I don’t tend to read a lot of Australian historical fiction, mostly because I resent the wistful, whitewashed, romantic versions of our colonial past that it tends to present… but when the wonderful team at Text Publishing sent me a copy of Kate Grenville’s A Room Made Of Leaves for review, I set my skepticism aside and gave it a go.
This book is an imagined memoir of Elizabeth Macarthur (1766-1850), the wife of wool baron John Macarthur, whom history has all but erased. Grenville dedicates it “to all those whose stories have been silenced”, and it speaks to those gaps in the archive – a work of historical fiction for the #metoo era.
A Room Made Of Leaves tells the story of how young Elizabeth Veale came to marry the pompous, volatile Macarthur and move with him to the penal colony of Sydney Town. While Grenville doesn’t explicitly explore the violence wrought upon the First Nations people the Macarthurs encountered (as she has done in previous books), she does portray those early interactions in a way that feels true to the story and its characters.