About the author
Fiona Kelly McGregor
Fiona Kelly McGregor has published eight books, including Indelible Ink, which won the Age Book of the Year and was shortlisted for several other awards; Strange Museums, the memoir of a performance art tour through Poland; the short story collection Suck My Toes / Dirt, which won the Steele Rudd Award; and the underground classic chemical palace. Her most recent titles are the essay collection Buried Not Dead, shortlisted for the VPLA and the genre-busting photo-essay A Novel Idea. McGregor is also known for a large repertoire of performance art and event curation, and contributes regularly to The Saturday Paper, Sydney Review of Books and The Monthly, to name a few. When in Sydney, she lives and works on Gadigal land.
About the book
In late 1932, Iris Webber arrives in Sydney looking for work but it’s the Great Depression and there are few jobs for women at the best of times. She makes her way as best she can, a scam here, a shoplift there, busking with an accordion. And she knows how to use a gun.
When Iris meets young sex worker Maisie Matthews, everything changes. But what options are there in a world where even on the margins, queer desire is harshly punished? The only way forward is paved with violence.
Whip smart, fierce, a woman far ahead of her time, Iris navigates these mean streets with a growing awareness not just of herself, but also of the system enclosing her: narrow, corrupt, brutally prejudiced. Yet there is still pleasure, sometimes even transcendence.
Based on actual events, narrated in gritty lyrical prose, Iris is a teeming social portrait of schemers, gangsters, goodtime girls and sly-groggers; a vivid resurrection of a city buried in the sands of time.
Set in Depression-era slums in Sydney, this work of historical fiction explores class, marginalisation, and Queer identity at a time when social mores were oppressive and violence was rife. The narrative imagines the life of the real (albeit obscure) Iris Webber and her contemporaries. McGregor does not shy away from depicting brutality, but ensures sex work and crimes of poverty are explored with nuance and depicted sensitively.
The evocation of voice and character development is exceptional. Capturing vernacular dialect on the page is notoriously difficult, and McGregor’s Iris is a bold example of literary craft that demonstrates a profound historical understanding of place and time. The experience of Iris – a woman defiant in the face of injustice, and fierce, despite hardship – in a time of economic pain, social uncertainty, and looming war, remains starkly relevant today.
“A brawling, picaresque book by one of our foremost cartographers of settler Sydney.” – Declan Fry, The Sydney Morning Herald
“Iris is an in-depth character study, as well as a vivid and panoramic recreation of a place and time.” – Susan Sheridan, The Conversation
“An exhilarating squeezebox of a novel.” – Felicity Plunkett, The Australian Book Review
Read an interview with Fiona Kelly McGregor on Words Without Borders