Laura Elizabeth Woollett

There are decades where nothing happens, and there are weeks where decades happen,’ Vladimir Lenin has been credited with saying, with reference to the Bolshevik Revolution. It’s a sentiment that immediately springs to mind when reading Jessica Stanley’s A Great Hope, a début that, while not billed as historical fiction, is deeply concerned with history and its making. 

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Rachel isn’t the last woman in the world, but she might as well be. Cloistered in her bushland home on Yuin country, in New South Wales, Rachel’s days consist of birdsong, simple meals prepared from a pantry stocked with home-made preserves, and glass-blowing in her private studio – a craft that is both her livelihood and her religion. It’s a peaceful yet precarious existence. The land is scarred by bushfires. Rachel’s senses are attuned to the absence of wallabies and small birds. For all her proficiency with sourdough starter, Rachel isn’t self-sufficient. Her older sister, Monique, provides an emotional tether to the world, while townswoman Mia delivers supplies and transports Rachel’s glassworks to a gallery. When Mia fails to show, Rachel rues the lack of a back-up plan. When Hannah, a young mother, raving about a nation-wide outbreak of death, arrives on her doorstep with a sick infant, luddite Rachel must choose between taking Hannah’s word for it or rejecting her.

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Laura Elizabeth Woollett is the author of The Love of a Bad Man (Scribe, 2016) and Beautiful Revolutionary (Scribe, 2018). She was the City of Melbourne’s 2020 Boyd Garret writer-in-residence and is a 2020–22 Marten Bequest Scholar for Prose. The Newcomer (Scribe, 2021) is her latest novel.

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The Newcomer by Laura Elizabeth Woollett

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July 2021, no. 433

The title character of Laura Elizabeth Woollett’s second novel, The Newcomer, is Paulina Novak, who has arrived on Fairfolk Island after leaving a finance career in Sydney. If she is wanting to make a new start, then she’s mistaken; Paulina’s life seems perpetually sullied by alcoholism, an eating disorder, and a tendency to fall for callous men. Acquaintances say that her head is ‘messy’. Paulina herself remarks: ‘My whole life’s a fuck-up.’

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When William Blake wrote of seeing ‘a World in a Grain of Sand’, he meant the details: their ability to evoke entire universes. So did Aldous Huxley when, experimenting with mescaline, he discovered ‘the miracle … of naked existence’ in a vase of flowers. More recently, Jenny Odell’s bestseller How To Do Nothing: Resisting the attention economy (2019) made a case for rejecting productivity in favour of active attention to the world around us.  

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In an unnamed land under the thrall of a mysterious coup, mountain-dweller Ren wants only to live off the grid, undisturbed by human contact. Ren’s familiarity with the natural world becomes a liability when a band of soldiers comes seeking information that only she can provide: the whereabouts of a fabled bird with the ability to make it rain.

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In this multi-perspective novel, Mirandi Riwoe trains her piercing postcolonial gaze on Gold Rush-era Australia, lending richness to the lives of the Chinese settlers who are often mere footnotes in our history. Ying and Lai Yue are outsiders before their arrival in Far North Queensland, where they have gone to find their fortunes after their younger siblings are sold into slavery. While Ying struggles with hiding her gender in the male-dominated goldfields, Lai Yue is haunted by his betrothed, Shan – killed in a landslide back in China – and by his failure to protect the family from penury. Meanwhile, in nearby Maytown, a white woman, Meriem, grapples with her exile from respectable society while working as a maid to local sex worker Sophie.

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Beautiful Revolutionary by Laura Elizabeth Woollett

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October 2018, no. 405

Laura Elizabeth Woollett’s novel Beautiful Revolutionary chronicles the decade leading up to the Jonestown massacre in Guyana when Jim Jones, founder of the Peoples Temple, orchestrated the ‘revolutionary suicide’ and murder of more than 900 members of his congregation ...

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