Being at conference with a shonky hip and a foot that doesn’t do what it’s meant to, no matter how splendid the company, the food, the weather, the tango with the friendly Nelsonians, and the presentations/facilitated discussions, there are times you just need to escape.
So I did with this (and some kindly administered drugs).
While I found it a bit convoluted with its loose ends and ‘dea in machina’ if that’s the correct term for the character inserted to ensure the story is revealed and who attempts to create some change or even crisis in the main character’s life, by its end I felt a little more resolved about it.
Because it’s based on Stephanie Johnson’s great-great-great-grandmother’s character and life there are names that are too similar so that it took a while to get the characters sorted in my mind. It dips between decades and New Zealand and England so that you have to note the date and place in the chapter sub-headings and it slips between first person and third person retelling in the different chapters.
There is, also, an assumption perhaps that the reader knows who some of the lesser characters are and their impact on New Zealand history: Bishop Selwyn, Judge Martin, Wiremu Tamihana, or that Hoete and Jowitt are one and the same (it is explained a little later in the book). Or why the Wakefield Company are (and were?) viewed as deceitful and the impact of the war that begins while our characters are in New Zealand. But perhaps I am over-reading these matters and to appreciate the story these can be slid over. Enough to know that they are there in the background.
It’s a good story and one that deals with regret and acceptance, the move to a less class conscious society in the colonies (but not, on return, in England), the impact of memory (and drugs) and the difficulties for a woman alone in those times. And of course the difficulties of a woman grown old, too, in those times.
Worth a read, as long as you keep your wits about you in the first few chapters.
Maggie Rainey-Smith’s review: