PERSONAL: Female. Education: Graduated from Monash University.
ADDRESSES: Agent—c/o Author Mail, Text Publishing, Swann House, 22 William St., Melbourne, Victoria 3000, Australia. E-mail—[email protected]
CAREER: Editor, author, and journalist. McPhee Gribble/Penguin, on staff, 1992–94; Allen & Unwin, London, England, on staff, 1995–2003; freelance writer and journalist, 2003–.
Geography (novel), Text Publishing (Melbourne, Victoria, Australia), 2004.
Contributor of articles and reviews to periodicals, including Australian Book Review.
WORK IN PROGRESS: Two novels, Dharma Is a Girl's Best Friend; and Serendip.
SIDELIGHTS: Australian writer Sophie Cunningham published her first novel, Geography, in 2004. Her debut title deals, as Aviva Tuffield noted in the Melbourne Age, with "an obsessional love affair between the narrator Catherine and a much older Australian expat[riot], Michael—a long-distance relationship founded almost solely on passionate sex and notable for Michael's atrocious behaviour." Highly autobiographical in nature, the book took four years to write. Tuffield noted, however, that reading the novel "is not akin to rifling through someone's diary; it's an accomplished work of fiction and while partly based on first-hand experiences, those elements have been distilled into lean pacy prose and pitch-perfect dialogue."
Catherine's story is narrated to Ruby, a woman she meets in Sri Lanka on the way to a meditation retreat. The two women end up traveling together through southern India, and Catherine relates her torrid, seven-year, long-distance romance with the two-decades older Michael, whom she met in Los Angeles at the height of the Rodney King riots. Their affair lasted through the 1990s, the two meeting perhaps only once or twice a year. Finally, Catherine ended the affair, aware of Michael's infidelities. Ruby, Catherine's new traveling partner is a lesbian, and by the end of the book the two women have formed a bond apart from men. For a Kirkus Reviews critic, this first novel is a "bodice-ripper debut with a lesbian twist, too self-conscious to be erotic." However, Erica Keiko Iseri, reviewing the novel in Antipodes, felt that it is much more than a romance novel, or simply a novel of obsession. For Iseri, "there is nothing tedious or unremarkable" about the notion of compassion demonstrated in the novel, both by Catherine's family and friends.
Cunningham told CA: "Geography is often described as highly autobiographical, but it is not. I strove to create a kind of intimacy between the reader and the narrator, Catherine, by using the First Person. I wanted my heroine's voice to be like that of a friend who was telling the reader her secrets. I was uncertain about this approach as I knew that some would read 'I' as me rather than considering Catherine a constructed, fictional voice. But after re-reading one of my favourite novels, Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, which is also written in the first person, I decided it was the best way to give the reader some insight into my heroine's behaviour."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Age (Melbourne, Victoria, Australia), May 2, 2004, Aviva Tuffield, "Stripped Bare."
Antipodes, Erica Keiko Iseri, review of Geography, p. 181.
Arena, December, 2004, Ben Cook, review of Geography, p. 39.
Kirkus Reviews, May 1, 2005, review of Geography, p. 492.
Sophie Cunningham Home Page, http://www.sophiecunningham.com (September 12, 2005).