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Jessica Au wins Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Cold Enough for Snow

Jessica Au. Photo: Charlie Kinross

Jessica Au, author of Cold Enough for Snow, has won the 2023 Prime Minister’s Literary Award for Fiction. The announcement was made at a ceremony in November at the National Library of Australia in Canberra.

‘Prizes like these are always a particular blend of luck and happenstance, and I am truly grateful to whatever alchemy has allowed me to stand here tonight,’ said Au in her acceptance speech. ‘I know for sure none of it would be possible without The Novel Prize, without Giramondo, without your support.’

Read the judges’ comments for Cold Enough for Snow:

Cold Enough For Snow relates a short holiday spent together in Japan by a mother and daughter. They live in different countries and the daughter has made a meticulous itinerary, revealing Japan through its natural beauty and through the cultural galleries, houses, rooms, fabrics, places.

Japan itself, with an elaborate and exquisite surface and an elusive interior, is an intricate and sustained metaphor for the relationship between the mother and daughter. As they move through this unfamiliar, cultivated world their own internal lives unfurl. Surfaces are the touchstones in life as well as the place to begin.

The novel is a crystalline technical feat: a series of small portraits and wider scenes, with stillness achieved by capturing arrested motion. The novel is an enquiry into the human heart and how lives are led. Here is the daily embedded in the eternal: here we are in lives past, but also entirely present. Au, by some personal alchemy, uses image the way poets use compression of language. The same poetic is applied to her choice of words. The clarity of language suggests contemporary Korean novels and has an unusual gravity.

Au’s writing has a quietness, a sophistication of expression emerging from a hum of silence and thought. It signals a new direction in Australian literature, intricately structured and with a flow and reach that, like all remarkable writing, is without boundaries.

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