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A Curious Intimacy, by Jessica White.

May 1, 2014

A Curious Intimacy, by Jessica White. Penguin Group Australia (2007), Paperback.


A warm, sensitive novel about two women unexpectedly loving and growing in remote southwestern Australia in the 1870s.

Jessica White has created an unusual story of two women who meet and begin  “a curious intimacy.”  Ingrid is a strong, independent woman, comfortable with her own unconventionality.  She is an accomplished botanist, traveling in the bush looking for flowers to collect, catalog, and draw. Physically hurt and exhausted, she takes refuge in the home of Ellyn, a woman distraught by her husband’s long absence and by the death of her young child. As her wounded foot heals, Ingrid helps Ellyn regain her interest in life and in the world around her. She helps her learn about the Australian bush and together they interact with people in the small local community. Ingrid has loved a woman before and been hurt when their closeness ended. She is quick to recognize how attracted she is to Ellyn, who returns her love but somewhat naively remains slow to recognize its sexual component. The two become lovers, and Ingrid finds reasons to remain in Ellyn’s home where she moves into the role of Ellyn’s guide and protector. Then Ellyn’s husband returns. Both women must decide what happens next.

At the core of the novel is a well-told lesbian love story, but more than that, it is a story of women growing, accepting, and taking charge of their own lives. Ingrid is clearly her own person in many ways. The plants she names and describes form a steady grounding for White’s story. For Ingrid, her attention to her botanical work provides a means of controlling her emotions and not letting her emotions overwhelm her. But in the end, she has to decide what she can and cannot do. Ellyn is more fragile and needy. At times I became annoyed at her neediness and wondered at Ingrid’s patience with her. She takes hold of herself slowly, but her dependence remains.

The plot of the novel is full of events that keep readers hungering for what happens next; the ending of the book is powerful, sensitive, and perfect for the story White tells.  What I found most impressive was her ability to imagine and convey how love and support can be found in unexpected places.  I particularly liked the descriptions of the plants that Ingrid collects and introduces to Ellyn.  As a non-Australian, I found them new and stunning.  White gave me a sharp sense of the extra-ordinary Australian landscape.

Jessica White is a writer who grew up in rural northern New South Wales. Her other fine novel, Inheritance, explored issues of land and loss for both white Australians and Indigenous people. Her short stories have appeared in a variety of literary journal, and she has won several literary awards.  Jessica also writes about books that deal with diversity issues on Australian Women Writers, where she includes books about lesbians and those with disabilities along those from diverse racial and ethnic traditions.  I look forward to her next book.

I am very grateful to Jessica for sending me a copy of A Curious Intimacy.  Supposedly it is available as an ebook from Amazon, but I was unable to locate a listing for it.

I recommend this book to a variety of readers.  Those who like lesbian love stories, and those who enjoy stories of women’s personal growth will enjoy this book.


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