Reading Time: 2 minutes

About two weeks ago I was fortunate enough to attend an author event with Anna Funder, who has written three novels and a novella – a thoughtful exact author who has had 10 years between books.

The first book I read of hers, All That I Am, has since become an award winner for the Australian author.

It is based on real people and events – a masterful and exhilarating exploration of bravery and betrayal, of the risks and sacrifices some people make for their beliefs and of heroism hidden in the most unexpected places.

Stasiland followed – first published in Australia by Text Publishing in 2002 – is another based on true events about individuals who resisted the East German regime, and others who worked for its secret police, the Stasi.

It tells the story of what it was like to work for the Stasi and describes how those who did so now come to terms, or do not, with their pasts.

Wifedom was published in 2023 with much acclaim due to the reputation of Funder as an author whose research is unquestionable.

Does she live up to the hype?

For the past five years Anna Funder has dissected the biographies of Orwell, those revealing the hidden part of his life and a wife who was a remarkable woman in her own right.

There is little to compare and contrast with the wives of now, with Funder reflecting on how much women take on, or are expected to take on, in modern family life.

It would not surprise me if some found it difficult to read and like any book steeped with non-fiction as it is hard to stay with the flow, but the reputation of Orwell and the possibility that his wife was influential will spur the most reluctant reader along.

Funder was not really looking for a project but the discovery of six letters that Eileen Blair (Mrs Orwell) had written to her friend Nora Myles spurred her on.

Funder was intrigued by these and the beginnings of this great book were written.

Blending forensic research, fiction, life writing and criticism, Funder upends the legacy of literary triumph to reveal the woman behind it.

Funder should not be taken lightly; she is a diligent researcher, an Australian prize-winning author and a human rights lawyer.

She uncovers Eileen Orwell’s invisible life of brilliance, life writing, feminist polemic and literary criticism.

She had her own writing to publish, under the name of Eric.

As Funder learned more it soon became evident that Mrs Orwell influenced Mr Orwell, particularly for Animal Farm, and this talented, daring, stoical woman was behind the famous classic’s writing.

No-one is ever really going to know if Eileen Orwell assisted in the writing of Animal Farm, yet the marked difference in structure and characters are evident.

This was sadly not a happy or long marriage but was it the relationship that propelled Orwell to greatness?

So, a recommended read of some distinction.

A caution would be that Funder is quite an academic writer and this could not be described as a light or breezy read, but certainly one the worth the effort.