Esteemed Australian writer Grenville returns with the tale of one of the nation's founding entrepreneurs: John Macarthur, a wool baron. Styled as the imagined secret memoir of John's wife Elizabeth, A Room Made of Leaves explores what a seemingly demure woman of history might really have thought about her position and infamous husband.
How may we celebrate Elizabeth’s hard-won self-possession, however knowing or regretful, when it is conditional on the violent dispossession of others? It is a complicated balancing act, and feels somehow unresolved—even in a novel that embraces the idea that fiction’s job is to frame questions in new ways and invite engagement, not answer or settle them. But this does not detract from the stunning literary achievement of the novel. The story unfolds in small chapter-fragments, their short paragraphs packed with gorgeous descriptions of the Australian landscape...and compressed emotional power ... Most striking is the way Grenville makes images startlingly fresh that ought to be worn out with use.
... a delicately teasing novel about the inherent untrustworthiness of the official record ... the novel is not interested in correcting the historical account. Its central theme is the impossibility of doing so. Grenville opens up the space between what is and is not known, and leaves it empty. Her decision to give historical figures their real names underscores this intention ... The only disappointment in this beautiful and subtle novel is the final chapter, in which Elizabeth offers an explicit apology for the depredations of the colonisers to the people whose land they stole. It isn’t necessary. The novel amply makes the point.
Little...is known about one of the country’s founding families ... Grenville fills the gap by imagining the discovery of a secret memoir chronicling Elizabeth’s passage from abandoned child to abused wife to unacknowledged businesswoman, using this cunning device to explore the rich, unlimited interplay between what is known and what can only be suspected. In her rich vision of an alternate life for Elizabeth, buoyed by quotes from Elizabeth’s actual writings, Grenville offers a potentially myth-busting version of a turbulent time.