I am assuming the fact that Faber have pitched this book, to be published in May, as a novella immediately disqualifies it from THAT literary prize which is a shame because, to my reading eye, Disquiet has THAT literary prize longlist at least, writ large all over it.
Firstly I knew nothing about Australian writer Julia Leigh and then discover that her first novel, The Hunter, did make it onto various prizelists. Then even more interestingly, Julia Leigh was chosen as one of 30,000 hopefuls to be mentored by Toni Morrison in the Rolex Mentor and Protege Arts Initiative , which has to suggest mega-promise. Both Julia Leigh's and Toni Morrison's accounts of the year make fascinating reading.
Toni Morrison's assertion, 'our obligation is to do first rate work and pass it on' has acute resonance with her thoughts on Julia Leigh's writing,
'Julia Leigh is a sorceress. Her deft prose casts a spell of serene control while the earth quakes underfoot.'
and goodness, does that earth quake.
There is little I can tell you about plot without giving away the essence and I would humbly suggest avoiding reviews until you've read Disquiet for fear of finding out what you'd rather not. Impact is all and Julia Leigh does impact in a quiet and controlled way scattering echoes and reverberations in her wake. Except everything in this book, no matter how bizarre it seems, can and does happen in people's lives, so no suspension of disbelief required, read and believe.
Olivia and her two children arrive at her childhood home, a rambling French chateau having escaped a violent marriage. Her mother is there awaiting the arrival of Olivia's brother Marcus and his wife Sophie who are returning from hospital following the birth of their baby.
So this disparate family are reunited and at pivotal life moments. Throughout Olivia is referred to as 'the woman', and her children as 'boy' and 'girl', for me a clear indication of the detachment and the extent of their lost identity as a result of the trauma they have fled.
Olivia whilst swimming in the lake starts to rediscover her deepest self
'She floated - she appeared - she was - a simple life-form, with no mind other than mind-through-body, a nerve net, and with each new breath, each new shocking breath, she was reborn; it would take an aeon for her to be human. The lake let her be.'
But bearing the scars and having fled one trauma Olivia has walked headlong into more.
Classic less-is-more writing, economical and spare, often bleak and sparse but with unspoken depths interspersed with moments of acute focus and clarity. As if briefly Julia Leigh lifts the veil and allows in a chink of light, a glimpse of this intimate, largely hidden world, revealing in a few words much that this family would strive to conceal.
I've already mentioned the off-centre left margin paragraph-pausing
etching tailpiece as an unsettling visual device to my orderly eye, and the entire book refused to let me settle comfortably. Writing of the highest standard which left me adding so much more in my own mind. As I turned the final page and searched again for my centre of gravity, I realized it's a strange thing to acknowledge that you have such a thing as you read and one you are unware of until a book tilts you right off balance.
I've returned to the interview with Toni Morrison in Volume Two of The Paris Review Interviews and this about writing
'...it seemed to me that describing what it looked like would distract the reader from what I wanted him or her to experience, which was what it felt like...it sort of falls off the page, or it's a glance or a reference...you must practice thrift in order to achieve that luxurious quality of wastefulness...you shouldn't overgratify, you should never satiate. I've always felt that that peculiar sense of hunger at the end of a piece of art - a yearning for more - is really very,very powerful.'
What a fantastic experience Julia Leigh must have had and how well she has clearly listened and responded to Toni Morrison's sage and kindly mentoring.