Half Wild by Pip Smith
Reviewed by Gillian, Berkelouw Books, Mona Vale
Pip Smith acknowledges the detailed and scholarly research of Susannah Fullerton and Mark Tedeschi who have both published works on the life of Eugenia Falleni, and from these, and her own investigations she has produced a dramatic, and compassionate fiction.
She opens her story with a quote from Falleni - "I was what other people made me". As the book begins it is Falleni's voice we hear. She tells of her school, family and worklife in NZ and her developing comfort (and awareness of the advantages!) of presenting as a male. Then Smith introduces the voices of the "Dramatis Personae" - "witnesses" and participants in Falleni's life including the tragic story of the disappearance of Falleni's wife Daisy. Peppered with witness statements, press reports and an actual photograph of Falleni heading to court with the arresting officer, these do indeed tell "what other people" made of Falleni.
This extraordinary and tragic life is represented powerfully in the pages of Smith's novel. While I was at times unsure of the relevance of some characters and the perspectives they brought, this rivetting story held me captive through to the end.