Title: Nothing But My Body
Author: Tilly Lawless
Genre: Literary auto-fiction
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Published: August 2021
From the minute I picked Nothing But My Body up I did not want to put it down. Tilly Lawless gives an unflinching and achingly honest depiction of one human’s experiences, as well as what it means to be queer. One of the quotes on the back of the book, from Celeste Mountjoy calls it a ‘long talk with a friend,’ and there is nothing truer. It feels like as you read it you are getting the download from that friend who always has something new to tell you.
The story comes from a narrator known only by their work name, ‘Maddy’, who is a queer sex worker in Australia. The chapters are broken up into eight days which cover thirteen months Maddy’s life. The days depict significant events, which include the catastrophic bushfires that hit Australia in late 2019, early 2020 and the months of that year which saw the world plunged into a global pandemic.
Through these eight days the book follows the narrator’s experiences of relationships, breakups, situationships, and how they cope with them. Lawless’ writing is truly something I have never seen before in a novel, with its stream of consciousness infiltrating your own mind, making you feel so close to the narrator and the events of their life they could truly be your own. The narrator’s experiences and emotions are laid bare to anyone who will listen, giving a truly unfiltered version of the events and experiences they face.
I think one of the important elements included in the novel was the narrator’s experience with mental health. Much like the rest of the novel, it is honest and does not shy away from the truly gritty side of accepting oneself or facing insecurities. Maddy goes on a journey, and I think there was a significant shift from the character you meet on the first Saturday, compared to the last Saturday.
The novel also celebrates queerness, and the narrator’s experiences as a queer woman exploring sex, love, and relationships are shared openly with readers. A quote that struck me was one shared towards the end of the days: ‘the real of me, the part of me that’s wanted to woo women and be wooed by them…so she could read it and know how much I pledged, has wanted to string them up in neon lights so she could look out at night and see not the stars but my devotion’ (p. 207). The thoughts are so freely given that you cannot help but be reminded of the all-consuming feeling of being in love. The narrator is often outspoken in their words, but a lot of the time their thoughts are so tender and sincere you have to pause and sit with what you have just read; a reminder for how to be vulnerable with yourself.
This novel was unbelievable and truly such a joy to pick up and read. While some serious themes such as climate change are interwoven throughout, there was a serene feeling that came over me when reading it, as the real world and a lot of its problems fell away. This blunt and uncensored story is truly a piece of art, and you would be doing yourself a disservice by not immersing yourself in this story immediately.