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BOOK REVIEW: Snow Flower and the Secret Fan by Lisa See

Wednesday, July 11, 2018

 

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

In nineteenth-century China, in a remote Hunan county, a girl named Lily, at the tender age of seven, is paired with a laotong, “old same,” in an emotional match that will last a lifetime. The laotong, Snow Flower, introduces herself by sending Lily a silk fan on which she’s painted a poem in nu shu, a unique language that Chinese women created in order to communicate in secret, away from the influence of men.

As the years pass, Lily and Snow Flower send messages on fans, compose stories on handkerchiefs, reaching out of isolation to share their hopes, dreams, and accomplishments. Together, they endure the agony of foot-binding, and reflect upon their arranged marriages, shared loneliness, and the joys and tragedies of motherhood. The two find solace, developing a bond that keeps their spirits alive. But when a misunderstanding arises, their deep friendship suddenly threatens to tear apart.


My Thoughts:


This extraordinary novel was first pubished in 2005, and gained a great deal of attention at the time, becoming a New York Times bestseller and being made into a movie. It was a book I always meant to read, but never picked up, until my own trip to China this month encouraged me to give it a go (I always like to read books set in the country to which I am travelling.)

It is an absolutely riveting read, telling the story of a long friendship between two Chinese women in the nineteenth century. At the age of seven, Lily is paired with another girl of the same age named Snow Flower. Their relationship is one of laotongs or sworn sisters, with a signed contract between them akin to that of marriage. "A laotong relationship is made by choice for the purpose of emotional companionship and eternal fidelity. A marriage is not made by choice and has only one purpose – to have sons." Snow Flower introduces herself to Lily by sending her a silk fan on which she’s painted a poem in nu shu, a secret language written only by Chinese women so they can communicate without men knowing.

The two girls have their feet bound on the same day, and their shared agony knot their lives together even more closely. This chapter is one of the most powerful and heartrending in the book, and dissects an appalling cultural practise that literally crippled girls so that they were kept closely constrained within the house and family. Not banned in China until 1912, foot-binding today seems barbaric but Snow Flower & the Secret Fan shows how deeply entrenched it was in some sections of Chinese culture. This unflinching honesty and historical accuracy is one of the great strengths of the novel, and truly transports the reader back in time.

As the years pass, Lily and Snow Flower continue to write their clandestine language on the fan, recording their hopes and dreams and fears and failures. Both have marriages arranged for them, both have children, and both carry secrets that will ultimately damage their deep bond.

Intense friendship between women is not often depicted in fiction, and that alone makes Snow Flower and the Secret Fan remarkable. I was also utterly immersed in the world of nineteenth century China, and its fascinating beliefs and customs. I feel I learned so much, and understood an aspect of human life that had always been closed to me before. This is what great historical fiction does for its readers – it teaches and illuminates as well as engaging and diverting. Haunting, heartbreaking and enthralling, Snow Flower and the Secret Fan is utterly brilliant in every sense of the word.

For another great read about female relationships, check out my review of Louise Allan's The Sisters' Song. 


I was lucky enough to interview Lisa See for the blog this week, you can read it here.

Please leave a comment and recommend me some similar books!


BOOK REVIEW: The Jade Lily by Kirsty Manning

Friday, July 06, 2018

  

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

In 2016, fleeing London with a broken heart, Alexandra returns to Australia to be with her grandparents, Romy and Wilhelm, when her grandfather is dying. With only weeks left together, her grandparents begin to reveal the family mysteries they have kept secret for more than half a century.

In 1939, two young girls meet in Shanghai, the 'Paris of the East': beautiful local Li and Viennese refugee Romy form a fierce friendship. But the deepening shadows of World War Two fall over the women as Li and Romy slip between the city's glamorous French Concession and the desperate Shanghai Ghetto. Eventually, they are forced separate ways as Romy doubts Li's loyalties.

After Wilhelm dies, Alexandra flies to Shanghai, determined to trace her grandparents' past. As she peels back the layers of their hidden lives, she begins to question everything she knows about her family - and herself.

A compelling and gorgeously told tale of female friendship, the price of love, and the power of hardship and courage to shape us all.


My Thoughts:

I flew off to China on a research trip last month, and so Kirsty Manning’s new book arrived with perfect timing to pack and take with me.

A parallel narrative moving between Australia and China, and modern day and the 1930s, The Jade Lily is a rich and evocative story of family secrets and love.

In 2016, Alexandra returns to Australia to be with her grandparents, Romy and Wilhelm, in the final weeks of her grandfather’s life. As she spends time with her grieving grandmother, Alexandra begins to wonder about some of the hidden mysteries of the past. Alexandra’s mother was adopted in China after the war, but Romy has never wanted to talk about why a young Western couple should bring home a Chinese baby at such a tumultuous time.

The narrative then moves to Romy’s point-of-view in 1938, when she and her parents are forced to flee Vienna after Kristallnacht brings violence and tragedy into their lives. Unable to find asylum anywhere, the family finds their way to Shanghai, the 'Paris of the East', the only place offering still visas to Jewish refugees.

Shanghai is strange and exotic to Romy’s bewildered eyes, but it is not long before her father, a doctor, finds work, and Romy begins to make friends with the beautiful Chinese girl next door, Li Ho, and her dreamy artistic brother Jian.

Meanwhile, in modern times, Alexandra has moved to Shanghai with her work and is taking the opportunity to research her mother’s true identity. Every avenue of enquiry ends in a dead end, but she too makes new friends, among them a handsome landscape designer who creates extaordinary gardens mingling Eastern and Western traditions.

As with Kirsty Manning’s first book, The Midsummer Garden, a great deal of the pleasure of reading The Jade Lily comes from the lush sensuality of her descriptions of food, cooking, gardens and healing herbs. The air of Shanghai is redolent with spices, Romy learns to make chrysanthemum tea, and Alexandra discovers the delicious local cuisine while strolling through crowded markets hung with red lanterns inscribed in gold. The two Shanghais – one modern and cosmopolitan, the other old and filled with fascinating traditions – are both brought to vivid and compelling life. Utterly sumptuous.

You can read my review of The Midsummer Garden here.

I was lucky enough to interview Kirsty Manning for the blog this week, you can read it here.

Please leave a comment, I love to hear your thoughts.

BOOK REVIEW: The Valley of Amazement by Amy Tan

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

  

I went to see Amy Tan speak at the Sydney Writers Festival a few years ago, and bought The Valley of Amazement then. It was her first book in eight years and, like many of her earlier works such as The Joy Luck Club and The Kitchen God’s Wife, was inspired by her own Chinese heritage. 

At almost 600 pages, the book is not a light read and this may explain why it sat on my to-be-read bookshelf for four years without ever being picked up. Every year, as the Sydney Writers’ Festival approaches once more, I try and read any books I bought there in previous years so that I don’t feel so guilty about buying another dozen or so. My own trip to China, and my desire to read novels set there, moved The Valley of Amazement to the top of the pile. 

Spanning more than forty years, The Valley of Amazement is a sweeping, evocative family epic that tells the story of a half-Chinese, half-American girl who is kidnapped and sold into a Shanghai courtesan’s house at the tender age of fourteen. Unable to escape, she is trained in the ancient art of seduction before her virginity is sold to the highest bidder. Strong-willed, impetuous, and determined, Violet becomes one of the city’s top courtesans before she falls in love with a rich American. He is trapped in a loveless marriage, but he and Violet make a life for themselves in Shanghai and have a daughter together.

Tragedy and drama follow in a long chain of events, as Violet’s life is affected by betrayal, revolution and war. The most pivotal moments in 20th century Chinese history are brought to life on the page, from the dissolution of the imperial dynasty to the rise of the Republic. Some of Violet’s adventures seem contrived merely for the chance to examine another aspect of Chinese culture and society, but Amy Tan’s writing style is so engaging this is easily forgiven. 

At her session at the Sydney Writers Festival, which moved me to buy the book, Amy Tan explained that she was inspired to write The Valley of Amazement after seeing a photograph of Shanghai courtesans in a book. She realised that the costumes worn by the courtesans was identical to an outfit worn by her grandmother. She later discovered that no ‘respectable’ woman would ever have gone to a Western photographic studio. She began to wonder if her grandmother had once been a courtesan, and what her life would have been like. Although she was never able to discover the truth, that moment of wondering became the impetus for writing her novel.

Amy Tan's depiction of the life of a Shanghai courtesan world is colourful, bawdy, funny, and heartbreaking. I was at times furious at both Violet and her mother for their stupidity in trusting bad men so easily, but then also uneasily aware that I may well have made the same mistakes, given the circumstances. Violet’s longing for love and freedom is surely universal, and China in the early 20th century was not an easy place to be a woman. 

For another great read set in China, check out my review of The Moon in the Palace by Weina Dai Randel.

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think. 




BOOK REVIEW: Becoming Marie Antoinette by Juliet Grey

Friday, May 18, 2018



The Blurb (From Goodreads):

This enthralling confection of a novel, the first in a new trilogy, follows the transformation of a coddled Austrian archduchess into the reckless, powerful, beautiful queen Marie Antoinette.

Why must it be me? I wondered. When I am so clearly inadequate to my destiny?

Raised alongside her numerous brothers and sisters by the formidable empress of Austria, ten-year-old Maria Antonia knew that her idyllic existence would one day be sacrificed to her mother's political ambitions. What she never anticipated was that the day in question would come so soon.

Before she can journey from sunlit picnics with her sisters in Vienna to the glitter, glamour, and gossip of Versailles, Antonia must change everything about herself in order to be accepted as dauphine of France and the wife of the awkward teenage boy who will one day be Louis XVI. Yet nothing can prepare her for the ingenuity and influence it will take to become queen.

Filled with smart history, treacherous rivalries, lavish clothes, and sparkling jewels, Becoming Marie Antoinette will utterly captivate fiction and history lovers alike.


My Thoughts:


As the title suggests, Becoming Marie Antoinette is biographical fiction inspired by the life of the ill-fated queen of France, who lost her head to the guillotine during the French Revolution.

It is one of my favourite periods of history (I’m actually writing a novel set during the Terror now), and I read many novels inspired by her life by writers like Jean Plaidy and Victoria Holt when I was a teenager. I have also read many biographies by historians such as Antonia Fraser and Evelyne Lever, as well as life histories of her hairdresser, her perfumerer and the like.

Juliet Grey’s novel is the first in a trilogy, and begins when Maria Antonia is still a child in the court of her mother, the formidable Empress of Austria. Impulsive, warm-hearted and mischievous, Maria Antonia knows her destiny is to be married for political gain and hopes that her chosen husband will not be too old or too unkind. Her mother begins negotiations with the French king, Louis the Fifteenth, for a betrothal with his grandson, the young Dauphin. Marie Antonia begins her journey of transformation, having her teeth straightened, her posture corrected and her meagre education rectified. She is only fourteen when she is married by proxy and sent off alone to Versailles, and Juliet Grey brilliantly brings her sweetness, naïveté and natural charm to life.

Versailles is, of course, a gilded trap for the young dauphine, and she makes many mistakes by trusting too easily and not submitting to the strict etiquette of the court. Even worse, poor Marie Antoinette fails to entrance her awkward, immature 14-year old husband and the marriage remains unconsummated.

Light, sparkling and yet psychologically acute, Becoming Marie Antoinette is the best novel I have yet read about the young Austrian arch-duchess’s journey towards becoming the most infamous French queen in history.

You might also be interested in my review of The Wardrobe Mistress: A Novel of Marie Antoinette by Meghan Masterson.

I was lucky enough to interview Juliet Grey, you can read it here.

Remember to leave a comment and let me know your thoughts!

BOOK REVIEW: Jamaica Inn by Daphne du Maurier

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

 

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

The coachman tried to warn her away from the ruined, forbidding place on the rainswept Cornish coast. But young Mary Yellan chose instead to honor her mother's dying request that she join her frightened Aunt Patience and huge, hulking Uncle Joss Merlyn at Jamaica Inn. From her first glimpse on that raw November eve, she could sense the inn's dark power. But never did Mary dream that she would become hopelessly ensnared in the vile, villainous schemes being hatched within its crumbling walls -- or that a handsome, mysterious stranger would so incite her passions ... tempting her to love a man whom she dares not trust.


My Thoughts:

I have set out to read my way through Daphne du Maurier’s novels again, and am so enjoying the exercise. Jamaica Inn is one I have not read since I was a teenager, and I love the dark brooding windswept atmosphere of the moors, the tightening screw of dread and suspense, and the psychological strain of cruelty, murder and madness.

The story begins with a young woman, Mary Yellan, in a coach, driving away from her home and towards an uncertain future. Her mother has died, and she is honouring a promise to go and live with her maternal aunt, Patience. All is dark and wild and stormy, and the coachman is reluctant to set her down at her uncle’s residence, Jamaica Inn, for it has a bad name and an evil prospect.

The heightened atmosphere, the brooding sense of tension, and the foreshadowing of wickedness to come is all set up in this opening scene – and, once Mary meets her uncle, a sense of impending sexual danger as well. It’s a tour de force in neo-Gothic narrative art, mirroring the opening scenes of Bram Stoker’s Dracula and the hero’s approach to the vampire’s castle. It also, of course, has echoes of Wuthering Heights and Jane Eyre’s journey to Thornfield Hall.

Jamaica Inn
is Daphne du Maurier’s fourth novel, and was published when she was only 29. It has all the suspense, ambivalence and thwarted desire of her more famous novel, Rebecca, published two years later. She is often dismissed as a writer of romance, but I find her inventions dark, haunting and powerful.

You can read my review of Rebecca here.

Please leave a comment and let me know your thoughts.


BOOK REVIEW: The Wardrobe Mistress: A Novel of Marie Antoinette by Meghan Masterson

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

 

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

It's Giselle Aubry's first time at court in Versailles. At sixteen, she is one of Marie Antoinette's newest undertirewomen, and in awe of the glamorous queen and her opulent palace life. A budding designer, it's a dream come true to work with the beautiful fabrics and jewels in the queen's wardrobe. But every few weeks she returns home to visit her family in the Parisian countryside where rumors of revolution are growing stronger.

From her position working in the royal household, Giselle is poised to see both sides of the revolutionary tensions erupting throughout Paris. When her uncle, a retired member of the secret du roi, a spy ring that worked for the old King, Louis XV, suggests that she casually report the Queen s actions back to him as a game, she leaps at the chance. Spying seems like an adventure and an exciting way to privately support the revolution taking the countryside by storm. She also enjoys using her insight from Versailles in lively debates with Leon Gauvain, the handsome and idealistic revolutionary who courts her.

But as the revolution continues to gain momentum, and Giselle grows closer to the Queen, becoming one of the few trusted servants, she finds herself dangerously torn. Violence is escalating; she must choose where her loyalty truly lies, or risk losing everything...maybe even her head.

The Wardrobe Mistress is Meghan Masterson's fascinating and visceral debut, not to be missed.


My Thoughts:

I am currently working on a novel set during the French Revolution, and so I am deeply immersed in books on the subject. As well as plowing through all the in-depth biographies and histories I can find, I am also reading novels set during the period. The Wardrobe Mistress is a new addition to the oeuvre, by debut author Meghan Masterton.

The book is told in first-person by Giselle Aubry, a young woman who is employed by Marie Antoinette to help look after her sumptuous wardrobe at the royal court in Versailles. Giselle is therefore perfectly placed to see the dramatic events of the French Revolution unfolding. Her uncle asks her to spy on the queen, so that the family may know how best to react to any news, and in a spirit of adventure, Giselle accepts the role. However, Giselle finds herself torn between sympathy for the heady new principles of liberty and equality, and empathy for the beleaguered queen and her children. This ambivalence is only complicated by her attraction to a young and handsome revolutionary, Leon. Somehow Giselle must navigate her way through these conflicting loyalties as the revolution escalates towards violence and bloodlust.

I love the idea of showing the Revolution through the eyes of an ordinary young woman. Giselle’s bedazzlement by the glamour of the queen and her desire to please her family ring so true for the time, as does her confusion and anxiety over the right thing to do. I loved all the descriptions of court life and the queen’s gorgeous clothes, and also how the fashions of the time became a political statement. Meghan Masterson does a brilliant job of bringing to life many of the cataclysmic events of those years, without weighing down the narrative with too many characters or too much historical explanation. The Wardrobe Mistress is perfect for anyone who is intrigued by the French Revolution and wants a fast-paced and romantic tale set during its tumultuous era.

For another great read set during the French Revolution, check out my review of The Chateau on the Lake by Charlotte Betts.

Please leave a comment and let me know your thoughts. 

BOOK REVIEW: The Paris Seamstress by Natasha Lester

Friday, May 11, 2018


 

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

How much will a young Parisian seamstress sacrifice to make her mark in the male-dominated world of 1940s New York fashion? From the bestselling author of A KISS FROM MR FITZGERALD and HER MOTHER'S SECRET.

1940. Parisian seamstress Estella Bissette is forced to flee France as the Germans advance. She is bound for Manhattan with a few francs, one suitcase, her sewing machine and a dream: to have her own atelier.

2015. Australian curator Fabienne Bissette journeys to the annual Met Gala for an exhibition of her beloved grandmother's work - one of the world's leading designers of ready-to-wear. But as Fabienne learns more about her grandmother's past, she uncovers a story of tragedy, heartbreak and secrets - and the sacrifices made for love.

Crossing generations, society's boundaries and international turmoil, THE PARIS SEAMSTRESS is the beguiling, transporting story of the special relationship between a grandmother and her granddaughter as they attempt to heal the heartache of the past.


My Thoughts:

A dual-timeline novel that moves between the 1940s and contemporary times, The Paris Seamstress is a gorgeously rich and romantic novel about young women finding their way in the world.

The story begins with Estella Bissette, a young apprentice seamstress working with her mother at a fashion designer’s atelier in Paris. Her metier is creating silk flowers, but she dreams of designing her own dresses and takes every opportunity to practise her craft. But the Nazis are closing on France, and no-one knows what the future will hold. One day Estella gets caught up in a mysterious errand that smacks of intrigue and resistance … and meets a handsome stranger. With her life in danger, she must flee France, and with her mother’s help, gets a bunk on the SS Washington - the last American ship to leave French waters – with nothing more than a suitcase and a sewing machine.

The other narrative thread concerns Estelle’s granddaughter Fabienne, who arrives in Manhattan from Sydney for a celebration of her famous ancestor’s fashion designs. Fabienne is puzzled by some mystery in her grandmother’s past which the recent death of her father has revealed to her, and wishes to question her … but Estella is elderly and frail, and talk of the past upsets her. At the gala event, Fabienne meets a handsome stranger … but her own life is full of problems and troubles, and it seems unlikely their paths will ever cross again.

From that point onwards, the two stories cross and part and cross again, full of sensual descriptions of fabulous clothes and evocative descriptions of Paris and New York, then and now. I loved the story of how determined Estella builds her career from nothing, despite obstacle after obstacle, and I empathised with sensitive Fabienne, trying to step out from her grandmother’ shadow.

Much of the pleasure of this book is the wish-fulfillment fantasy it offers many women – the chance to imagine oneself in a swishy satin gown, drinking cocktails with high society in New York, flitting off to Paris on a whim and meeting the man of your dreams, inheriting palatial residences in two of the city’s most glamorous and sophisticated cities, making a name for oneself with your talent and hard work. The secret at the heart of the novel is not one of those surprising, oh-my-god-I-never-saw-that-coming plot twists that leaves you gasping – it’s more of a device to put the two women’s journeys into motion. But both of those journeys are so beguiling, I didn’t mind that at all.

And I just loved Estella’s final words to her granddaughter:

‘Be brave. Love well and fiercely. Be the woman I always knew you would be.’

These are wise and beautiful words indeed.

I was lucky enough to interview Natasha Lester for the blog, you can read it here.

And you can read my review of her earlier work, A Kiss from Mr Fitzgerald, here.

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think.

BOOK REVIEW: The Lace Weaver by Lauren Chater

Wednesday, May 09, 2018

 

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

Each lace shawl begins and ends the same way - with a circle. Everything is connected with a thread as fine as gossamer, each life affected by what has come before it and what will come after.

1941, Estonia. As Stalin's brutal Red Army crushes everything in its path, Katarina and her family survive only because their precious farm produce is needed to feed the occupying forces.

Fiercely partisan, Katarina battles to protect her grandmother's precious legacy - the weaving of gossamer lace shawls stitched with intricate patterns that tell the stories passed down through generations.

While Katarina struggles to survive the daily oppression, another young woman is suffocating in her prison of privilege in Moscow. Yearning for freedom and to discover her beloved mother's Baltic heritage, Lydia escapes to Estonia.

Facing the threat of invasion by Hitler's encroaching Third Reich, Katarina and Lydia and two idealistic young soldiers, insurgents in the battle for their homeland, find themselves in a fight for life, liberty and love.


My Thoughts:


A heart-wrenching novel of love, war and resistance set in Estonia in the 1940s, The Lace Weaver tells the story of two very different young women and their struggle to survive in a country caught between two of the greatest evils of the 20th century: Stalin’s Red Army and Hitler’s Third Reich.

The story begins in 1941, when Estonia is under Russian rule and suffering brutality, hunger and mass murders and deportations. Kati and her parents are doing the best they can by keeping their heads down and doing as they are told. Kati quietly rebels by keeping her beloved grandmother’s lace weaving circle alive, with a group of women meeting in secret to make the exquisite lace shawls that Estonia is famous for. The lace patterns become a repeating motif throughout the book, with each section named after one of the designs: Wolf’s Paw, Ring Pattern, Peacock’s Tails, Spider Stitch, Ash Pattern, and so on. I really love this aspect of the book, as the patterns became symbols for what the characters endured.

Meanwhile, in Moscow, another young woman named Lydia is living a life of ease and privilege with the bejewelled cage of the Stalinist elite. She longs to escape, however, as she gradually becomes aware of the cruelty of the Russian dictatorship. Eventually, she and her old nurse Olga escape to Estonia, only to be caught up in that country’s struggle for liberation.

For the oppressed Estonians, the news that Hitler’s forces are marching towards them brings hope and jubilation. It is not long, however, before they realise that they have exchanged one cruel regime for another. And Kati and Lydia are caught in the maelstrom, struggling just to survive.

This is a novel of love and war, heartbreak and hope, and the bonds between women, delicate as lace and yet as unbreakable as steel. Powerful, subtle and beautifully written and composed.

I was lucky enough to interview Lauren Chater recently, you can read it here.

You might also be interested in my review of The Betrayal by Kate Furnivall.

Please leave a comment, I love to know your thoughts!

BOOK REVIEW: The Passengers by Eleanor Limprecht

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

 

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

Sarah and Hannah are on a cruise from San Diego, California to Sydney Australia. Sarah, Hannah’s grandmother, is returning to the country of her birth, a place she hasn’t seen since boarding the USS Mariposa in 1945. She, along with countless other war brides, sailed across the Pacific to join the American Servicemen they’d married during World War II.

Hannah is the age Sarah was when she made her first journey, and in hearing Sarah tell the story of her life, realises the immensity of what her grandmother gave up.

The Passengers is a luminous novel about the journeys we undertake, the sacrifices we make and the heartache we suffer for love. It is about how we most long for what we have left behind. And it is about the past - how close it can feel - even after long passages of time.


My Thoughts:

A young woman and her grandmother travel on a cruise together from the USA to Australia. For Sarah, it is a journey to the country of her birth, a place she has not seen since she left as a war bride in the 1940s. For Hannah, it is a chance to leave behind old hurts and discover a new land. Each tell their own story, in their own voices, each regretting mistakes they have made and people they have left behind.

Sarah’s story begins as a girl on a diary farm in New South Wales. Times are hard, and her father sells the farm and moves his family to Sydney. Sarah is forced to leave her beloved cattle dog behind. She finds work, and dreams of marriage, putting a white dress on layby. Sydney is full of American soldiers. There are fights and dances and flirtations. She falls in love and marries, and has just one night with her new husband before he is shipped out to Papua New Guinea. When the war ends, Sarah must leave her home and family and travel thousands of kilometres to a place she has never been, to live with a man she hardly knows.

As Sarah tells her story to her granddaughter, Hannah reveals some of her own secret vulnerabilities. Slowly the two stories echo and reflect each other, in clear lucid prose that glows with its own inner light.

You might also be interested in my review of The Pearler’s Wife by Roxane Dhand.

Recently I was lucky enough to interview Eleanor Limprecht, you can read it here.

Please leave a comment and let me know what you think. 

BOOK REVIEW: The Sisters’ Song by Louise Allan

Friday, April 20, 2018

 

The Blurb (From Goodreads):

As children, Ida loves looking after her younger sister, Nora, but when their beloved father dies in 1927, everything changes. The two girls move in with their grandmother who is particularly encouraging of Nora's musical talent. Nora eventually follows her dream of a brilliant musical career, while Ida takes a job as a nanny and their lives become quite separate.

The two sisters are reunited as Nora's life takes an unwelcome direction and she finds herself, embittered and resentful, isolated in the Tasmanian bush with a husband and children.

Ida's longs for a family and when she marries Len, a reliable and good man, she hopes to soon become a mother. Over time, it becomes clear that this is never likely to happen. In Ida's eyes, Nora possesses everything in life that could possibly matter yet she values none of it.

Set in rural Tasmania over a span of seventy years, the strengths and flaws of motherhood are revealed through the mercurial relationship of these two very different sisters, Ida and Nora. The Sisters' Song speaks of dreams, children and family, all entwined with a musical thread that binds them together.


My Thoughts:

A deeply moving examination of two sisters’ entwined lives in Tasmania during the 1930s & ‘40s, The Sisters’ Song is an assured debut from Western Australian writer Louise Allan.

The story begins in 1927, with two little girls shocked and grieving the death of their father. Ida is the elder of the sisters, and thought of as the ‘bad’ one, being outspoken and unruly. Nora, golden-haired and musical, is the ‘good’ one, always doing as she is told. The death of their father and the deep paralysing grief of their mother changes everything. The girls are sent to stay with their grandmother, who encourages Nora to sing. She is soon starring in the school musicals, while Ida feels left out and envious. Her jealousy causes a rift to widen between the sisters, and eventually Nora runs away to pursue her dream of being an opera singer.

Ida, meanwhile, falls in love and marries, but her longing for a child is cruelly denied as miscarriage follows miscarriage.

Then Nora returns, a child in her belly and her career in tatters. Married to a man she does not love, mother to children she does not want, she bitterly resents the mistake which destroyed her dreams. Ida, meanwhile, cannot help but feel that her golden sister has everything she ever wanted, and fails to appreciate it.

The story unwinds over the span of the two sisters’ lives, as they struggle with the consequences of their choices. Love, grief, loss, betrayal, and the enduring love of the two sisters weave a heart-breaking story that lingers long in the memory.

I was lucky enough to interview the wonderful Louise Allan this week, you can read it here.

Please leave a comment, I love to hear your thoughts.


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