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Bodies of Light

Bodies of Light: Winner of the 2022 Miles Franklin Literary Award

Jennifer Down

  • awardWinner, Miles Franklin Literary Award, 2022
  • awardShortlisted, Fiction, Victorian Premier’s Literary Awards, 2022
  • awardShortlisted, Stella Prize, 2022
  • awardShortlisted, Fiction, The Age Book of the Year Award, 2022
  • awardShortlisted, Barbara Jefferis Award, 2022
  • awardShortlisted, Adult crime novels, Sisters in Crime Davitt Awards, 2022
  • awardShortlisted, Voss Literary Prize, 2022
  • awardLonglisted, Dublin Literary Award, Ireland, 2023
  • So by the grace of a photograph that had inexplicably gone viral, Tony had found me. Or: he’d found Maggie.

    I had no way of knowing whether he was nuts or not; whether he might go to the cops. Maybe that sounds paranoid, but I don’t think it’s so ridiculous. People have gone to prison for much lesser things than accusations of child-killing.

    A quiet, small-town existence. An unexpected Facebook message, jolting her back to the past. A history she’s reluctant to revisit: dark memories and unspoken trauma, warning knocks on bedroom walls, unfathomable loss.

    She became a new person a long time ago. What happens when buried stories are dragged into the light?

    This epic novel from the two-time Sydney Morning Herald Young Novelist of the Year is a masterwork of tragedy and heartbreak—the story of a life in full. Sublimely wrought in devastating detail, Bodies of Light confirms Jennifer Down as one of the writers defining her generation.


    2SER: Final Draft   
    3RRR: The Glasshouse    
    ABC News: The Stella Prize 2022 shortlist spotlights the best books by Australian women and non-binary writers     
    ABC News: The best books of 2021 for your summer reading list     
    ABC News: Miles Franklin Literary Award 2022 shortlist reading guide    
    ABC North Queensland: Tuesday Book Club (0:02:30)   
    ABC Radio National: The Bookshelf (0:08:00)    
    ABC Radio National: Breakfast: The Stella Prize shortlist     
    Age: Fact or fiction: Good Weekend’s Father’s Day reading guide ($)    
    Books + Publishing: Jennifer Down on Bodies of Light    
    Books + Publishing    
    Broadsheet: Six Books to Read Ahead of Melbourne Writers Festival 2022    
    Byron Shire Echo [pdf]
    The Garret    
    Guardian: The 25 best Australian books of 2021    
    Guardian podcast    
    Honi Soit   
    Kill Your Darlings   
    Kill Your Darlings: Show Your Working    
    Radio NZ   
    Saturday Paper    
    Shameless Book Club [TikTok video]
    Sydney Morning Herald    
    Sydney Morning Herald   
    Sydney Review of Books     
    University of Melbourne: Faculty of Arts News     
    Writing NSW: What We're Reading / November 2022     

    Jennifer Down
    About the Author

    Jennifer Down is a writer and editor. Her debut novel, Our Magic Hour, was shortlisted for the 2014 Victorian Premier’s Literary Award for an Unpublished Manuscript. The story collection Pulse Points won the 2018 Readings Prize and the 2018 Steele Rudd Award in the Queensland Literary Awards. She was named a Sydney Morning Herald Novelist of the...

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    Text publication date:
    31 October 2023
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    Praise for Jennifer Down
    andBodies of Light

    ‘Brutal and beautiful—I couldn’t stop reading it. Jennifer Down is a brilliant writer.’

    ‘Mesmerising, uncompromising and extraordinary. A whole life is in these pages.’

    ‘Fierce and compelling. Down’s compassion for her character, her refusal to look away from intolerable suffering, is a lesson for us all. A novel with immense dignity and heart.’

    Bodies of Light is Jennifer Down’s third book and her best yet…A brilliant, sharply observed and deeply affecting epic that secures Down’s status as one of the best writers in Australia today.’

    ‘A remarkably empathic book…a life that the reader cannot deny.’

    ‘A story of a woman’s remarkable resilience, the possibility of human kindness, and the necessity of hope…Intelligently, tenderly restrained.’

    ‘Down is reframing altogether the way that difficult life events can be written about and can be rendered artistically without becoming manipulative or sensationalised…An incredibly propulsive book…I gobbled it up.’

    ‘There is no other release in 2021 that I would recommend more passionately to almost every reader. Bodies of Light is so full of beauty and hope, not least because Down is an incredibly accomplished writer, who manages to plunge the reader into time and place with astonishing depth and assuredness… The care that Down takes to give us trauma that feels genuine—though sometimes uncomfortably so—means that Bodies of Light remains a grounded and satisfying read. By striving for authenticity and for hopefulness in its depiction of Maggie’s chequered existence, Down’s novel avoids the opera of trauma for titillation, instead serving what feels like fidelity, understanding and dignity.’

    ‘It should come as no surprise that Jennifer Down has delivered another gem. But Bodies of Light is streets ahead of her earlier work, bringing the sophistication and craft of her short stories together with her keen insight into the ways we all yearn for connection, and the things that keep us apart…Heartbreaking as it may be, this novel is so rich with the details, both visceral and true, of Josie’s life that it will be deeply felt by everyone who reads it.’

    ‘Mesmerising, brutal and unforgettable.’

    ‘A sweeping, intensely immersive novel.’

    ‘This is an absolute staggering, heart in your mouth read. While often brutal–the main character, Maggie, is confronting the trauma wrought from being a ward of the state for all of her childhood–the writing is shot through with light. I don’t think I’ve read anything that so viscerally writes the body on the page. Calling into question notions of identity, invisibility, sexuality, trauma and belonging, Maggie’s relationship with her own body and the bodies of others is devastating and sublime. I could not put this down.’

    ‘An ambitious novel that explores the psychological fallout of a life that has gone wrong from the start…Down is one of Australia’s most promising young writers.’

    Bodies of Light is an assured second novel, from the mind of a writer who has taken the time to really think through what she wants to express in a novel, and how she wants the reader to feel as they go through it…It is laden with emotions and gorgeous images and is unafraid of sentimentality. Reading this book is like getting sucked up into a blanket, and when you emerge out of the cocoon, the world around you looks a bit different. Or maybe, you look at it differently, with a bit more care, I think.’

    ‘Extraordinary…Tender and spiky, evocative and engrossing, this gorgeous novel will break your heart and linger in your brain.’

    ‘[Down] takes her skills to new heights with the stunning Bodies of Light…It’s a major achievement, and is exactly my kind of Great Australian Novel.’

    ‘Overwhelmingly affecting and empathic, at times surprisingly hopeful, this is a remarkable read and one of our favourite books of the year.’

    ‘Staggering in its scope, encompassing half a century of life lived by its magnetic and mystifying central character…Down balances [the] darkness with small moments of beauty, rendering Maggie’s complex, harrowing life with grace, humanity and hope…A dignified documentation bearing witness to a life both quiet and immense, Bodies of Light is Down’s strongest work yet.’

    ‘Exquisitely written and extraordinarily tender.’

    ‘A heartbreaking story that confronts you with an honest and compelling narrative and a flawed, complex female protagonist who endures more than you think possible. Gripping, tender and thought provoking, Bodies of Light leaves you wanting more.’

    ‘An epic Bildungsroman that honours the dignity of crafting a life in the wake of childhood trauma.’

    ‘A truly beautiful modern Australian novel—one that grabs hold of you the second you enter it, and absolutely will not let you go… Jennifer Down is clearly one of Australia’s best young novelists… An epic and transformative novel, the journey through which changes you as the reader, and also your understandings of the world. [Down] takes such intense trauma and pain that her character suffers and turns it into a lovely magnificence…It was a privilege to have read this book; someone please wipe my mind so I can do it all over again.’

    ‘The most moving book I’ve read over the past few years. This is a wonderful, sad and hugely empathetic book and I’m so glad I read it.’

    ‘A story of one person’s life, and at the same time, a reflection of the numerous lives we all lead. The book contains themes that are often depicted in a simplistic, gratuitous way but Down presents them with tenderness and grace, and as someone living with the ongoing effects of trauma I found the experience of reading this extremely validating and moving. She has created characters that feel so real I realised I was delaying the final chapter because I didn’t want to say goodbye.’

    ‘Remarkable, brutal…[A] detailed, carefully observed, tenderness-and-rage study of childhood on the edge.’

    Other editions ofBodies of Light
    • Bodies of Light
      ISBN: 9781925774405
      28 September 2021
      Buy ebook
    • Bodies of Light
      ISBN: 9781925773590
      28 September 2021