Drawing Sybylla (Odette Kelada, UWA Publishing)
Drawing Sybylla is an ambitious piece of writing that shines a spotlight on the injustices and inequalities faced by women writers in Australia throughout history. The winner of the 2016 Dorothy Hewett Prize for an unpublished manuscript, this short, surreal novel follows an unnamed writer, sleep deprived and mentally exhausted from the challenges of juggling motherhood with a creative career, as she is led on a dreamlike journey through her own psyche and into intimate scenes from the lives of Australian women writers over time. The dynamic between the mysterious oracle guide, Sybylla, and the narrator builds slowly and is interspersed with the historical reflections of writers. This makes it difficult early in the book to find an anchor point, and the dreamlike state almost overwhelms the narrative. However, gradually the voice of the narrator becomes stronger, as she positions herself alongside, within and beyond the narratives of the women whose lives she is witnessing. These scenes—snatches of history where women have had to fight for recognition, time, validation, respect and justice—ring all too true, and will resonate strongly with contemporary women. The book draws on a solid foundation of research and personal experience, although at times that research sits quite close to the surface, and could be woven more subtly into the text. Overall, it is a timely and thoughtful book, which serves as a strong reminder of the work still to come before women can truly find equal footing as writers.
Bec Kavanagh is a Melbourne-based writer and reviewer and the manager of the Stella Schools Program