Julia Leigh's Disquiet

Penguin (Aus, US/Kindle)

In an active, atmospheric introduction, a woman and her two children arrive at the gate, and then the house, of the woman’s childhood. The woman, Olivia, explains to her mother she ‘had to come home’ and is accepted. Soon arrives Olivia’s grief-stricken brother and wife, with their baby’s body (who has just died in birth).

From the beginning, in Disquiet, Julia Leigh sets the reader up with tiny clues and hints as to what might happen. I gobbled up this moody and electric little novel in one sitting. It has a definite gothic sentiment, as is hinted at by the cover, and Leigh’s writing is both classic (almost old-fashioned) and yet somehow vividly cinematic. It’s set in the modern world, but a grand version – the characters are wealthy, the setting is a mansion, and violent shadows haunt each character. But there is still room for quiet warm looks, and private moments.

The clues build moodily, compellingly to a quiet conclusion. Some emotional red herrings did lead me to think other things would occur, that didn’t. These dark things I even encouraged, but then was surprised (in a good way) when the dénouement was more original and unexpected.

The novella is Leigh’s first book since 1999’s The Hunter. She was mentored during the writing of Disquiet by none other than Toni Morrison. The book has a haunting grace that Morrison’s work has also.

Leigh will be a guest of Ubud Writers and Readers Festival in October. I look forward to hearing her speak about the book. See the full UWRF program here (best viewed in Firefox).

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