Fiona Wright navigates the safety and discomfort of home in The World Was Whole

Fiona Wright navigates the safety and discomfort of home in The World Was Whole

Essayist, poet and critic Fiona Wright is one of Sydney’s seminal voices in creative non-fiction. Her works, simultaneously idiosyncratic and universally themed, detail the awkwardness and discomfort of life, both in her own and in those that surround her.

The World Was Whole is Wright’s second work of long-form non-fiction. It’s the follow-up to Small Acts of Disappearance, the book which catapulted the author into international light.

Sydney-based essayist and poet Fiona Wright navigates the safety and discomfort of home in The World Was Whole, her second collection of idiosyncratic essays exploring chronic illness.

Over thirteen essays, Fiona Wright examines how we navigate the familiar and often overlooked spaces of our houses and suburbs, and explores the concept of home, both in its physical and bodily senses.

Many of the essays are set locally, in the inner and south-western suburbs of Sydney in the midst of rapid gentrification and urban sprawl. In other essays, Wright travels to the volcanic coastline of Iceland, the sprawling metropolis of Shanghai and the rugged Surf Coast of southern Victoria. Her essays are poetic, observant and self-conscious. Beneath the author’s curiosity and candour lie the experience of chronic illness and its treatment, and the consideration of how this can determine our assumptions about the world and our place within it.

Fiona Wright has a way of detailing the discomfort of not feeling at home within one’s body with such eloquent articulation that the awkwardness almost seems romantic. She is always introspective, oftentimes humorous and occasionally blunt; her stories are both delicate and harrowing.

Wright uses the idea of home as a trope; she is both secure and precarious in her body and in her house. She often analogises renting with her eating disorder; the instabilities that come with both are, for her, intertwined. She is seldom sedentary, even in the way that she writes.

Some of her essays are interspersed with lines from poems that seem to perfectly mould into what she’s trying to say. Sometimes her words appear as if they were streamed from her consciousness, others seem carefully curated and heavily ruminated. They are always, however, perfectly articulated. She has, in The World Was Whole, secured herself a place as one of the premier writers in Sydney’s contemporary literary history.

Her essays are animated by their sincerity; she seldom falls into the victim trope and instead triumphs over her illness by sheer transparency. Some parts of the book are deeply saddening; she accepts that perhaps she will continue to exist within chronic illness and comes to terms with the fact that she is not in the process of recovery, she is in the stage of management.

Other sections bring both her and her audience great pleasure, like the simple act of walking down King Street on an evening, past Fijian grocers and dog walkers. It’s within its dichotomies that The World Was Whole accurately details the fluidity of human nature. It is never linear, and there is always a way to go.


The World Was Whole was released in October via Giramondo Publishers.