Madeleine: A Life of Madeleine St John

By Helen Trinca Text Publishing


Helen Trinca

Judges' report


Madeleine St John wrote four novels, the first of which was not published until she was 51; in 1997 she became the first Australian woman to be shortlisted for the Booker Prize. A contemporary of Germaine Greer, Clive James and other celebrated Australian expatriates, she rejected the tag ‘Australian’, although born and raised in Sydney. After moving to England in 1968 during the breakup of her marriage, she lived a reclusive life in London and died of emphysema in 2006, when she was only 64.

Her mother’s suicide, her lifelong conflict with her father, and her own exceptional talent combined to make her personality both difficult and intriguing, and Helen Trinca counters its dramatic and often melodramatic qualities with a quietly realistic and carefully researched biography that manages to balance empathy and truthfulness about St John’s life. The book draws out her inner life and thought processes from her letters and interviews, and places that in the context of her public life as a writer. St John’s rejection of an Australian identity has meant that she fell through the cracks of Australian literary history until Text reprinted her first novel, The Women in Black, in 2012. Helen Trinca’s book ranges beyond the particular life of St John to consider the wider topics of family dysfunction, the writer’s craft, and the cultural and social history of Australia. Traditional and straightforward in its approach to biography as such, its choice of subject makes it original and intriguing.