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This Devastating Fever

Sophie Cunningham


Sometimes you need to go deep into the past, to make sense of the present.

Alice had not expected to spend the first twenty years of the twenty-first century writing about Leonard Woolf. When she stood on Morell Bridge watching fireworks explode from the rooftops of Melbourne at the start of a new millennium, she had only two thoughts. One was: the fireworks are better in Sydney. The other was: was the world’s technology about to crash down around her? The world’s technology did not crash. But there were worse disasters to come: Environmental collapse. The return of fascism. Wars. A sexual reckoning. A plague.
Uncertain of what to do she picks up an unfinished project and finds herself trapped with the ghosts of writers past. What began as a novel about a member of the Bloomsbury set, colonial administrator, publisher and husband of one the most famous English writers of the twentieth century becomes something else altogether.
Complex, heartfelt, darkly funny and deeply moving, this is Sophie Cunningham’s most important book to date – a dazzlingly original novel about what it’s like to live through a time that feels like the end of days, and how we can find comfort and answers in the past.​

About the Author

Sophie Cunningham is a Melbourne-based author, academic and writing teacher. She is the author of seven books including the novels Geography (2004) and Bird (2008). She is a former publisher and editor and is now an Adjunct Professor at RMIT University’s Non/fiction Lab. In 2019 Sophie was made a Member of the Order of Australia (AM) for her contributions to literature.


‘This is a great novel of enduring significance and enormous beauty.’ – Sydney Morning Herald


‘a very moving novel, laced with wit, pathos, and ferocious truths’ The Australia


‘Extinction, climate change, the pandemic, love and loss are all there in this vital, virtuoso candle in a jar for eternity.’ – Australian Women’s Weekly

This Devastating Fever is both timely and timeless, a sophisticated work of fiction that addresses the anxieties of the present moment as well as the most profound questions of history, art, love and loss. A magnificent novel.’  – Emily Bitto author of The Strays and Wild Abandon

‘It takes a phenomenal control of craft, and a keenly honed intelligence, to do what Cunningham has done with this novel: to interrogate politics and art and culture, to take on love and sex and suffering and loyalty, while all the while ensuring that the reader remains buoyant and captivated by narratives that leap across space and time …  I loved this book. I absolutely loved it.’ – Christos Tsiolkas, author of The Slap and 7 ½ 

‘Deeply humane, full of humour, and delightfully gossipy about the sex lives of the Bloomsbury Group, This Devastating Fever is innovative in format, chatty in tone and will seduce readers with its simple, direct voice.’ – Books+Publishing

‘Angry and enthralling, this novel challenges the reader’s understanding of what a novel might be.’ – The Saturday Paper

‘bold, cheeky, playfully energetic and utterly distinctive’ – Guardian

This Devastating Fever is thrillingly audacious fiction. Sophie Cunningham’s entwined subjects are profound – Leonard Woolf and colonialism, the crises of the present day, the challenges of creative work – and she writes commandingly and inventively about them all. The result is an extraordinary novel.’ – Michelle de Kretser, author of Questions of Travel and Scary Monsters

‘a masterfully told story of intertwined literary lives, old and new’ – The Canberra Times

‘[Cunningham’s] prose crackles and spits with a quintessentially Australian wryness, and soars when depicting the natural world in all of the novel’s vibrantly drawn locales (Australia, England and Sri Lanka)’ – South China Morning Post

This Devastating Fever left me with a sense of wonder at how nature, art, love and learning from the past can sustain us. Truly wonderful reading that brings Leonard Woolf alive.’ – Good Reading

​‘a deft, original novel that is clearly going to prompt many conversations’ – The Booklist




Pub Date
June 2023




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