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Drawing Sybylla by Odette Kelada

Reviewed by
December 2017, no. 397

Drawing Sybylla by Odette Kelada

Reviewed by
December 2017, no. 397

Drawing Sybylla is a wonderfully unusual book, narrated in parts by a modern-day Sybil – one of those ‘mad mouthpieces’ of prophesy and poetry from Ancient Greece. This Sybil springs to life from an elaborate doodle in a notebook, drawn by a Sydney Writers’ Festival panelist who is listening to another writer on her panel. This writer is describing to the audience a feminist short story from 1892, ‘The Yellow Wallpaper’, a work in which a woman, diagnosed by her physician husband as suffering ‘a slight hysterical tendency’, is confined to a single room to rest and recover, and slowly descends into madness, beginning to see other women moving behind – and trapped behind – the intricate patterns of the wallpaper. And it is this wallpaper, these figures, that come to form the central metaphor of Kelada’s book – as the suddenly animated ink figure, aptly named Sybylla, invites her creator to step behind the wallpaper and into its pattern, and examine the lives of other women writers, in Australia, across time.

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