Member Loginmenu
Eleven Letters to You

Eleven Letters to You: A Memoir

Helen Elliott

Helen Elliott’s Eleven Letters to You is a profoundly original memoir, an intimate account of growing up in the suburbs of Melbourne in the fifties and sixties, before feminism.

This sparkling, wonderfully absorbing book is written in the form of eleven letters to those neighbours, relatives, friends, teachers and mentors who shaped the young Helen. (It begins in 1950 when she is three and finishes in 1969 when she is twenty-two.) Each of the letters is a homage to the power of memory to recreate life in all its sensuous and indelible detail. And each is a love letter that brings Elliott’s marvellous characters—the Misses Stapley, Lois, Mr Cohen and so on—back to life, along with the lost worlds they inhabit.

Helen Elliott sets out to look for answers to one primary question: how did she become whoever she thought she was. She conducts her search through the lives of others. ‘I am not the centre of this book,’ she says, ‘but the hinge holding it together.’

Her search will mesmerise her readers, because of the power and fluency of her voice, and because the vanished kitchens and gardens and fields and streets she conjures up are so unforgettably drawn.

Eleven Letters for You offers us an immersive and deeply moving reading experience. It will appeal equally to fans of Elena Ferrante and Helen Garner.


3RRR: Literati Glitterati (0:44:22)    
ABC Radio National: Breakfast    
ABC News    
Australian ($)   
Australian Book Review ($)   
Guardian: the Best Australian Books out in June           
Monthly (op-ed)    
Saturday Paper     
Sydney Morning Herald    

Helen Elliott
About the Author

Helen Elliott is a prominent literary critic and journalist and the editor of Grandmothers. Her writing has appeared in the Monthly, the Australian, the Age, Griffith Review, Best Australian Essays, Vogue and numerous other publications. She was the literary editor of the Herald Sun and has two children, four granddaughters and an acre of...

Read Moreright
Text publication date:
23 May 2023
AU Price:
NZ Price:
Loading Rating
Praise for Helen Elliott
andEleven Letters to You

‘A quietly ecstatic work of memory—intense, witty and beautiful.’

‘A rare feat of imagination and memory, written with grace and humour, irony and controlled anger, summoning the encounters that gave Helen Elliott treasures of human knowledge and surprises of self-awareness.’

‘A deeply evocative memoir, with the humanity of A. B. Facey’s classic, A Fortunate Life, written on the little piece of ivory favoured by Jane Austen.’

‘A wise, erudite and charming book, steeped in love.’

‘I read it in one sitting—I could not put it down. [It’s] warm and generous…both moving and very thoughtful. It made me think about life stories and how we tell them…Very powerful.’

‘A rather unusual and special memoir by one of Australia’s finest literary critics…A lovely reminder that we do not ever get anywhere, or learn anything entirely on our own…Bravo, Helen.’

‘An intelligent, critical, utterly engaging exploration of a life; a memoir that is willing to look at pain and regret as well as joy.’

‘Here we have a memoir that could be a marvellous epistolary novel. Elliott’s Eleven Letters to You teeters over the boundaries of novel and memoir again and again….It’s tempting to keep quoting from Eleven Letters because the writing is so unusually good. The vividness, the sheer liveliness is a feast that makes you want to keep going back and tasting it again. More than that, it is a vibrant and critical history of the past 70 years…I wouldn’t be surprised if it won awards.’

‘Endearing, emotional and often epiphanous…With crackling prose and a vividness that illuminates even the remotest of memories, this memoir pays tribute to those forgotten figures who light the runway into adulthood.’

‘Intimate and generous.’

‘The exuberance of the writing process filters through to the finished pages…This memoir is a remarkable celebration of the permeability of individual lives in the face of historical change.’

‘Intimate, innovative.’


‘This book is a work of crafted beauty and grace. It is a balm to return to it each day for a smack of goodness and heart. Thoroughly recommend for its writing and, if like me you are in need of, antidote to some of the current horrors going down.’

‘This lovely memoir by Elliott, a much-admired literary critic, examines periods of her life through letters to the people who shaped her when she was growing up in Australia’s burbs in the 1950s and 1960s. The neighbour who lent her the books that would change her life; the teacher who taught her about art; the attractive male boss who became “an instruction in both desire and decency”; and all the bold women who revealed to her how to live a life of one’s own. I keep thinking about this book—it is one to return to.’

Other editions ofEleven Letters to You
Other Titles byHelen Elliott