'Do not believe too quickly…
'What if Elizabeth Macarthur—wife of the notorious John Macarthur, wool baron in early Sydney—had written a shockingly frank secret memoir?
'In her introduction Kate Grenville tells, tongue firmly in cheek, of discovering a long-hidden box containing that memoir. What follows is a playful dance of possibilities between the real and the invented.
'Grenville’s Elizabeth Macarthur is a passionate woman managing her complicated life—marriage to a ruthless bully, the impulses of her own heart, the search for power in a society that gave her none—with spirit, cunning and sly wit.
'Her memoir reveals the dark underbelly of the polite world of Jane Austen. It explodes the stereotype of the women of the past: devoted and docile, accepting of their narrow choices. That was their public face—here’s what one of them really thought.
'At the centre of this book is one of the most toxic issues of our times: the seductive appeal of false stories. Beneath the surface of Elizabeth Macarthur’s life and the violent colonial world she navigated are secrets and lies with the dangerous power to shape reality.
'A Room Made of Leaves is the internationally acclaimed author Kate Grenville’s first novel in almost a decade. It is historical fiction turned inside out, a stunning sleight of hand that gives the past the piercing immediacy of the present.'(Publication summary)
'This essay situates the recent return to referentiality and authenticity in contemporary historical fiction in the context of the current climate of global literary culture, which is concerned with ideas of identity, positionality, proximity, and authenticity. This return is guided by a refreshed ethics of literary production, a renewed sense of moral obligation to represent the past truthfully and earnestly, while maintaining postmodernism's skepticism toward the production and construction of historical narratives. Some contemporary historical novels have (re)assumed the responsibility of demonstrating to the general reading public how histories are written and, by extension, propose an ethical and critical engagement with the past that aligns with the shift in political and cultural sensibilities we have witnessed over the past decade. The case study in this essay is A Room Made of Leaves (2020) by Kate Grenville, a critically acclaimed Australian historical novelist.' (Publication abstract)
Some time ago, during the renovation of a historic house in Sydney, a tin box, sealed with wax and wrapped in oiled canvas, was found wedged under a beam in the roof cavity. The house was Elizabeth Farm…
'So begins A Room Made of Leaves’ editor’s note, detailing the discovery of the “long lost secret memoirs” of Elizabeth Macarthur, wife of colonial wool baron John Macarthur. The “editor and transcriber” is Kate Grenville, author of the acclaimed colonial novel based on her family history, The Secret River.' (Introduction)
'What would Elizabeth Macarthur, wife of notorious Australian colonist John Macarthur, say if she could set the record straight?'
'It is almost wicked, the pleasure Kate Grenville takes in piercing the bubble of impeccability that surrounds the historical figure of Elizabeth Macarthur.'
'In writing Elizabeth Macarthur’s imagined tell-all, I wanted to take the image of the devout, demure, compliant and uncomplaining woman and blast it open.'
'Kate Grenville is one of Australia’s most celebrated writers. Her international bestseller The Secret River was awarded local and overseas prizes, has been adapted for the stage and as an acclaimed television miniseries, and is now a much-loved classic. Grenville’s other novels include Sarah Thornhill, The Lieutenant, Dark Places and the Orange Prize winner The Idea of Perfection.
'In 2020 she returns to the first years of European settlement in Australia with A Room Made of Leaves, an alternative memoir of Elizabeth Macarthur.
'Kate has also written non-fiction, including One Life: My Mother’s Story and The Case Against Fragrance, as well as three books about the writing process.
'In 2017 Grenville was awarded the Australia Council Award for Lifetime Achievement in Literature.' (Introduction)