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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 a 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 lies have the dangerous power to shape reality.
Kate Grenville’s return to the territory of The Secret River is historical fiction turned inside out, a stunning sleight of hand by one of our most original writers.
A READER’S INTRODUCTION TO A ROOM MADE OF LEAVES:
What if Elizabeth Macarthur’s letters and journals were a mask hiding her true experiences and emotions? What if the contemporary expectations of a gentlewoman prevented her from writing her truth to anyone but herself?
This is Kate Grenville’s starting point for this brilliant novel, a starting point encouraged by Elizabeth Macarthur’s recommendation not to believe too quickly...
INTERVIEWS and REVIEWS
3CR: Published or Not
3RRR: Backstory (0:09:00)
ABC Radio National: The Bookshelf (0:21:00)
ABC Radio National: The Book Show
ABC Radio Melbourne: Mornings (2:14:00)
ABC Radio Sydney: Focus
Adelaide Writers Festival podcast
Australian Financial Review
BBC: Open Book
Books, Books, Books podcast
Chat 10 Looks 3 (0:27:30)
Feminist Writers Festival blog
Final Draft podcast
First Time podcast
Meanjin: Lockdown ($)
Melbourne Writers Festival keynote speech
Sydney Morning Herald
Sydney Morning Herald: Creatives aren't just head-in-the-clouds dreamers
The Garret podcast
The Leaf Bookshop (video)
Wall Street Journal
‘Kate Grenville is a literary alchemist, turning the leaden shadow of the historical Elizabeth Macarthur into a luminescent, golden woman for our times. Intelligent, compassionate, strategic and dead sexy, Grenville’s Macarthur is an unforgettable character who makes us question everything we thought we knew about our colonial past. A polished gem of a novel by a writer who is as brave as she is insightful. I simply loved it.’
‘This story, told through Grenville’s sharp lens, is one that will stay with the reader for a long time.’
‘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!’
‘Giving voice to the countless generations of women who were prevented from telling their true stories…Compelling.’
‘A little bit of Austen, a little bit of the Brontes, a little bit of Thomas Hardy.’
‘Vividly rendered, warmly sympathetic, daring in speculative breadth: a full-length portrait in oils of a woman known to most of us only in profile miniature…If Grenville’s novel is inspired by provocation, it unfolds as a feeling, organic story.’
‘Grenville so convincingly creates Elizabeth’s voice it is easy to forget her opening warning: “Do not believe too quickly!”…Grenville’s Elizabeth stays with you.’
‘Her fiction is always a challenge, a goad to our complacencies, social decorums and repressions…Richly imagined…[Provides] the shock we perhaps need to remind us of what might still be possible.’
‘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.’
‘Another book in her fantastic collection of work about early Australian colonial times and it’s at least as good, if not even better, than all the others… Absolutely brilliant.’
‘Stunning…a clever mix of fact and fiction.’
‘Grenville invites the reader to reflect on the complex relationship between truth and falsehood, history and fiction…[A] stunning literary achievement.’
‘Grenville is as canny as she is imaginative…[She] colours your imagination, designs a setting and gives you a push. Australian history is relentlessly inglorious but Grenville allows you to rearrange it through individuals who were not…An interesting prism of a book…Grenville knows exactly what she can do and does it.’
‘Fabulous…It will delight you and it will keep you company during lockdown. But it will also make you think deeply about home and belonging and our hidden and brutal colonial past. And although Kate implores us to not believe too quickly, I would like you to please believe me when I declare that you will adore this book.’
‘[A] shimmering new novel…Grenville gives us throughout a gorgeous tactile sense of the Australian bush in all its idiosyncratic light, colour and movement.’
‘Skilful…An engaging book.’
‘Memorable…Macarthur comes to vivid life…A gorgeously tactile sense of the Australian bush.’
‘The captivating story of a woman navigating a difficult marriage and an affair of the heart.’
‘Kate Grenville’s ‘A Room Made of Leaves’ - an almost flawless novel about our early colonial history told through the fictional eyes of Elizabeth MacArthur - it’s deep in research and beautifully realised.’
‘Kate Grenville’s A Room Made of Leaves (Text) gives us an unforgettable flesh-and-blood re-imagining of 18th-century mother of the Australian wool industry, Elizabeth Macarthur.’
‘Grenville is challenging the reader, through the eyes of Elizabeth, to face the harsh reality that success and flourishing can so often be at the expense of others.’
‘Excellent…So beautifully observed and written…An accomplished novel with all the experience that a writer like Kate Grenville brings to her work…Really a superb piece of work.’
‘Vividly, even wickedly, re-imagines the life of Elizabeth Macarthur.’