- Publisher: Text Publishing
- Published: July 2, 2020
- Paperback: 319 pages
My Review: 🌟🌟🌟🌟
What if Elizabeth Macarthur—wife of the notorious John Macarthur, wool baron in the earliest days of Sydney—had written a shockingly frank secret memoir? And what if novelist Kate Grenville had miraculously found and published it? That’s the starting point for A Room Made of Leaves, a playful dance of possibilities between the real and the invented.
Marriage to a ruthless bully, the impulses of her heart, the search for power in a society that gave women none: this Elizabeth Macarthur manages her complicated life with spirit and passion, cunning and sly wit. Her memoir lets us hear—at last!—what one of those seemingly demure women from history might really have thought.
At the centre of A Room Made of Leaves is one of the most toxic issues of our own age: the seductive appeal of false stories. This book may be set in the past, but it’s just as much about the present, where secrets and lies have the dangerous power to shape reality.
Kate Grenville’s return to the territory of The Secret River is historical fiction turned inside out, a stunning sleight of hand by one of our most original writers.
It’s always interesting to read a novel about my country’s colonisation. Usually these novels make me angry, so much about bullish white men with insecurities of their own, who take advantage of their power over people who had no power of their own. Indigenous and convict. So, I’m reluctant to read anything more about that era, despite my own family history being formed by the decision.
But Kate Greville has a reputation of being one of Australia’s best authors of this genre and, after reading THE SECRET RIVER years ago, I thought I’d give this one a go.
This novel twists things a little. The women who were forced to come to Australia held no more power than the indigenous or the convicts. They may found some power, if they were smart, and this novel takes that path. I say novel because it’s a fictionalised account of what may have happened, or what the author imagined this woman to be like, since it’s rare to find any historical documentation about or by women of this time. Apart from the bland letters they wrote to those ‘back home’, telling lies and recounting life in the new colony, so people who see the success it was (not). But women had to be of hearty stock to survive such conditions, even if they had teacups and a bed to sleep in.
A ROOM MADE OF LEAVES tells the story of Elizabeth MacArthur. She was a woman who made her way to Australia with her husband, in history. In fact, her husband’s reputation to this day is one of a bully and a power-hungry cad. But Greville has taken the ‘what if’ stance and created a fictional tale, weaving history and that ‘what if’ idea beautifully through inner thoughts, written plainly, amongst the dialogue used of the time. It’s a fast read about a character described as ‘wilful’, where the reader desperately hopes she rids herself of this mentally unstable husband and is able to find her own way. At least, find a way to navigate the marriage to her advantage.
If you’re a historical fiction buff, and curious about colonial life in Australia, this one is for you.
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