The World Was Whole by Fiona Wright
PUBLISHED BY NEW SOUTH BOOKS
REVIEW BY IAN WILLIAMS
Fiona Wright is an Australian essayist and poet whose many literary awards are well-deserved. The World was Whole is her latest series of essays and follows her Small Acts of Disappearance.
This latest collection of 13 essays focuses on home, places, illness, travel and animals.
Wright’s simple but clear, sharp observations of her family home in Sydney’s south in an area collectively known as The Shire; to her rental life in the city’s inner west around Newtown are superbly descriptive and filled with the highly detailed observations giving an insight to those places.
Her illness, if you have not read her Small Acts of Disappearance, is a deeply embedded eating disorder. Anorexia and at times bulimia get in the way of Wright’s work, socialising and most other aspects of her life but, one she has struggled against for many years. There is a sense she is always looking to find a solution to her illness through a range of strategies including GPs, psychiatrists, several different therapies and even admitting herself to a live-in clinic. Towards the end of the book I felt she had concluded her condition was chronic and not something that could necessarily be cured and must be endured.
Her work and art saw her travel to the windswept surf coast of Victoria and to more far-flung and life changing trips to Iceland and China.
On arrival in Reykjavik for a writers’ conference, the first thing Wright did was buy groceries at a local supermarket near her Airbnb apartment and then showered away the 16,000 kilometre flight from Sydney in the geo-thermal heated water, smelling slightly of sulphur. Once the conference finished, Wright took a bus tour of the countryside. Her descriptions of this amazing country are tinged with reflections on some of the things in her life in Sydney she was missing like good coffee at a near-to-home café.
Her China visit was an entirely different experience for her. Starting in Shanghai, a side visit to Beijing and back to Shanghai took her into the midst of China’s new prosperity – its ‘economic miracle’ as the Chinese call it. Her visit was simplified as she spoke and could read some Mandarin and was not completely overwhelmed by public places’ signage. She tells of the wide cultural differences between her norm and those of modern China and particularly in Shanghai with its 24 million people.
Back in Sydney she reverts to dealing with the insecurity that comes with being a lifelong renter. But she ensured her voice was heard in a State Government review of rental laws and regulations including the right to keep pets. As a result, her final essay in the book covers getting a dog; bringing her what she felt was the first thing of permanence in her life.
A beautifully written collection of essays.
Find this novel in store at Planet Books. Ask the friendly staff for guidance too, and they’ll be more than happy to order you in a copy if it’s already sold out.