The Australian - Wish Magazine - - First... - Anne Lim

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.

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