This is a book I had to read. The name is derived from “an alleged 1942 WWII government plan to abandon Northern Australia in the event of a Japanese invasion”—there is nothing alleged about it. My father was a young soldier in WWII based in Melbourne when his division received the command to form The Brisbane Line. It made such an impression on him that later, when he was married, he relocated the family to Brisbane where I currently live.
I dearly wish I could discuss this novel with my late father but I do remember him reminiscing about the off-duty times and leave in tropical Far North Queensland where hi-jinks often lead to a soldier’s death. I am sure there was tension, corruption and murder among the thousands of American troops stationed in Brisbane, but on the other hand I know families of young women who married GI Joe’s and went to live in US never to return.
Enigmatic protagonist, Rose, has a boyfriend who is a prisoner-of-war and she says “It’s men who cause the trouble in the first place. It’s just another hypocrisy.”
Suitable for crime readers and historians, this well-researched yet fictionalised novel is based on a real person and his original paperwork. It is more interesting than a text book and follows Sergeant Joe Washington, a US Military Police officer and amateur photographer who joins local police in battling crime and black market corruption. Joe also has grave suspicions of a murder cover-up.
The humid atmosphere is laced with grunge and irritability offset by guys and gals dancing the night away at the Trocadero Dance Hall. Well-known landmarks and people make an appearance, for example notorious cop Frank Bischof, author Thea Astley and General Douglas MacArthur, an American who in WWII commanded the Southwest Pacific region.
The book is gritty and at times the inequality upset my 21st century sensibilities but it is based on true events. Powell has recreated a vibrant town which embraced a huge influx of cashed-up strangers in uniform and the repercussions this had on Brisbane society, some of which still lingers today.
In “The Art of War” Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu wrote “All warfare is based on deception” and “The greatest victory is that which requires no battle” so I think Judy Powell’s book shows there was no battle—but plenty of deception closer to home.
Judy Powell is an archaeologist and historian with a passion for bringing the past to life. She has worked as a high school teacher, an academic, a National Parks officer, a museum administrator and has excavated in Jordan, Cyprus and Greece as well as leading historical archaeology projects in Australia. Powell, who lives outside Brisbane, was awarded a QANZAC Fellowship by the State Library of Queensland to pursue research into, and writing of, a series of crime novels set in Brisbane during World War II.
I wasn’t ready for this book. I wanted to enjoy it as much as I enjoyed Catherine Jinks other books but it didn’t work for me right from the start. The setting was vivid but the raw, brutish behaviour and sheer masculinity of the story overwhelmed me. Does that make me a sexist, a bigot, a wimp when it comes to macho bravado? I don’t know. I turned the pages with trepidation, not interest. Maybe the colonial frontier loneliness affected me and I didn’t want to go on.
On my second reading
the story felt less crushing. I concentrated on young English convict Tom Clay, a former poacher transported in chains to Australia, and now a shepherd. I willed him to be okay, to learn and survive intact. His country assignment in New South Wales works well, he didn’t steal from landowner Mr Barrett so he was never flogged and he works hard. Through his eyes, I saw the strangeness of a harsh new land, the vast differences, and the cruel pitiless men he is forced to live and work with guarding sheep against theft and wild dogs.
Tom has a jaundiced eye
when it comes to things like Australian native wildlife and his comment on first seeing kangaroos is less than flattering. I was disappointed with the header on the bookcover which reads “The wolf is not the only hunter”. There are no wolves in Australia, there are dingoes (wild dogs) and that should have been apparent.
The conditions are harsh
and Tom’s fight for life against his arch nemesis Dan Carver is harsher still. These chapters are tightly written. The knock down drag ‘em out battles are horrific, the ghastly metal trap, the shootings, the human and animal deaths… but Tom dearly loves his sheep dogs.
I am not a fan
of an undefined location nor overused nonlinear narrative. Tom’s past comes out in this way. Flashback to eight year old Tom at his mother’s funeral, his former life almost as bad as his current one. He learns “No matter what a convict’s situation might be, he’ll never persuade a trooper that he’s telling the truth.” Flashback to when Tom first met convict Rowdy Cavanagh, a con man who joked, laughed and teased his way to success until he was caught “A single misstep and it ruined me life.”
The age rating
for this tense, chilling, thrilling story eludes me, but it is a tale I did not fully enjoy. I do respect it wholeheartedly for the screenplay fear and fascination it instilled in me regarding the rough and thoroughly inhumane life early convicts were forced to endure.
Tom’s situation could lead to listening and learning from the Indigenous custodians of this ancient land, and perhaps encourage a new phase in his life.
Catherine Jinks(Australia b.1963) is a four-time winner of the Children’s Book Council of Australia Book of the Year award, and has also won a Victorian Premier’s Literature Award, the Adelaide Festival Award for Literature, the Ena Noel Award for Children’s Literature and an Aurealis Award for Science Fiction. In 2001 she was presented with a Centenary Medal for her contribution to Australian Children’s Literature.
Catherine Jinks, author of over thirty books for children and adults, including the award-winning Pagan Chronicles series, was born in Brisbane and grew up in Sydney where she studied medieval history at the University of Sydney.
She became a writer because she loves reading, as well as history, films and television. Catherine gets ideas for her novels from everywhere, particularly good science fiction films. She lives in the Blue Mountains NSW with her Canadian husband and daughter Hannah.
It took a while to get my head around Joan Stanley’s rationale. Growing up, I had heard about the Official Secrets Act and censored letters from my father who was in the second world war, but never about spies selling secrets: I gleaned by inference that espionage was problematic for all sides. Red Joan knew how to keep her lips zipped.
I really enjoyed this story and I put another book on hold to finished it. Before and after the 70th anniversary of VE-Day, there was a rash of fact and fiction war books from the UK and this is one of them.
The bombings are what I found missing in Jennie Rooney’s tale, the destruction and the precautions every citizen had to take every day to survive. Joan Stanley appears to live a charmed life in this regard, and not much of the physical devastation seems to touch her.
Of course, this story is character-driven, an emotional account of the Cold War, an internal struggle between what is right and wrong and justifying one’s decisions, rather than air-raids and bombed out buildings.
After a sheltered schooling, Joan attends Cambridge University where she meets flamboyant student Sonya; and Joan is easily swayed by Sonya’s handsome cousin Leo Galich. Slowly Joan is groomed to become a spy and eventually steals top secret documents. While her resolute decision to help the war effort unfolds beautifully and logically (to Joan at least) I couldn’t help thinking “Surely she isn’t that naive?” But she is, and this propels the story.
That, and romance. This is where cousin Leo comes in. What can I say about earnest socialist Leo? He is easy to picture—any handsome, charismatic, idealistic Uni student would fit his mould. I can excuse Joan’s love-struck crush on Leo but not her belief in her new friend Sonya, a powerful influence.
I thought Joan’s shared fur coat was a nice touch, it was the tenuous connection, the innocent thread throughout the story but it spoke volumes about their personalities.
Joan Stanley (loosely based on real spy Melita Norwood) specialises in theoretical physics and when she gets a job in a metals research facility, the touch-and-go desire with Professor Max Davis is well done, I could see that happening. The cast of males are oblivious to Joan’s duplicity, and receptionist Karen is pretty much ignored. For a laugh I pictured Karen afterwards as a retired MI5 operative.
As I said, I like this book and would recommend it, not for an in-depth look at the war effort but as a glimpse into the human side, the male/female relationships and the story behind the atomic bomb construction. Just enough details; the lab, scientific information, the protocols.
Destructive and fascinating at the same time.
Jennie Rooney’s modern day interrogators, Ms Hart and Mr Adams, were created a bit like Scully and Mulder from the X-Files, lots of meaningful glances at Joan, but they served their purpose well.
In the end, in my opinion, the unravelling of the story was pretty low-key. Sir William Mitchell was out of the game, so that left Leo and Sonya’s questionable career moves. Poor Joan, there seemed no end to her emotional turmoil before and after discovery.
Lately I’ve read a couple of books with weak transitions, but I thought the past and present were well written in Rooney’s story. She did a good job with Joan’s son Nick Stanley QC, a real fly-in-the-ointment (or our own subconscious thoughts?) and he had a Hollywood style moment at the end.
I like to pick out my favourite lines in a story and I quote:
There is a pause.
“Anyway”, Joan says, “I’d have thought the Soviets would be developing their own weapons?” “They are. But it’s taking too long. They’re starting from a disadvantage.”
Leo sighs and reaches once more across the table.
“Please, Jo-jo. Don’t you see? You’re in a unique position here to change the history of the world.”
When VE-Day dawns on 8th May 2020 it will be 75 years since the end of the war in Europe so I guess there will be more books forthcoming.
Of course, we read in hindsight and that can be a wonderfully misleading thing.
Jennie Rooney was born in Liverpool in 1980. She read History at the University of Cambridge and taught English in France before moving to London to work as a solicitor. She lives in West London, and also writes and teaches History and English. The fictitious story of Joan Stanley, the KGB’s longest-serving British spy, is her third novel. It was adapted for the 2018 film ‘Red Joan’ directed by Trevor Nunn, starring Dame Judi Dench as aged Joan and Sophie Cookson as young Joan.
It was a nice surprise to discover an older piece of writing I’d forgotten, particularly when it still holds up.
My overview of Fiona McIntosh’s historical fiction “Tapestry” was penned for Top 40 Book Club Reads 2015, a regular Brisbane City Council Library Service booklet written and compiled by unacknowledged library staff.
The book—billed as timeslip fiction—has a layered plot and it was hard to write a 100 word description without sounding too stilted. McIntosh chose settings in two countries, Australia and Britain, in two different eras of history. I particularly liked the second half in 1715 within the Tower of London.
After visiting the Tower of London to research her book, McIntosh had “An unforgettable day and I attribute much of the story’s atmosphere to that marvellous afternoon and evening in the Tower of London with the Dannatts when the tale of Lady Nithsdale and my own Tapestry came alive in my imagination.”
Author Fiona McIntosh has written quite a stack of books set in many parts of the world, and in different genres: Non-Fiction, Historical Romantic-Adventure, Timeslip, Fantasy – Adult, Fantasy – Children, and Crime.
Check your local library catalogue in person or online.
In order of appearance, the Brisbane Libraries Top 40 book club recommendations for 2015—I have not read Poe Ballantine’s chilling tale “Love and Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere” and I may never read it—See how many titles you’ve read!
The Visionist; Moriarty; Tapestry; The Bone Clocks; California; Z – Novel of Zelda Fitzgerald; The Mandarin Code; Merciless Gods; Upstairs at the Party; Friendship; Birdsong; Heat and Light; Time and Time Again; What Was Promised; The Austen Project; The Paying Guests; The Exile – An Outlander Graphic Novel; Lost and Found; Amnesia; Cop Town; Mr Mac and Me; Nora Webster; The Girl Who Saved the King of Sweden; Inspector McLean – Dead Men’s Bones; The Soul of Discretion; We Were Liars; Stone Mattress – Nine Tales; Family Secrets; South of Darkness; The Claimant; This House of Grief; She Left Me the Gun; Mona Lisa – A Life Discovered; The Silver Moon; Revolution; Love and Terror on the Howling Plains of Nowhere; What Days Are For; Mistress; Warning – The Story of Cyclone Tracy; The Birth of Korean Cool.
Author Indrani Ganguly based her historical novel in Lucknow, India, a city renowned as the most refined of the Muslim kingdoms where she, her mother and grandmother were born. In 1857 the Siege of Lucknow was also the scene of some of the most brutal fighting during the country’s uprisings.
Indrani Ganguly’s novel is an illuminating blend of fact and fiction. Twins Mukti and Lila Chatterjee—the eponymous rose and thorn compared to a black rose in their garden—are the heart and soul of the story. Ganguly’s research is comprehensive thanks to an academic background, and her foreword mentions some family memories. She explains the book is not a personal history of her family, although I think there are insights which add to the charm of the narrative.
Two parallel movements emerged in India in the 19th and 20th centuries, the national movement of Independence and the social reform to uplift the most vulnerable sections of society. During this time of national and social upheaval, the role of Indian women makes enlightening reading.
There are six families in “The Rose and The Thorn”. The main characters are Jai Chatterjee, history professor, his wife Shanti and their twin daughters Mukti and Lila. Then follows The Mukherjees, The Alis, The Johnsons, The Banerjees, and The Maharajas. It is easy to keep track as the years unfold, events develop in clear progression and the tension builds.
Young Mukti innocently reads the signs of civil unrest in a 1922 pamphlet calling for a boycott on foreign clothing, and the event is witnessed by her British friend Elizabeth and father Alan when riding in a tanga (horse-drawn transport). Protesters burn clothes on a huge bonfire, quickly followed by police aggression. One of the police inspectors, Anil, is a Chatterjee family member.
Around this time, non-violent resistance advocate Mahatma Gandhi is arrested and imprisoned for two years for publishing seditious material.
The twins Lila and Mukti grow up, marriages are arranged and their resilient personalities emerge to deal with life; the loss of loved ones, writing for radical newspaper Chandpur Barta, social work at a women’s centre, and an eventful protest march for women’s rights.
As a young woman in 1970s I was woven into the women’s liberation movement but did not realise how long Indian women had faced their own battles. They were invisible, they survived as long as they had a man, otherwise they were classed as nothing. From a 21st century stance, I find it difficult to comprehend the household dictates of that time and the shocking treatment of widows.
The character portrayals of the men and women in the story are strong, and they have firm opinions on the subjects of politics and political activism—handsome Rashid Ali spices things up! His mother Ruksana is also a driving force. Mosquito-hating Krishna Banerjee and the Maharaja are men not to be underestimated. Societal revolutions are brewing but the big question is ‘Will Congress win?’ If women had the vote things may have been different.
I was interested in the chapters dated March 1923 because that was the year my mother was born. As my mother grew up, I wonder how much she and her Australian contemporaries knew of the Partition turmoil in India? I knew India was part of the British Commonwealth but certainly didn’t learn about their struggles. To quote the prologue “There are no martyrs’ monuments or eternal burning flames…” for the ordinary women who led extraordinary lives.
On a lighter note, Chapter 25, March 1923 “The Governor’s Ball” has an outrageous encounter with the Governor’s wife. And during a family visit to the Taj Mahal, a wandering minstrel strolls by, strumming his ektara (traditional one-stringed musical instrument) singing a saucy song:
There was a rose and a thorn in my life One was my lover and one was my wife. Which was which I could not tell It changed day-by-day and as night fell . . .
. . . I don’t want to give too much away, dear reader, but I will say there is a secret.
Author Ganguly explains that representing the dialogue in English was a challenge. The two languages used in the book are Hindi and Bengali which have very different grammar syntax. She overcame this and the result is flowing dialogue containing a smattering of Indian words which enhance the story.
The woven cloth khadi, and sweet and savoury food references enticed me to look for translations. I found a recipe for Mukti’s favourite dish, freshly fried luchi and eggplant.
My curiosity was piqued by the influential roles of India’s royals, the Maharaja and Maharani, in the story. I read a quote from modern-day Princess Shivranjani of Jodhpur who doesn’t have a problem with only male heirs inheriting but aptly retorts “If you say a boy is everything and a girl is nothing, well, I have a problem with that!”
Powerful Goddess Durga, whose name is spoken several times in the book, also got me researching. “Durga” in Sanskrit means “invincible” and numerous Mantras are chanted for her throughout the year.
The era of Indian history from 1916 to 1947 is brought alive by Indrani Ganguly through the eyes of Mukti and Lila, and the wise and courageous women who supported them. While I did not choose a favourite between the rose and the thorn, I enjoyed their journey and learned a lot about the faith and endurance of families in India during those turbulent times.
The epilogue narrator says “I myself travelled many different paths till I joined my father in Delhi but that is another story.” I look forward to reading it!
Indrani Ganguly was born of Bengali parents in Lucknow, India. Her parents imbued her with a strong sense of Indian and world history and culture, and a great appreciation of diversity in all its forms. Indrani studied English Honours and sociology in India and did her PhD on the impact of British occupation on revolution and reform in West Bengal from the Australian National University. In 1990, Indrani married an Australian with whom she now lives in Brisbane, Queensland. They have a son, daughter and grandson.
Indrani’s website: https://indraniganguly139.wordpress.com/blog/
Here is the YouTube link to BBC’s Great Indian Railway Journeys video which documents the history and scenes of Lucknow, and shows the buildings which Indrani Ganguly writes about in her book. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CckjZafH0vI
but I love and respect this book. It deserves the status of a 21st century classic. Narrated by numerous voices from Birdie Bell to Elodie Winslow, I was immersed in a mystery with twists and ghostly turns, fine art and emotional lives of several families over two centuries of turmoil and heartbreak.
The fluid nature of ‘The Clockmaker’s Daughter’is similar
to the ebb and flow of a river. In this case the Thames, and the reader should move with the tide, not fight against it. Accept each individual character and enjoy their allotted time in the book, otherwise an undercurrent could pull you down into reader malaise which may cause you to miss the best bits.
Human emotions are the core of this novel
but some criticism seems to be there are too many characters. Why? The classics and modern historical fiction have loads of characters. I think Kate Morton truly loved her cast of players and couldn’t bear to trim them to fit a mere trifle like a word limit. Each person has a purpose!
Perhaps the 21st century reader has difficulty due to
a shorter attention span?
less retentive memory?
reading skills only suitable for glancing at a small screen?
Tick all of the above √ (Sorry, just had to lecture…)
My friends know that rarely, if ever, do I reread a book
because once read, never forgotten – well, almost – but ‘The Clockmaker’s Daughter’ is the first book in years which I have felt compelled to reread. It touched on many threads in my own familial life and exposed feelings and understandings. In one chapter, I had to stop because the emotion became too much as I recalled several elements of my own family’s journey through life and death. My grandfather was an early 20th century artist, talented and struggling to make a living, perhaps similar to Edward Radcliffe.
Triggered by outstanding writing, we pour our own sentiments into a story
and Kate Morton succeeded in cracking my heart just enough to make the sadness bearable. Then the atmosphere lightens, a scene change like a stroll in springtime.
“In the depths of a 19th-century winter, a little girl is abandoned on the streets of Victorian London. She grows up to become in turn a thief, an artist’s muse, and a lover. In the summer of 1862, shortly after her eighteenth birthday, she travels with a group of artists to a beautiful house on a bend of the Upper Thames. Tensions simmer and one hot afternoon a gunshot rings out. A woman is killed, another disappears, and the truth of what happened slips through the cracks of time. It is not until over a century later, when another young woman is drawn to Birchwood Manor, that its secrets are finally revealed.”
Oh, secrets revealed
but there are a couple of unanswered questions. This is where a keen reader sees the clever intertextuality and works it out for themselves from the vignettes Kate Morton has polished and refined for us. Even down to the defining chapter headings—or didn’t anyone notice that. This story is a puzzle, it appeared to be disparate people until I followed the signposts, keeping observations tucked away for future reference. Gradually events join up, different eras are linked, a genealogical timeline exposed.
Here’s my incomplete list of characters…
Elodie Winslow, modern archivist
Tip, her great-uncle
Handmade leather satchel
Birdie Bell, young pickpocket
Lily Millington, pickpocket and artist’s muse
Mrs Mack, purveyor of crime
Martin Mack, thug
Pale Joe, sickly boy
Fairy folk tale
Edward Radcliffe, artist and portrait painter
Frances Brown, his fiancée
Lucy Radcliffe, his sister
Thurston Holmes, unpleasant friend
Ada Lovegrove, sad student
Juliet, newspaper columnist
Radcliffe Blue, diamond
There are beautiful paragraphs
which I would love to reproduce, although being taken out of context would ruin the impact. There’s grimy poverty stricken London, the joy of wildflowers, the thunder in a storm, a fascinating country manor, the love between Edward Radcliffe and Lily Millington, the dubious behaviour of their friends and family culminating in a shocking moment followed by the ultimate conclusion.
I won’t divulge crucial plot points and
my recommendation is to read ‘The Clockmaker’s Daughter’ without preconceived notions. Unlike reviewer Caroline E. Tew, Crimson Staff Writer of The Harvard Crimson, I did not expect a resolution that is literal, practical or easy to digest. Have a pinch of romance in your soul.
There’s a 12-Minute PDF Blog summary out there which should have a Spoiler Alert. It reports inaccurately on a clue, and pretty much gives the game away. I am glad I did NOT read it prior to reading the novel. It exposes the plot in a clinical fashion, ruining the atmosphere and skimming across Kate Morton’s beautiful prose and depth of feeling.
On the other hand
an exceptionally good review of ‘The Clockmaker’s Daughter’ by Jo Casebourne of The Reading Project will give you well-rounded insights into the story and characters in chronological order from 1860s to present day.
I have reproduced a chapter vignette (below) to show a scene of top-notch character writing. But first, let me ask you to ponder this key question, answerable after reading the book. Out of the four woman, mother, sister, lover, fiancée, who do you think loved Edward Radcliffe the most?
Leonard Gilbert, ex-soldier, researching the Radcliffe family. Lucy Radcliffe, now elderly yet still sharp.
“The cottage was pleasantly dark inside, and it took a moment for his gaze to arrive at Lucy Radcliffe in the midst of all her treasures. She had been expecting him only a minute before, but clearly had more important things to do than sit in readiness. She was engrossed in her reading, posed as still as marble in a mustard-coloured armchair, a tiny figure in profile to him, a journal in her hand, her back curved as she peered through a magnifying glass at the folded paper. A lamp was positioned on a small half-moon table beside her and the light it cast was yellow and diffuse. Underneath it, a teapot sat beside two cups.
‘Miss Radcliffe,’ he said.
‘Whatever do you think, Mr Gilbert?’ She did not look up from her journal. ‘It appears that the universe is expanding.’
‘Is it?’ Leonard took off his hat. He couldn’t see a hook on which to hang it, so he held it in two hands before him.”