Books for Big Brains: Pip Smith’s Half Wild

Books for Big Brains: Pip Smith’s Half Wild

Every so often we’re sent new book that are written by women. We’ve decided to take advantage of this by publishing short, succinct reviews that give you the lowdown on the quality content found within each book’s pages. These reviews form part of an ongoing series: Books for Big Brains.

How could it get any better, you ask? Well, we want to send YOU the books for FREE. If you’d like to be among the first to get your hands on the latest publications, all you have to do is provide us with your opinion on the book you’re sent in the form of a 200-300 word review. Sound like a sweet deal? Get in touch with us!

This time around, Melissa Thorne reviews Pip Smith’s Half Wild.

Half Wild is compelling from the very first page. This ambitious debut novel by Pip Smith explores the numerous identities of Eugenia Falleni (1875-1938), a convicted murderer who lived as a man for the majority of her life. The novel was inspired by a haunting photograph of Falleni found by Smith in an exhibition.

The fast-moving narrative plays with conflicting historical sources of her turbulent existence, slipping between truth and fiction until they become indistinguishable.

Smith vividly depicts the class and sexual prejudice suffered by Falleni and her contemporaries. Falleni is viewed by her parents as a commodity to marry off, forced to do “women’s” work, and humiliated at school for struggling to read. Falleni’s extreme reactions to the limitations imposed on her are continually astonishing.

Smith probes assumptions about labels and identity. While a man named Mr Innocente is revealed to be lecherous and cruel, Eugenia Falleni uses names to change and free herself throughout the novel, from the adventurous ‘Tally Ho’ to the “sensible” ‘Jean Ford’.

Frustrated and starved of parental love, Falleni cuts off her hair to become a boy. Smith makes this familiar trope seem revolutionary, due to the desperate cruelty with which this event is portrayed in a simultaneously appalling and fascinating way.

Through the eyes of Falleni as narrator, it is easy to be seduced by her unusual moral code.

However, her unsettling mix of innocence and malice may lead the reader to become conflicted when judging her complex character.

 

Smith has written a gripping and thought-provoking novel, which constantly challenges the reader without becoming inaccessible. Throughout the novel, Smith uses evocative language and descriptions to encapsulate Falleni’s imagination, enduring hopefulness and how differently she sees the world from others, to sometimes chilling effect.

Rating: ☆☆☆☆

RRP $29.99 (available from Allen & Unwin and Avid Reader among others)


Want to review a book for us as part of Books for Big Brains? Get in touch with us by emailing Emma Kate Lewis at emma@hotchickwithbigbrains.com.

Images and Review by Melissa Thorne

Compiled and Edited by Emma Kate Lewis

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