Critical Context

In the 1980’s, American readers have discovered contemporary Australian fiction—notably including the novels and stories of Elizabeth Jolley, subject of wide critical acclaim. This Australian writer was in fact born and reared in England and did not immigrate to Australia until she was in her mid-thirties. She was writing for nearly twenty years before she saw her first book, a collection of stories, published in the 1970’s; a half dozen novels and several collections of stories have followed.

Like Barbara Pym, a writer with whom she otherwise has little in common, Jolley has established a distinctive fictional world of the sort that inspires a cult following. The Well has all the ingredients that her readers have come to expect: unsettling but deftly managed shifts in tone; serio-comic treatment of a relationship between women, with lesbian overtones; an unusual mix of straightforward storytelling, sometimes close to the manner of genre fiction, with metafictional play (the multiple retellings of the crucial incident in The Well, especially its final version as a scary story for children). What cannot be pinned down is the personal flavor, the quirky individuality of style and vision, which makes a writer such as Elizabeth Jolley stand out.