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This Devastating Fever

Sophie Cunningham

Sometimes you need to delve into the past, to make sense of the present


Pub Date












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.








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 

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


This Devastating Fever is remarkable: a thrillingly original, deeply emotional exploration of the complex echoes of history set in the shadow of the looming catastrophe of the future. Sinuous, strange, utterly compelling, it is like no other book you’ll read this year.’

James Bradley, author of Ghost Species and The Resurrectionist

‘This Devastating Fever is strange and funny and dark in the best ways. I was immediately on board with the narrator, with her wry outlook, her idiosyncrasies and obsessions. I was moved by Cunningham's stunning observations of nature, and human nature. I love how this book examines the ways we live and love...’ 

Sofija Stefanovic, author of Miss Ex-Yugoslavia

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About the author

Sophie Cunningham AM is the author of seven books, across multiple fiction and nonfiction, children and adults and include City of Trees – Essays on life, death and the need for a forest, and Melbourne. She is also editor of the collection Fire, Flood, Plague: Australian writers respond to 2020. Sophie’s former roles include as a book publisher and editor, chair of the Literature Board of the Australia Council, editor of the literary journal Meanjin, and co-founder of The Stella Prize celebrating women’s writing. She is now an adjunct professor at RMIT University’s non/fiction Lab. In 2019, Sophie was made a Member of the Order of Australia for her contributions to literature.