym Cameron S. Redfern. As one of the “most important innovators of the modern novel for young readers”, Hartnett was awarded the  prestigious Astrid Lindgren Prize for Children’s and Young People’s Literature.

© international literature festival berlin