HALF WILD

North & South - - Photo Essay - ELIS­A­BETH EASTHER

PIP SMITH (ALLEN & UN­WIN, $32.99)

Eu­ge­nia Fal­leni has long cap­ti­vated writ­ers’ imag­i­na­tions. Ital­ian-born, New Zealand-raised and thought to be the old­est of 22 chil­dren, Fal­leni would to­day be re­ferred to as trans­gen­der, but in 1880s Welling­ton she was thought of as just plain strange. Dress­ing as a boy from an early age, os­ten­si­bly to find work and per­haps to ap­peal to her mother’s ob­ses­sion with boy ba­bies, Fal­leni even­tu­ally ran away to sea be­fore mak­ing Aus­tralia home, where she lived a life that in­cluded mar­riage to two women and a con­vic­tion for mur­der. In her de­but novel, Half Wild author Pip Smith climbs deep in­side Fal­leni’s mind, com­bin­ing a faith­ful­ness to facts with her own soar­ing imag­i­na­tion. Her prose is mag­i­cal, but read­ers will need their wits about them to keep track of the broad cast of char­ac­ters.

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