Laura Elizabeth Woollett is one of Australia’s best storytellers — her short story collection Love of a Bad Man was utterly captivating, and I remember feeling completely drawn in as I read about the female perspective of some of the world’s most evil men. Her novel Beautiful Revolutionary is an extension of the work she did in her short story collection, this time focussing her novel on Jim Jones and the infamous rise of his cult Peoples Temple. Unlike her previous book, Beautiful Revolutionary features an array of perspectives of both women and men connected to Jones — including his mistress and her ex-husband, a long-time follower and former police officer, his wife, and various other members.
Though there are fictional elements in the novel — such as the name’s of the characters (except for Jim Jones’ name) — much of the novel’s events are backed up by extensive research by Woollett. Whilst working on the novel, Woollett’s research involved conducting interviews with those personally touched by the events at Jonestown and former cult-members, as well as an in-depth analysis of historical footage and archives. The fact that she’s able to keep the narrative true to actual events whilst weaving in creativity and her impressive prose is a testament to her writing ability.
The use of multiple perspectives allows readers to understand the emotional, physical and spiritual state of the book’s leading players. Never as the reader are you left confused or baffled, instead you feel completely swept away by the depth of the characters presented. A character who I found myself drawn to was Lenny, whose ex-wife left him to become Jones’ mistress. He appears to be a lost cause, and despite facing constant scrutiny and abuse by the cult’s members and Jones, he remains loyal up until the day of the Jonestown murders. Another perspective that captured my attention was Luc’s, who was one of Jones’ earliest devotees and a former police officer. Even though he admits to having sex with Jones and at times acknowledges his sexual attraction to men, he’s reluctant to fully acknowledge his true feelings as he doesn't want to become ostracised from society.
Beautiful Revolutionary is enthralling in the way it portrays the rise of one of the world’s most evil men. As an avid reader of fiction involving cults, I can say with the utmost confidence that Woollett’s book is one of the best out there.
Release date: July 30th 2018 by Scribe Publications