Title: A Room Made of Leaves
Author: Kate Grenville
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publication Date: 6th August 2020
It is 1788. Twenty-one-year-old Elizabeth is hungry for life but, as the ward of a Devon clergyman, knows she has few prospects. When proud, scarred soldier John Macarthur promises her the earth one midsummer’s night, she believes him.
But Elizabeth soon realises she has made a terrible mistake. Her new husband is reckless, tormented, driven by some dark rage at the world. He tells her he is to take up a position as Lieutenant in a New South Wales penal colony and she has no choice but to go. Sailing for six months to the far side of the globe with a child growing inside her, she arrives to find Sydney Town a brutal, dusty, hungry place of makeshift shelters, failing crops, scheming and rumours.
All her life she has learned to be obliging, to fold herself up small. Now, in the vast landscapes of an unknown continent, Elizabeth has to discover a strength she never imagined, and passions she could never express.
Inspired by the real life of a remarkable woman, this is an extraordinarily rich, beautifully wrought novel of resilience, courage and the mystery of human desire.
I was so intrigued by the blurb of A Room Made of Leaves because it takes place in a setting I know relatively little about. The story follows a young woman, Elizabeth, who finds herself tied through marriage to an unpleasant and difficult man – John Macarthur. Through the circumstances of her husbands job, Elizabeth is forced to leave her home country and begin a new life with him in a New South Wales penal colony, Sydney Town, where life can be harsh and complicated. Elizabeth manages to use her strength and intelligence to carve out some happiness and success for herself despite her husband’s best efforts to cause discord.
I am totally in love with the gorgeous cover of this book and happily the contents is just as beautifully done as the cover. The prose is really lovely, Grenville has en elegance to her writing which makes reading A Room Made of Leaves hugely enjoyable. Her writing almost has a sense of musicality to it which I loved. The book is structured in an interesting manner, in a way it is like a collection of interconnected short stories that builds a picture of the life of this intriguing woman. I don’t want to give away too much about the twist on Elizabeth’s story that A Room Made of Leaves is but I found it a really interesting way to tell her tale. I also really liked the Elizabeth that Grenville has conjured. She is direct, practical and loath to self pity in a way which makes her easy to root for.
This is a work of historical fiction and the historical aspect is skilfully portrayed – it evokes a real sense of place and time whilst also demonstrating the snobbery and high-mindedness of colonialism in an understated but still impactful way. The reader is able to see the trauma caused by the British and the affect it has on the indigenous people through the eyes of Elizabeth who becomes very aware that the land she grows to love is not really hers. It brings up difficult questions which deserve to be considered whilst also telling the story of a brave and capable woman. We will never know what the real Elizabeth Macarthur was like but Grenville has created a plausible rendition of her whilst telling a story of the difficulties faced by women in a world ruled by men. An engaging and interesting book which is beautifully written.
I kindly received a copy of the book from the publisher. My review is my own honest opinion.