A Curious Intimacy, Jessica White

Jess White is an Australian writer, aged 29 when this, her first novel came out in 2007. I hesitate to assign her to a state. She’s now Brisbane, Qld based, was born and raised in rural NSW, and has spent a fair amount of time in WA, where this book is set, researching Georgiana Molloy (1805-1843).

We know Jess well in this corner of the blogosphere from her work with the Australian Women Writers Challenge where she was disability editor (she’s deaf); she and I have been irregular correspondents for a few years though we are yet to be in the same place at the same time for coffee; she has contributed guest posts here (listed below); and I reviewed her most recent work, Hearing Maud, last year.

I didn’t know I had A Curious Intimacy or I would have read it ages ago, but came upon it last week looking for something else in the shelves in the lounge room which mostly house books I’ve had for years, 40 or 50 mostly, plus some of my father’s and even a few of my grandfathers’. It’s inscribed on the flyleaf to my most recent ex-wife for her birthday in 2007. She must have left it behind. The previous year I gave her Robert Drewe’s The Shark Net which described people and situations she knew or knew of, so it was a big success. This one maybe not so much so.

The novel is set in the 1870s apparently, though I’m not sure that is clear from the text, on a partially cleared property near Busselton, 220 km south of Perth, WA. The English took possession of WA in 1829 and the Busselton region, on the south west coast, which is hilly, well watered and heavily forested with giant jarrah, tuart and marri trees, was occupied by white setllers, including the Molloys, in 1832, though European settlement in WA didn’t really take off until the Kalgoorlie/Coolgardie goldrushes in the 1890s.

Ingrid, thirtyish, the narrator, is on a one-woman expedition to collect and illustrate flowers from WA’s south west for a book her father is writing back in Adelaide, SA. She has disembarked at Albany on the south coast and is slowly making her way north with her horse, Thistle. This is the country of Kim Scott’s That Deadman Dance whose Indigenous hero, Bobby, Ingrid may have bumped into in his old age. In fact Ingrid briefly mentions collecting wildflowers at Esperance, 600 km east of Albany, though I’m guessing she only disembarked there during a stopover rather than riding between the two settlements, which would have been an expedition on its own that might have given her the opportunity of meeting Kim Scott’s (and Claire G. Coleman’s) great grandmother, Benang on the way.

However, the local Indigenous people, the Nyungar, are only lightly touched on in this story, some are servants, and there are still some moving around the bush who call in occasionally for rations, which is I think an accurate representation of how things were at that time (the 1901 census counted just 1,500 Indigenous people in the whole of the South-West (here)).

The scenery, and the flowers particularly, are lovingly and accurately described, so Jess must already have commenced her Georgiana Molloy project which should finally result in an eco-biography next year (2021).

The evening before I’d redrawn my rough illustrations of a lemon-scented Darwinia I’d found on granite outcrop near Albany. It was an odd plant, with a bell-shaped flower head surrounded by red bracts and cupped by sharp leaves. Four long styles extended from the bell like yellow needles.

In the first few pages Ingrid is attacked, escapes, abandons her pack horse, and makes her way to a farm seeking refuge. There she finds a woman of her own age and class, Ellyn, whose husband has been forced by drought to go cattle droving up north, while the farm manager left behind has taken off with all their money, her money really, given on her marriage by her wealthy father back in England. And there she stays.

I thought the writing started out awkwardly, but the author soon hits her stride as Ingrid and Ellyn feel each other out. Ellyn has had a baby which has died, is severely depressed and has behaved irrationally, leading to her being (or feeling) ostracized by her fellows.

Slowly, Ingrid brings Ellyn out of herself and we become familiar with her neighbours, who are all, mostly, understanding and forgiving. Slowly also, we become aware of Ingrid’s backstory. She has come on this adventure to get over the loss (to marriage) of her friend Helena

“Please hold me, Miss Markham”, she [Ellyn] begged. “No one has touched me since Amy died! Oh, how I miss her!” I crawled under the covers and gathered her to me. Her breath blew against my neck and soon I felt awkward; the last person I had held like this had been Helena.

Their relationship grows. Their closest friends in the town help them suppress rumours. The husband returns. Ingrid flees back to Adelaide where she finds Helena has returned from her honeymoon in Europe. Ingrid mixes once more in Adelaide society. I was hoping she would run into if not Catherine Martin who might have been a bit young then at least Catherine Helen Spence and her companion Jeannie Lewis, but that’s not the story Jess is telling (Hey Jess, In all those books that Ingrid and Ellyn shared you might at least have included CHS’s Clara Morrison (1854)).

This is a contemplative, sometimes erotic novel and I greatly enjoyed it.

.

Jessica White, A Curious Intimacy, Viking, Melbourne, 2007. 300pp.

See Also:
“It’s Still in my Heart, this is my Country”: The Single Noongar Claim History (here)
Wardandi Massacre, Wonnerup/Lake Mininup WA, 1841 (here)
Jessica White, Georgiana Molloy: Collector of Seeds and Words (here)
Sister Sorrow, Rosa Praed (Jess White’s review)
The Mysterious Box, Dorothy Cottrell (Jess White’s review)
Hearing Maud, Jessica White (review)


I did all this using the block editor and ok, it wasn’t too bad. The wildflowers, which are photos I’ve taken over the years, from country north of Perth to which Ingrid makes an excursion before leaving WA, I put in just to try out image size, alignment and flowing text. The middle one’s a xmas tree, which comes up in the story.

You can probably see I used quote blocks which aren’t perfect but they’ll do.

The only way I could NOT have text around the cover was to not align it (apparently then it gets no HTML). Once you’ve aligned it you can’t go back – I had to delete one draft and start again.

I struggled to make the cover the ‘featured image’, I selected it 3 or 4 times before it finally appeared in the sidebar.

These last para.s I used a classic block just so I could have a horizontal line above them. I don’t see that line anywhere else.

Sorry for all the whingeing!

16 thoughts on “A Curious Intimacy, Jessica White

  1. Adventures with the new block editor… what do you mean by ‘not perfect’? What were you trying to do?
    And the cover image? Again, what were you aiming for? What I always do with whatever book I’m writing about, is to put it medium size on the RHS with the text flowing around it at left. Is it possible to do that? And if you stuff it up, can you still go into the HTML editor and fix it?

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    • Not perfect. Quote blocks work ok as you see, but WP decide how much space above and below, and to put a bar down one side. What happens if that’s not to your liking?

      Cover image. The sizes are still there, but further down in the sidebar (and don’t show again until you’ve finished moving). If you don’t align it, it looks like mine and that’s what I wanted. If you do align it, as you want, then the next text block that you write will sit beside and below it, as happened with my wildflowers. And yes you can still use HTML on it.

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      • I liked your discussion of the block editor. Funny how we like different things. Like Lisa, I like my cover images inline – but I just use thumbnails. I rather like the bar for the quote, and you have such a pretty green colour. I think the block editor is ok really once you get used to it … but for some reason I’m still resisting on my own blog.

        I enjoyed your review – you made me laugh with your comments about who Ingrid may have met or what she might have read.

        I hadn’t quite realised how early Jess started working on Molly, and the botany of this area. I’d like to read the book for that reason, for a start.

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      • I thought after all my complaining that I’d better make clear that the block editor is after all usable, though I’m sorry it took away from the review.

        My head is full of what people were where in the C19th and I let some of it escape.
        I’m only guessing that Jess was in WA before 2007, but she must have been. I should have looked up where she did her PhD.

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  2. And now my thoughts about your review… it sounds like a good first novel. (LOL I wouldn’t have been so picky as to complain about not including a book!) I’ve read a couple of books set in this early period in WA and acutely aware of how lonely it must have been for these women, often alone and dealing with all kinds of grief with no support. It sounds as if Jess has captured that really well.

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    • Jess has captured it well. There is quite a list of books they read which I didn’t look up, but I thought Jess might have included one Australian. (And I’m waiting for her to say she did and I didn’t recognise the author).

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    • You’re right, it is (wondrous, moody). If Jess ever reads my review perhaps she might say if there are still new copies available. But your local indie’s computer will probably tell you if there are any in stock at Penguin, Melbourne.
      You know the cure for bad moods, go for a walk and post some more lovely photos.

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  3. Blogger has also changed it’s behind the scenes templates in recent times. Little tweeks are still going on but most have been do-able so far.

    I like to see a good image of the book cover, and whatever you’re all doing about featured images is working, especially on Feedly (where I keep track of all my blogs). Previously many WP blogs featured an advertising image or some other random image from their front page, rather than one from the post.

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    • Quite often WordPress will make the last image you added the ‘featured image’, so if I use more than one image these days I’m careful to select the cover in the featured image box, but last thing as it sort of takes over the draft.

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  4. I’m glad you’re starting to get a hang of the block editor! I wouldn’t have noticed anything too different from your previous posts if you hadn’t reminded me. And I love the addition of the wildflower photos. They are so pretty! You have a good eye for photography, Bill.

    This sounds like a quality story of female friendship. There aren’t enough of these in the world, in my opinion. Everything seems to be romance romance romance. I just want to see best friends being best friends sometimes!

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    • I’m glad I’m starting to get the hang of block editor, though I guess it was too much to hope that the appearance of my posts wouldn’t change at all. As it happens wildflower season is just starting. Search on ‘Western Australia wildflowers’ to see what you’re missing.

      If you were interested, Jess says it is available as an ebook, though I didn’t ask if that includes USA.

      Liked by 1 person

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