INTERNATIONALLY ACCLAIMED WRITER
Julia Leigh is restrained and enigmatic – like her prose. “I just hope the book finds its readers,” she says quietly, referring to the chilling gothic tale that her British publisher called “the strangest book” he had ever read.
Disquiet, a novella about a battered wife returning home to a family in extremis, is Leigh’s long-awaited follow-up to her debut novel The Hunter, which caused a literary sensation in 1999, winning many awards. In the UK, The Observer named Leigh as one of 20 writers to watch in the 21st century.
Royalties from The Hunter sustained the 38-year-old Australian through nine years of expectation and pressure to produce the dreaded second novel. During those years she struggled with a major project about soldiers obsessed with nurses, under the mentorship of Nobel laureate, African-American author Toni Morrison. Eventually, though, Leigh put that aside and wrote the short novel her American publisher calls “a miracle of compression”.
“This work is stylised; it’s not naturalistic,” she says. “Tone is very important to me in literature and so, in this work that is restrained and very controlled, my challenge was to create a strong tonal feel.”
The eldest of three daughters who were brought up in Sydney’s Lindfield, Leigh is back in Sydney after teaching writing at New York’s Barnard College. Yet she’s restless. She has an offer from Barnard and two screenplay projects to consider. “One has a Brazilian director, Walter Salles, attached and that’s a South American project,” she says, refusing to add details.
The novel remains Leigh’s “true north”, however, and she intends to keep following that star, wherever it takes her. Disquiet (Hamish Hamilton, $29.95) will be published on April 7.