The World Was Whole by Fiona Wright
This is the second non-fiction book from acclaimed Australian writer Fiona Wright. In 13 essays, she delves into the spaces we inhabit – our bodies and our homes – and explores what it means when these shelters become destabilised.
Wright is concerned with the ordinary details of life, with routine and disruption and by embracing the fluidity of the essay form, bringing together memoir, social commentary, cultural studies, poetry and more, she gives us a work that is at once specific and expansive. The World Was Whole is less self-contained than Wright’s earlier collection, Small Acts of Disappearance, which centred on the author’s eating disorder. Here, her illness is considered in the context of the domestic sphere, both from within it and outside of it. While the book is largely set in the suburbs of Australian cities, we also travel overseas – to the volcanos of Iceland, the thriving public spaces of Shanghai. Themes overlap throughout the work, revealed in the small moments that echo one another across different essays. I’m constantly awed by Wright’s capacity for empathy; reading her makes me want to be a better person.
Sections of this book are harrowing; Wright’s intimate relationship with her illness is laid bare and there are no easy answers to be found. I cried in ‘The Gravity Problem’ when she reflected on learning to accept her illness as chronic, on leaving what she calls ‘the rhetoric of recovery’ behind: ‘I’m still hoping, even as I recognise it as one of the great deceptions of the disease, that I might transcend my body and its weaknesses entirely.’ But it’s important to note that The World Was Whole is far from being unhappy. The essays are animated by Wright’s humour and honesty, by her imagination and her evident love of language. Some moments are radiant with pleasure, such as in descriptions of her dog in the book’s final essay, ‘Much as That Dog Goes’. Here Wright again demonstrates remarkable insight into human nature: ‘It feels harder, more vulnerable, even defenceless, to be writing about joy.’ To end on this sentiment is to imbue her book with hope. Wright is a remarkable writer.