CRIME CULTURE: Sulari Gentill’s The Woman in the Library

INTERVIEW & BOOK REVIEW: Crime-fiction writer, Sulari Gentill, talks with Therese Taylor about her new novel, The Woman in the Library.

Back in 2010, Sulari Gentill’s name first became known among readers of Australian crime fiction. She was the author of charming, sharp novels, about crimes and sleuthing in 1930s Australia.

Those of us who were fans of Gentill’s writing, and her sophisticated gentleman investigator, Rowland Sinclair, were like a little cult group. But, as Rowland Sinclair tackled ever more intriguing mysteries, and the series progressed, Sulari Gentill attained a high profile. The elegant art deco style covers of her books were to be seen everywhere.

In 2017, Gentill took up a different stye of mystery writing, in the exacting style of metafiction. Her novel, Crossing the Lines, was a contemporary story about writing, authors and creative invention.

This type of fiction can easily fail – it can sound contrived and self-important, but Gentill successfully wove the threads of a complex narrative.

WATCH: Sulari Gentill at Abbey’s Bookshop talking about Crossing the Lines

Few authors would have the skill to follow on from one work of metafiction to another, but Gentill has now published The Woman in the Library.

This novel is in the form of draft chapters of a novel, interspersed with correspondence from a ‘helpful’ admirer who wants to improve the details of the writing. The story becomes dark, as a group of friends, described in the ‘draft chapters’, find themselves at a crime scene and rotate between the roles of suspects and witnesses. The emailed responses by the author’s admirer also become sinister, as he becomes bitter about his personal failures, and shows a familiarity with crimes of violence.

The oscillation of writers, readers, and published works multiply in The Woman in the Library. One of the characters is an author, whose book seems to be enacted in some of the crimes narrated in the draft chapters. Reading each other’s words enlightens the characters, and mirrors the experience of us as readers of the novel. The failure to publish a manuscript feeds the homicidal rage of another character, who is also reading an unfolding text about crime. It is immensely complex and intriguing.

The experience of travel, and of writing as an observer of a foreign culture, is present within the novel, and is one of the themes which links it to the Rowland Sinclair series. Gentill often presents the way that small details of a national culture can trip up a foreigner, but also give them the insights of someone who stands at the margin. Her new book explains quite effectively, yet lightly, how an Australian is a foreigner in the United States.

The Woman in the Library also has an affinity with noir texts. It picks up on obsession, as the sinister twin of love, and shows how knowing another person is fraught with risk.

An eager community of readers awaits each of Sulari Gentill’s novels. The Woman in the Library leads us into the field of contemporary fiction – will her next work build on that, or will she return us to the world of the 1930s?

An interview with Sulari Gentill

True Crime News Weekly: ‘The Woman in the Library’ has an emphasis on the suspects and witnesses to a crime. Is there also a back history to the victims? Did you sketch out a past to them, while writing the story?

Sulari Gentill: No. I am a ‘pantser’. I don’t plot at all and so I’m introduced to a character as I write them.  I discover back stories through writing the character and the investigation of their death.

TCNW: Your new book is narrated by a person who has travelled to America. I was reminded of Rowland Sinclair’s journeys. Is there an element of travel writing in your work?”

S. Gentill: Only in as much as I use my work to visit places that interest or intrigue me. I’ve never actually been to Boston where this book and the last Rowland Sinclair Mystery took place.  I’m not sure it’s travel writing as much as a mode of transport!

TCNW: Can your fans expect any further works of historical fiction?

S. Gentill: Yes. The 11th Rowland Sinclair is underway. And there are a couple of other ideas for historical novels I’ve been mulling over.

The Woman in the Library by Sulari Gentill is published by Ultimo Press

About Therese Taylor 15 Articles
Therese Taylor is a Lecturer in History at Charles Sturt University in Australia. Her book, 'Bernadette of Lourdes, Her Life, Visions and Death' is widely read. She has published articles in the Fortean Times, The Diplomat, and other magazines. She frequently comments on media studies, histories of crime, and religion and society.

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