The Nights Belong to the Novelist

nights | synopsis | study guide

Image from Nights

This one hour documentary explores the imaginative world of Australian novelist, Elizabeth Jolley, through readings, dramatised segments and witty, playful interviews. Jolley talks about the craft and practical problems of writing and her fictional treatment of themes such as old age, lesbian relationships, exile and displacement.

This subject matter kept Jolley unpublished for years after she came to Australia from the Industrial Midlands of England in 1959. She was therefore viewed as an overnight success when she won the 1985 Premier’s Literary Award for her novel Milk and Honey and had several of her ‘dormant’ novels published internationally.

Humour is an active element in her writing. And this is entertainingly captured in the dramatised segments of the documentary, where several of her unforgettable characters (played by two of Australia’s leading actor) are portrayed in the sad, bizarre world of Miss Peabody, Arabella Thorne, Miss Hailey, Mr. Scobie and The Woman in a Lampshade.

Nights ImageThe paradoxes found in her writing and her life - cruelty and compassion, humour and tragedy - find parallels in her life - prim and frail in personal appearance and robust, tough and often bawdy in her writing.

An immigrant herself, many of her characters make the transition from Europe to Australia, often buying a small piece of land and working it. She writes with understanding about outsiders - the elderly, the crazy and the poor and gives life to the possibility of relationships between people outside stereotypes. She explores too, the sinister and violent undercurrents of human nature with insight, compassion and feeling.

She departs from realism in her writing often blurring the line between reality, fantasy and dreams. This is symbolised in the films form of documentary/drama. The Nights Belong to the Novelist is a magical, entertaining film about one woman, her imagination and the art of writing.

She is a relaxed and appealing story teller with a great sense of humour and a wonderful ear, an elegant and compassionate voice. Her lines literally radiate with the pleasure she has had writing them.” New York Times