Australian Julia Leigh's first novel, "The Hunter," earned international critical acclaim, and her second book, "Disquiet," a novella, has been endorsed by such literary notables as J.M. Coetzee and Toni Morrison.
Leigh's most pervasive virtue is milieu. The palatial estate in France is a tangible presence, opulent even in decline. Massive rooms, antique furniture, sprawling grounds and gardens function as an oddly claustrophobic setting in which a family's individual and collective trauma rage, for the most part, beneath the oppressive atmosphere.
Mistress of this manse, the aged and feeble grandmother is visited by her son and daughter. The son, Marcus, and his wife, Sophie, have brought the corpse of their stillborn daughter home for burial. The daughter, Olivia, has fled an abusive husband. Her son and daughter are clearly traumatized. Sophie teeters on the brink of insanity, refusing to bury her putrefying child. The only stable characters in this fiction are servants.
The narrative centers on the need to bury the infant, along with Olivia's struggle to regain control of her battered emotions. The author's restraint in presenting these people is admirable. Curt dialogue masks dramatic intensity. The story's conclusion, however, verges toward melodrama. This is compelling fiction, but the closing resolution feels somewhat easy. And given the suffering portrayed, "Disquiet" seems an inappropriate title.