A Room Made of Leaves by Kate Grenville

1. First lines. 2. Published 2020 Text Publishing 3. Elizabeth Macarthur By Unknown author – State Library of NSW, [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Framed with Frame16 – Ornate Gold By Stephen [CC BY 2.0] via flickr 4. Early record of the Macarthurs of Camden Park (catalogue of wool sales) [Public Domain] via Project Gutenberg. 5. Residence of John Macarthur Esq near Parramatta N.S.W. (1825 State Library of NSW) By Joseph Lycett [Public Domain] via Wikimedia

The author has reimagined the life of Elizabeth Macarthur, a prominent figure in Australian colonial history, by pretending that Elizabeth wrote a memoir that reveals her true feelings.


“Mr Macarthur was a man on the make. Ambition propelled everything he did.”

“It was up to me to be the cool one, the steady one. For our time here – for the rest of our lives, in fact – I would have to head Mr Macarthur off from the kind of destruction he had brought down on us, on board the Neptune.”

My opinion:

As always, Kate Grenville tells a good story, but the premise of this one didn’t really work for me.

The opinion of others:
  • The Conversation: “Grenville’s imaginary memoir of Elizabeth slips into the space between hoax and history, the paradox of purporting to be true while declaring it is not.”
  • The Guardian: “This is an engaging book; the structure episodic, as befits its diary form. It is dedicated “to all those whose stories have been silenced” – not only women such as Elizabeth Macarthur, but the Indigenous people of Australia, too. “I can see no way to put right all the wrongs,” Elizabeth tells us. At least, however, “I am prepared to look in the eye what we have done.” That is the end of this novel, but it is also a kind of beginning.”
  • Better Reading: “Grenville’s latest book sings—from the stunning cover, to the polished short sections with headings such as ‘Eavesdropping’ and ‘First Cousin to the Truth’, to the rich writing and vivid descriptions. Kate Grenville is a writer who does more than simply tell a story – she masterfully weaves you into it. A Room Made of Leaves is superb.”

Kate Grenville

Historical note:

John Macarthur, lieutenant at the New South Wales penal colony in 1790, and his wife Elizabeth are pioneers of the Australian wool industry. After gaining sizeable land grants from the government, they moved to Parramatta, where they bred merino sheep successfully. They remained in Australia until their deaths.

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