Julia Leigh

Penguin Books Australia
2 May 2016


Julia Leigh

At the age of 38 acclaimed novelist Julia Leigh made her first visit to the IVF clinic, full of hope. So started a long and costly journey of nightly injections, blood tests, surgeries and rituals.

Writing in the immediate aftermath of her decision to stop treatment, Leigh lays bare the truths of her experience: the highs of hope and the depths of disappointment; the grip of yearning and desire; the toll on her relationships; the unexpected graces and moments of black humour. Along the way she navigates the science of IVF; copes with the impact of treatment; and reconciles the seductive promises of the worldwide multi-billion-dollar IVF industry with reality.

Avalanche is the book that’s finally been written on IVF treatment: a courageous, compelling and ultimately wise account of a profoundly important and widespread experience. At the heart of this work is an exploration of who and how we love. It’s a story we can all relate to - about the dreams we have, defeated or otherwise, for ourselves, our loves and relationships.


Julia Leigh is a fiction writer known for her brilliant, spare prose and eye for detail. Avalanche is a memoir documenting her experience of trying to become pregnant through IVF. Leigh’s opening sentence is a beauty: ‘For a great many nights I injected myself with an artificial hormone produced in a line of genetically modified Chinese hamster ovary cells.’

From here she tells a story common to many women – one in which a combination of finding a partner later in life, indecision about motherhood, and concern about being able to balance career and parenting led her to seek IVF treatment at the age of 38. She was told her chances of conceiving were not high, yet the more roadblocks to motherhood were put in her way, the more her desire for a child increased.

Leigh writes bluntly about her experience, and portrays a period of about four years in her life. Her relationship with her husband, Paul, goes from joyful to explosively hostile, and when the relationship ends Leigh must decide whether to pursue IVF treatment as a single woman. The microcosm of her life that we are invited into also includes close relationships with her sisters and nieces. In the interactions with her young nieces we are permitted to see the love and joy they mutually experience, as well as the desire and sadness provoked in Leigh as she wishes for her own child.

Leigh covers much territory in this compulsively readable but slim book. She writes honestly of the IVF ‘industry’, and her experience of the staff within it. She documents the high costs of her treatment and medications, and how she is able to pay for these. There are many ‘love stories’ in this memoir, but the greatest one is Leigh’s love for her imagined child, and the sacrifices and regimens she is prepared to undergo to attempt to bring this work of imagination to life. This is an honest and gritty book, and a riveting read.

Annie Condon

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