“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 the 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 liws have the dangerous power to shape reality”. – from the blurb
This fictional account of the life of Elizabeth Macarthur seemed very real to me. I would love to believe that the real Elizabeth Macarthur had the spirit and confidence of this fictional version. The story of the life of Elizabeth Macarthur starts at the beginning, in England when young Elizabeth met John Macarthur and how she came to marry the pompous and arrogant man. We followed them during their hellish voyage to Australia, and as they began their life in the new country, that, at first, was far less comfortable than expected.
As is usual for Kate, this book is well researched and very clearly tells the story of life in Sydney, in the very early days of settlement. I very much enjoyed reading about these times through the eyes of a strong female.
Historical fiction is my favourite genre and especially Australia historical fiction. I’ve read Kate Grenville’s books Secret River and The Lieutenant, and have been a fan ever since. This book didn’t disappoint at all. I found it totally engrossing and felt sad when I had read the last page. My opinion is that this wonderful novel is historical fiction at it’s best.
Next on my ‘to be read’ pile is the real biography of Elizabeth Macarthur which I’m keen to read.
‘This story, told through Grenville’s sharp lens, is one that will stay with the reader for a long time.’ – Readings
‘An ingenious tapestry of history and invention, A Room Made of Leaves is a novel of womanhood, motherhood, secrets, lies, obsession, transformation and the loss of innocence. It’s a true pleasure to read Grenville’s writing, and this one’s been well worth the wait!’ – Booktopia
“Grenville’s prose is elegant and meticulously crafted…Despite the trappings of history in A Room Made of Leaves and Grenville’s impressive use of the archive to conjure the novel, her achievement here is not a historical one. A Room Made of Leaves questions, rhetorically, how to live ethically with a history that is unfair. – Saturday Paper
Published in 2020 by Text Publishing Company, Melbourne, Australia
Hardcover, 317 pages
My Star Rating ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
About the Author
Kate Grenville is one of Australia’s most celebrated writers. Her international bestseller The Secret River was awarded local and overseas prizes, has been adapted for the stage and as an acclaimed television miniseries, and is now a much-loved classic.
In 2017 Grenville was awarded the Australia Council Award for Lifetime Achievement in Literature. She lives in Melbourne. – kategrenville.com.au
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All books that I review have been purchased by me or borrowed from the library, unless otherwise stated.
Images and author information: Goodreads .
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