Sunbathing: A Novel

Isobel Beech

Sunbathing: A Novel
Allen & Unwin
3 May 2022

Sunbathing: A Novel

Isobel Beech

Shortlisted for the 2022 Readings New Australian Fiction Prize 

Summertime in Italy, fresh vegetables from the garden, taking turns washing dishes, reading to each other, learning about cherry worms. Strange how badly I could punish myself for abandoning you once, then go and do it again.

After weeks of grieving, a woman books a plane ticket, bound for an old villa in the mountains of Abruzzo. Invited to stay with her friends Giulia and Fab - in the weeks before they marry in a village orchard - she lives for a summer in the house’s Birthing Room, where generations of women once had their babies.

More often, though, she lives in her head: in the past, trying to make sense of her grief and wondering how to go on, or if she can.

As her inner and outer worlds spar and converge, she passes the time helping with the household chores, walking in the sunshine and plucking fruit from the nearby orchards, all while dwelling on the moments with her father that might have warned her something was wrong.

This spare, stunning novel explores the workings of the self in the wake of devastation and deep regret, and reveals the infinite ways that the everyday offers solace and hope.


Sunbathing is the stunning debut novel from Melbourne writer Isobel Beech. It follows the story of a young woman who is invited to stay with her friends Giulia and Fab at Fab’s family home in Abruzzo, in the month prior to their wedding. The village is an oasis, untouched by tourism. The narrator spends lazy days with Giulia and Fab, cooking, gardening, and caring for a stray cat that wanders onto the property, in a gorgeous evocation of Italian summer.

When the invitation from Giulia arrives in the narrator’s inbox she’s on the other side of the world in Melbourne, crippled by the devastating loss of her father to suicide. In Italy, her friends put her up in the Birthing Room, where generations of women in Fab’s family have given birth. Within the four walls of this extraordinary space, she begins the process of healing. She sifts through her memories of the last encounters with her dad, trying desperately to make sense of it all and trying to learn how to live again. These observations of the inner workings of a grief-stricken mind are raw and Beech conveys sensitively and beautifully how our sense of self can be completely upended in an instant, and how it changes us irrevocably.

This lean, elegant novel is filled with fine observations about what it’s like to be a young adult living in the contemporary world. I haven’t read many novels that so successfully portray the role of the internet and social media in our lives today – its blessing and its curses. The zeitgeist is rendered perfectly as the narrator watches from the other side of the world as a Me Too scandal erupts inside her friendship group. As the wedding draws nearer, the narrator begins to appreciate the beauty of the everyday, cherishes her friendship with Giulia and Fab, walking through the hills of the Abruzzo region and observing the natural world. Highly recommended.

Joe Rubbo is the operations manager at Readings

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