April 2008

Arts & Letters

‘Disquiet’ by Julia Leigh

By Meg Mundell

‘Gothic' is a shady word. It has lent itself to everything from fonts and architecture to subcultures and fiction. It doesn't so much prescribe a genre as suggest a mood: gloomy, uneasy, brooding. This is the tenor of Disquiet, Julia Leigh's aptly titled new novella, a suspenseful tale with a finely judged melancholic charge.

Dazed and road-weary, a woman arrives with her two children at the gated mansion she once called home. But the gate is locked, and, as they soon discover, what lies beyond it offers little solace. Disaster hovers - or perhaps it has already struck, and this is its aftermath. The characters leave much unspoken, and only subtle touches indicate the present era: electronic security, a mobile phone, enigmatic mentions of blood and urine samples.

Sydney-based Leigh ­­- whose debut, The Hunter, was published to great acclaim nine years ago - does not waste words, nor is she a minimalist. Her prose is both spare in style and rich in detail. And these details play the darkest notes: a mother's stillness as her child smashes down a door; a lacework of bruises on a prone body; the wrong words from a young mouth; two piteous feeding scenes that depict grief in its most visceral form. These pictures are hard to shake.

Unlike some of her more realist contemporaries who also handle dark material, here Leigh doesn't employ brutal imagery for effect. There are no tortured animals, no rape scenes, no gore; the violence is implied, not spelt out, and therein lies its menace. The rare moments of tenderness are carefully meted out, as if to keep the reader hungry for them. This balance - between austerity and decadence, hope and decay - is finely gauged, ensuring that Disquiet remains sombre throughout, but not entirely bleak.

The novella's concluding scene does not quite match the dramatic intensity of its opening; if the sense of looming menace is not borne out, the note of hope could ring a little deeper. At times, too, the language is slightly uneven. But these are minor quibbles. Some books outstay their welcome, whereas this one slips away all too quickly. Thankfully, it casts a spell that lasts long after the final page.

Cover: April 2008

April 2008

From the front page

Powerlessness

What can children before God learn about parenthood from the Psalms?

Image of Katy Gallagher

Power house

The COVID-19 Senate committee is set to have huge impact

Image of Stormzy

Grime boss: Stormzy

The rapper and MC’s second album ‘Heavy Is the Head’ is another triumphant step bringing black British culture forward

Illustration by Jeff Fisher

Slow work

Neighbours and friends rebuilding communities after the bushfires


In This Issue

Words: Shane Maloney | Illustration: Chris Grosz

Jackey Jackey & the Yadhaykenu

Illustration by Jeff Fisher.

The orange-bellied parrot

‘Poe: A Life Cut Short’ by Peter Ackroyd

Illustration by Jeff Fisher.

The silence of the phones


More in Arts & Letters

Image of Stormzy

Grime boss: Stormzy

The rapper and MC’s second album ‘Heavy Is the Head’ is another triumphant step bringing black British culture forward

Photograph of Tennant Creek Brio artists by Jesse Marlow / Institute

Desert bloom: The Tennant Creek Brio

The brazen art movement born out of the troubled legacies of substance abuse and dispossession

Cover of jenny Offill's ‘Weather’

Twilight knowing: Jenny Offill’s ‘Weather’

The American novelist brings literary fiction’s focus on the interior life to climate-change cataclysm

Image from ‘The Personal History of David Copperfield’

Properly British: Armando Iannucci’s ‘The Personal History of David Copperfield’

A multicultural vision underscores the acclaimed British satirist’s endearing Dickensian romp


More in Noted

Image of Eimear McBride's ‘Strange Hotel’

‘Strange Hotel’ by Eimear McBride

A woman unceasingly travels to contend with the inertia of grief, in the latest novel from the author of ‘A Girl Is a Half-formed Thing’

‘Actress’ by Anne Enright

In a theatre setting, the masterly Irish writer considers the melting, capricious line between the truth and the fake

Image from ‘Stateless’

‘Stateless’: ABC

A probing drama about Australia’s mandatory detention regime focuses on the dehumanisation experienced on both sides of the razor wire

Image of ‘The Bass Rock’

‘The Bass Rock’ by Evie Wyld

The Miles Franklin–winning author’s latest novel expands on her interest in the submission and consequential fury of women amid the impersonal natural world


Read on

Image of Max von Sydow in The Exorcist

Knight to rook 3

Remembering Max von Sydow, the greatest actor of his generation

House of brief

Limiting parliamentary sittings is limiting our democracy

Northern exposure

COVID-19 is turning Indigenous communities into a tinderbox

Image of Julian Assange

Viral injustice

Julian Assange’s extradition trial continues as an attack on journalism


×
×