The Work

Bri Lee

The Work
Allen & Unwin
3 April 2024

The Work

Bri Lee

The intersections between art, life, power and privilege are explored in this first work of fiction from the bestselling author of Eggshell Skull.

Lally has invested everything into her gallery in Manhattan and the sacrifices are finally paying off. Pat is a scholarship boy desperate to establish himself in Sydney's antiquities scene. When they meet at New York's Armory Show their chemistry is instant - fighting about art and politics is just foreplay.

With an ocean between them they try to get back to work, but they're each struggling to balance money and ambition with the love of art that first drew them to their strange industry. Lally is a kingmaker, bringing exciting new talent to the world, so what's the problem if it's also making her rich? Pat can barely make his rent and he isn't sure if he's taking advantage of his clients or if they are taking advantage of him, and which would be worse? Their international affair ebbs and flows like the market while their aspirations and insecurities are driving them both towards career-ending mistakes.

If love costs and art takes, what price do we pay for wanting it all? The Work is about the biggest intersections of life: of art and commerce, of intimacy and distance, of talent and entitlement, and of labour and privilege. Dazzling, funny, and unforgettable, it is an epic and forensic exploration of modern love and passion, politics and power. The Work announces a brilliant new voice in Australian fiction.


Bri Lee’s foray into fiction should not come as a surprise to anyone who has been following this smart and perceptive writer. Reflected in her nonfiction work are the issues of privilege, consent, relationships, and identity, and clearly, here, she is determined to continue talking about the impact of changing politics and power. The result is a sexy, complex and astonishing novel set across continents, art scenes and bedrooms.

Using the contemporary art scene in New York as a backdrop, Lee explores themes of narcissism (social media features) and ambition. Lally runs an avant-garde gallery in Manhattan and is desperately trying to ensure her practice is self-sustaining, successful, and honourable. She meets Pat at an art show and their long-distance relationship begins. Pat is trying to establish his career in the Sydney antiquities scene by forging relationships with established ‘old money’ identities. For both young people, naivety comes at a cost. Their tenacity is constantly exhausted. Their relationship must endure the perils of distance and self-fulfilling prophecies. Not everything is as beautiful and simple as an oil painting.

The Work is as impressive as the title suggests. Lee throws everything at this novel and the result is a front row view into the mechanisms and dynamics of the art world and the influence of money. It is a unique novel set to remind you that complications occur despite good intentions, that trust is subjective, and that love may win if honesty prevails. This is not a domestic type of story, but rather one that spans global interests. If you enjoy truth-seeking novels like those written by Donna Tartt, but would also enjoy a comforting Australian accent, settle in. This is the perfect book for the next book club conversation. There are layers upon layers to unravel. As well as excellent sex scenes!

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