It is a novella of a mere 121 pages, but it is utterly compelling. I read it in an evening, and could not sleep afterwards until I had settled my thoughts about it. No wonder that on the blurb Toni Morrison calls Julia Leigh a ‘sorceress‘ whose ‘deft prose casts a spell of serene control while the earth quakes underfoot’…
Sophie Gee at The Age felt that the reader was excluded from the characters’ experience and she’s a Harvard assistant professor so her review is worth reading – but I don’t agree at all ‘there’s nothing to keep you turning the pages‘. I couldn’t put it down; I couldn’t turn the light out to go to sleep, I had to read on, and even when I reached the final scene the tension didn’t dissipate. Catherine Keenan at the SMH wasn’t much impressed, and Justine Jordan at The Guardian while admiring much of it had some reservations too, but I don’t think you should take any notice of any of them. Kirsty Gunn at The Observer and DGR have understood the perfection in this little masterpiece, and aren’t bothered by a book that raises more questions than it answers – so read their reviews which celebrate ambiguity instead. For in Disquiet, the writing is very sophisticated and the ending isn’t nice and tidy, but that’s what makes the work so effective.
Leigh’s characters were embroiled in a drama so ghastly that I did indeed feel a sense of deep disquiet. In spare yet vivid prose, she sets the scene: an Australian woman returns home to a château in France. She has a broken arm, and bruises, and two small children in tow. She gets a wintry reception from her aged mother, but it’s not just because she’s stumbled into an appalling situation.
Death stalks this story. I’m not going to reveal any more, for risk of ruining the intensity of Leigh’s revelations about these characters. (And no, you should not read the other reviews I’ve referred to above – except for DGR’s – until after you’ve read the book).
Which I hope you will do.
Author: Julia Leigh
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton (Penguin) 2008
Source: Personal Library, $29.95.