In Prunella Smith: Worlds Within Worlds, Australian writer Tahlia Newland addresses the timely problem of authors harassing, stalking, and even physically attacking reviewers who have panned their books. But this novel isn’t a lurid melodrama. It’s a contemplative story about the creative process that’s also, amazingly, a page-turner. I put everything else aside and read it in a single afternoon.
Editor and author Ella Smith lives with her cat in an isolated area of the Australian bush. She has one or two close friends and goes on an occasional date, but most of the time she’s alone. That’s how she likes it. Then she begins receiving email threats from “Dita,” an irate author whose book she reviewed. She has no idea who Dita is. He uses pseudonyms online and writes under a pen name.
Her response is to retreat into the inner worlds that nourish her creativity. A serious Buddhist, she meditates to overcome the fear and anger triggered by Dita’s threats. She doesn’t have time for them; a deadline is approaching for a major editorial project. Besides, what can he actually do to hurt her? She soon discovers that even in the abstract world of the Internet, Dita can inflict damage to her reputation and livelihood. He highjacks her Facebook account and bad-mouths her in online forums. Her book receives a spate of one-star reviews. Editorial work dries up. The threats in his emails escalate. It become harder and harder for her to retreat to a place of safety.
The novel contains long passages from the fantasy novel that Ella is editing, and I become caught up in that story, just as she does. When the fantasy’s plot takes a wrong turn and she tries to persuade the author to rewrite, Newland reveals that characters from the fantasy also appear in her Lethal Inheritance series and their fate depends on Ella’s being able to change the fictional author’s mind.
I enjoyed the metafictional aspect of Worlds Within Worlds. Newland includes a foreword emphasizing that she is NOT Ella. She doesn’t need to explain, at least not to me.
Writers will appreciate Worlds Within Worlds for its exploration of the creative process. Intelligent readers will enjoy the memorable characters, the suspense, and the intricacies of Ella’s interlocking worlds.