Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Review: The Woolgrower's Companion

Title: The Woolgrower’s Companion
Author: Joy Rhoades
Publisher: 8 June 2017 Random House UK, Vintage Publishing Chatto & Windus
Pages: 320 pages
How I Read It: ARC book
Genre:  historical fiction, Australia
My Rating: 4 cups

Kate Dowd’s mother raised her to be a lady but she must put away her white gloves and pearls to help save her family’s sheep farm in New South Wales.
It is 1945, the war drags bitterly on and it feels like the rains will never come again. All the local, able-bodied young men, including the husband Kate barely knows, have enlisted and Kate’s father is struggling with his debts and his wounds from the Great War. He borrows recklessly from the bank and enlists two Italian prisoners of war to live and work on the station.
With their own scars and their defiance, the POWs Luca and Vittorio offer an apparent threat to Kate and Daisy, the family’s young Aboriginal maid. But danger comes from surprising corners and Kate finds herself more drawn to Luca than afraid of him.
Scorned bank managers, snobbish neighbours and distant husbands expect Kate to fail and give up her home but over the course of a dry, desperate year she finds within herself reserves of strength and rebellion that she could never have expected.
The Woolgrower’s Companion is the gripping story of one woman’s fight to save her home and a passionate tribute to Australia’s landscape and its people.

My Thoughts

A detailed and well written account of life on the land at the conclusion of WWII in Australia. Times are tough, the drought goes on and personal circumstances make life for Kate a challenge to say the least.

‘You were right, you know,’ Meg called. ‘Sheilas have to be brave every bloody day. Men just need it in bursts, the bastards.’

I enjoyed how each chapter title included a quote from, ‘The Woolgrower’s Companion’; and how the author tried to tie in the text to events that were to immediately unfold. Aside from an interesting narrative, there are many topical issues fictionalised which made for interesting reading.

Firstly there are the Australian Aborigines and the ‘Stolen Generation’ - the whole racism issue and the way society treated, especially young Aboriginal girls, in these circumstances is well handled I feel. There is also the anxiety Kate faces concerning her father’s behaviour. Twofold here as on the one hand he faces PTSD from his time in the war and the loss of his wife, followed by what would appear to be the onset of dementia. A traumatic time for all involved, and once again I feel that the author realistically portrayed both the anguish for family and the great sadness for this largely non prescribed disease of the 1940s. I appreciated also how the book presented the strict social codes of the time with regards to Kate and her relationships with everyone from her father, to absent husband, to Aboriginal maid, to even her dealings with the bank manager. Kate’s struggle to evolve in these various roles is again authentic and gently portrayed. Finally we have the addition of Italian POWs brought to Australia to work on outback stations. Shipped from POW camps for labour on these farms, is a fact I was not familiar with and found most interesting.

A little slow at times and with characters needing a little more depth (for example it would have been good to have alternate narrators and not just Kate - what of her father? husband? Luca?) to truly feel engaged with these sad circumstances. However, the author has done her research, even down to all the Australian slang, making this a recommended read should this time period appeal to you.

This review is based on a complimentary copy from the publisher and provided through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. The quoted material may have changed in the final release

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