Negotiating uncertainty in the writing of Half Wild

Half Wild is a novel in four parts written through and around the sources pertaining to the lives of Eugenia Falleni. When so much of the factual basis underpinning Falleni’s story is uncertain, a range of narrative scenarios opens up. My challenge has been to turn these occasionally contradictory possible scenarios into a narrative, without collapsing them down into yet another singular, factually problematic, account of "what happened" to Falleni. Despite the source-based research underpinning Half Wild, I have chosen to write the book as a work of fiction in order to explore more thoroughly the emotional colour palette, multi-vocality and myths that surround the facts of Falleni’s story.

Like Suzanne Falkiner, I do not claim to speak on behalf of Falleni, and although I have, at times, written in the first person from Falleni’s point of view, I have tried to ensure that these voices are lyrical, implausible, and implicitly metafictional, in that they point to their own status as imaginings, versions and performances without compromising the immersive nature of their fiction-worlds.

In order to accommodate contradictory possibilities, I have refracted Falleni’s story by dividing the novel into four parts. In each part, a different persona of Falleni’s, or a different way of looking at Falleni, is presented as the point of focus. By using this structure, I aim not to “foreground a single voice and vantage point but rather to set plural voices in motion and conflict,” challenging the idea that Falleni’s "true" self was one self in particular.[1] “Who She Wants to Be” is narrated in the first person, from the point of view of Tally Ho, Falleni’s moniker (according to her friend Nellie Matthews) as a child and adolescent.[2] This part, driven by the hopeful momentum of youth, follows a linear, straightforward storyline. Tally Ho is frustrated by the limited patterns the lives around her trace, and prefers to imagine that the future, and the world outside Wellington, is rich with unexplored possibilities. “As Far as He Can Remember” is told from Harry Crawford’s point of view, while “To All Outward Appearances, At Least” also focuses on Harry and Jack Crawford in Sydney, but is narrated in the third person, from the multiple points of view of neighbours, friends, a landlord, and Crawford’s step-son. In this part Crawford is a performance, but a performance in an ensemble of other performers who are less aware of the stage they tread and the costumes that adorn them. Jane Wigg as she performs her morning tea ceremony for Detective Watkins, is as much (if not more) concerned with how her gestures come across to others, as she is with the gestures of those she converses with. The characters in this part are not only performing their genders, but they are also performing their own normalcy, and in so doing define the parameters of heteronormalcy in 1917 Sydney. Set amongst the heightened mediocrity of these suburban lives, Crawford is more awkward, but also more subdued. He does not quite fit, but he is not loud enough to be noticed as a “fraud”.

“To All Outward Appearances, At Least” also centres on Nina Falleni, an Italian woman who intermittently works at a laundry in Double Bay, and has a daughter called Josephine. This chapter is largely told from the perspective of Josephine Falleni, but also Mrs DeAngelis and Marcelina Bombelli, two Italian migrants who knew Falleni as Nina. There is a nostalgic tug to this part, a yearning for what might have been. Josephine yearns for the man who might have been her father, while Nina longs to return to Wellington. The later chapters of “To All Outward Appearances, At Least” are told from the broader perspective of Sydney, in particular the police and lawyers involved in Falleni’s case, as well as the newspaper reporters and women who watched Falleni’s trial from the gallery. These chapters slip in and out of a collective first person position—the voice of "Sydney"—but the position never sits easily, as Sydney is not sure “who we are in the first place”. Here, the idea of a singular identity is troubled by shifting the frame from the individual "self", to a collective, cultural identity. This voice ultimately fractures when the narration of the trial is taken over by a collage of newspaper reports.

The final part “Some Lower Animal” is told in the first person again, this time from the perspective of Jean Ford, the persona adopted by Falleni as she lies in a coma directly after being hit by a car on Oxford Street, Paddington. Time in this section is circular, and follows the narrative logic of a lucid dream. Jean remembers her past as she told it to various journalists and doctors who visited her in prison, and the reader is left to wonder if she is remembering what happened, or simply what she said happened.

Each part is informed by a different selection of sources. “Who She Wants to Be” uses the interviews Suzanne Falkiner conducted with Falleni’s distant friends and relatives in Wellington, as well as articles published in New Zealand newspapers of the late nineteenth century. The final three parts are informed by different sources that contradict each other. “As Far As He Can Remember” uses Harry Crawford’s statement to police for its factual foundations, while “To All Outward Appearances, At Least” relies primarily on the transcript of Falleni’s trial, as well as Josephine’s statement to police for its foundation. “Some Lower Animal” refers to a similar time period (through analepsis), but uses Falleni’s Smith’s Weekly interview as its foundation, in which Falleni protested her innocence, and provided her own version of what took place over the long weekend of October 1917. No one part is intended to be presented as "more accurate" or even "more probable" than the others, only more appropriate to the perspectives they’re told from. In this way, Half Wild is a fictional biography of the sources pertaining to Falleni, more than it is a fictional biography of Falleni herself.

The reader may question whether the parts present aspects of the same over-arching fiction-world, or five alternative fiction-worlds, placed side-by-side. This is a question I have not resolved, and do not intend to resolve. For me, the contradictions, mysteries and factual aberrations that typify the various "true" accounts of Falleni’s story are intrinsic to how the person they are based on lived their lives. To resolve them would be to ignore what is most provocative and alluring about Falleni’s story: how it resonates with the common experience of being multiple, mutable, and socially determined, and how difficult it can be to reconcile our many selves.


[1] Strehle, Fiction in the Quantum Universe, 224.

[2] Falkiner, Eugenia: a man, 210.