Susan Midalia's Review
A novel about writing a novel about the Bloomsbury set might seem old hat: yet another contemporary metatextual account of the sexual inclinations, mental instability and suicides that afflicted the artists and intellectuals of early twentieth-century England. But Cunningham’s treatment, which focuses on Leonard Woolf rather on than his more famous wife Virginia, is audaciously imaginative, deeply moving and even wryly humorous.
Blending fiction and historical events, the novel tackles the injustices of colonialism in pre-war Ceylon, the horrors of two world wars and the ecologically disastrous effects of climate change. Above all, it’s a plea for an ethics of care - for one another, for non-human creatures and for the planet – and for the value of fiction in an increasingly precarious world. One of my favourite books of the year.
Alice has not expected to spend twenty years of her life writing about Leonard Woolf, when she suspected that the world’s technology was about to crash down around her. It didn’t crash but there was worse to come. Environmental collapse, wars, a sexual reckoning and a plague.
Uncertain of what to do she continues with the project and in a brilliant mix of fact and fiction, she presents the life of Leonard Woolf as well as that of the Bloomsbury’s and manages to leave us with a deeply emotional exploration of history set in the shadow of the looming catastrophe of the future.
This might well be the best book you read this year.
Sometimes you need to delve into the past, to make sense of the present
Alice had not expected to spend most of the twenty-first century writing about Leonard Woolf. When she stood on Morell Bridge watching fireworks explode from the rooftops of Melbourne at the start of a new millennium, she had only two thoughts. One was: the fireworks are better in Sydney. The other was: is Y2K going to be a thing? Y2K was not a thing. But there were worse disasters to come: Environmental collapse. The return of fascism. Wars. A sexual reckoning. A plague.
Uncertain of what to do she picks up an unfinished project and finds herself trapped with the ghosts of writers past. What began as a novel about a member of the Bloomsbury Set, colonial administrator, publisher and husband of one the most famous English writers of the last hundred years becomes something else altogether.
Complex, heartfelt, darkly funny and deeply moving, this is Sophie Cunningham’s most important book to date – a dazzlingly original novel about what it’s like to live through a time that feels like the end of days, and how we can find comfort and answers in the past.
‘This is a great novel of enduring significance and enormous beauty.’ – Sydney Morning Herald
‘This Devastating Fever is both timely and timeless, a sophisticated work of fiction that addresses the anxieties of the present moment as well as the most profound questions of history, art, love and loss. A magnificent novel.’ – Emily Bitto author of The Strays and Wild Abandon
‘It takes a phenomenal control of craft, and a keenly honed intelligence, to do what Cunningham has done with this novel: to interrogate politics and art and culture, to take on love and sex and suffering and loyalty, while all the while ensuring that the reader remains buoyant and captivated by narratives that leap across space and time … I loved this book. I absolutely loved it.’ – Christos Tsiolkas, author of The Slap and 7 ½
‘Deeply humane, full of humour, and delightfully gossipy about the sex lives of the Bloomsbury Group, This Devastating Fever is innovative in format, chatty in tone and will seduce readers with its simple, direct voice.’ – Books+Publishing
‘Angry and enthralling, this novel challenges the reader’s understanding of what a novel might be.’ – The Saturday Paper
‘It’s very funny, very clever and surprisingly moving too.’ – Guardian
‘This Devastating Fever is thrillingly audacious fiction. Sophie Cunningham’s entwined subjects are profound – Leonard Woolf and colonialism, the crises of the present day, the challenges of creative work – and she writes commandingly and inventively about them all. The result is an extraordinary novel.’ – Michelle de Kretser, author of Questions of Travel and Scary Monsters
‘a masterfully told story of intertwined literary lives, old and new’ – The Canberra Times
‘[Cunningham’s] prose crackles and spits with a quintessentially Australian wryness, and soars when depicting the natural world in all of the novel’s vibrantly drawn locales (Australia, England and Sri Lanka)’ – South China Morning Post
‘This Devastating Fever left me with a sense of wonder at how nature, art, love and learning from the past can sustain us. Truly wonderful reading that brings Leonard Woolf alive.’ – Good Reading
‘a deft, original novel that is clearly going to prompt many conversations’ – The Booklist