Hardback: 288pp

Published: Lightning Books (April 2018)

ISBN: 9781785630675

Their Brilliant Careers

Ryan O’Neill


The fantastic lives of sixteen extraordinary Australian writers

WINNER: Australian PM's Award for Fiction

SHORTLISTED: Miles Franklin Literary Award

Absurd, original and highly addictive . . .

In Their Brilliant Careers, Ryan O'Neill has written a hilarious novel in the guise of sixteen biographies of (invented) Australian writers.

Meet Rachel Deverall, who unearthed the secret source of the great literature of our time and paid a terrible price for her discovery. Meet Rand Washington, hugely popular sci-fi author and inveterate racist. Meet Addison Tiller, master of the bush yarn and memorialised as “the Chekhov of Coolabah”, who never travelled outside Sydney.

Their Brilliant Careers is a playful set of stories, linked in many ways, which together form a memorable whole. This unpredictable and intriguing work has echoes of Perec, Borges and Nabokov.






“I loved the mix of deadpan dryness and epic straight-faced satire. A great achievement.”

Tony White

Their Brilliant Careers is seductively authentic. These writers never existed, but they should have, so entertaining and eccentric are their peculiar careers and disreputable characters. Cleaving just the right side of believability, Ryan O’Neill plays out his conceit with deadpan wit and narrative verve from title page to index (even the latter contains a subtle joke), creating not just individual personalities but a whole literary culture into which he folds even himself. This book is original, funny and engrossing. You’ll half-believe that cult sci-fi racist Rand Washington, self-obsessed muse Vivian Darkbloom and shameless plagiarist Frederick Stratford were real, and wistfully regret that they aren’t.”

Jeremy Dronfield, author of The Alchemist’s Apprentice

“A funny, moving, intricately layered skewering of Australian literary culture in the guise of a series of biographies”

Michael Sala, author of The Restorer

“The novel is not dead! Qujte simply the best writing of the year: innovative, experimental and, most importantly, hilarious. Read this book!”

Dave Kelly, Blackwell's, Oxford

Their Brilliant Careers is a major work of pseudo-bibliographical scholarship. O’Neill has undertaken a Herculean labour – to find the previously hidden links between some of Australia’s greatest (and not-so-great) writers.  He has risked the abyss, only to emerge from it stronger.  An invaluable contribution to the field.”

CD Rose, author The Biographical Dictionary of Literary Failure

“Probably the funniest literary novel since Tristram Shandy, this unmerciful lampooning of ‘extraordinary Australian writers’ – barely disguised, bizarrely intertwined – doubles as a parodic, playful workshop in OzLit, and a portrait of the literary community and its politics.”

Professor Jen Webb, University of Canberra

“I loved the mix of vaunting ambition, vendetta, and sheer madness in [this] wicked re-imagining of Australian literary history.”

Nicholas Jose, author of The Custodians

“For the sheer seductive pleasure of it, this odd comic novel meant as much to me as anything I read last year. It purports to be a collection of linked literary biographies, but the authors it examines are wholly imaginary, and the portraits of them O’Neill offers are by turns lacerating, affectionate, absurd, embittered, tender and self-incriminating. From a few paces back, the book becomes a sort of Spirograph-novel, one whose revelations and cross-revelations keep spinning and overlapping right down to the index.” 

Kevin Brockmeier, author of A Few Seconds of Radiant Filmstrip


Their Brilliant Careers … brims with crackerjack wit. Pressure is subtly built; punchlines are explosive.”

Australian Book Review

“[Ryan O’Neill] offers a book that is a piss-take, a celebration, a revisionist history and, perhaps most impressively, exceedingly good fun.”

The Australian

Their Brilliant Careers is a top-to-tail fiction that trades in plausibility. O’Neill employs a form of artifice that strives, stubbornly, for originality against dulling convention, especially in the rendering of human anguish. It is mercilessly funny in places.” 

Sydney Morning Herald

“You have to admire O’Neill’s delicious bravura. He’s been one of the few short fiction writers of recent years willing to play around with the form’s possibilities … Apart from the fact there are more funny lines in O’Neill’s 288 pages than there are likely to be in the entirety of Australian literature elsewhere this year, the profiles are woven smartly together, as the characters’ fates and careers intertwine.”

The Saturday Paper (Melbourne)

“Playfulness and wit go a long way toward concealing the seriousness with which O’Neill approaches his craft, but they shouldn’t obscure the depth of his achievements.”

Sydney Review of Books

“Superb on so many levels, which makes it a joy to read from start to finish.”

Virginia Moffatt, A Room of My Own

“Bonkers but brilliant fun”

Books and Me

“Razor-sharp satire presented with dry wit and laugh out loud humour. An inspired concept...”

Never Imitate


Good Reading magazine interviews Ryan O'Neill here.


Ryan O’Neill

Ryan O’Neill was born in Glasgow in 1975 and lived in Africa, Europe and Asia before settling in Australia.

His short story collection The Weight of a Human Heart was shortlisted for the 2012 Queensland Literary Awards.

His novel Their Brilliant Careers, first published in Australia in 2016, won the Australian PM's Prize for Fiction and was shortlisted for the Miles Franklin Literary Award.

He lives in Sydney.

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