Music and Freedom by Zoe Morrison

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Title: Music and Freedom

Author: Zoe Morrison

Genre: Fiction

Publisher: Vintage Australia/Random House Australia

Published: June 27, 2016

Format: paperback

Pages: 345

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: I have no use for forgiveness, not yet. But other ideas like that,
kindness, for example, I think that is fundamental. Resurrection;
I like that too. And love, of course, love, love, love.

Alice Murray learns to play the piano aged three on an orange orchard in rural Australia. Recognising her daughter’s gift, her mother sends Alice to boarding school in the bleak north of England, and there Alice stays for the rest of her childhood. Then she’s offered a scholarship to the Royal College of Music in London, and on a summer school in Oxford she meets Edward, an economics professor who sweeps her off her feet.

Alice soon finds that Edwards is damaged, and she’s trapped. She clings to her playing and to her dream of becoming a concert pianist, until disaster strikes. Increasingly isolated as the years unravel, eventually Alice can’t find it in herself to carry on. Then she hears the most beautiful music from the walls of her house …

This novel’s love story is that of a woman who must embrace life again if she is to survive. Inspiring and compelling, it explores the dark terrain of violence and the transformative powers of music and love.

~*~

Music and Freedom is Zoe Morrison’s first novel, and it is a thought-provoking and eloquently told story for a debut novel. Throughout Alice’s life, she has been educated in England, in boarding schools and music programs, where music has given her a sense of self and freedom, though she longs to return home and be free there with her family. Unable to return home, she weds an Oxford economics professor – a man who is troubled and with very traditional ideas of how a woman should act and how a husband should be allowed to treat his wife. As a result of his demands and the abuse she suffers at his hands, something she cannot speak of with the women’s circle she is part of for fear of being blamed for his temper by others, Alice internalises the abuse and her fears. She tries to escape through her music, but is forced to play elsewhere when Edward is home, and soon, even her music becomes a prison when Edward demands she attends a concert and perform a complicated Rachmaninoff piece she is not given ample time to prepare.

The novel is told in short chapters that mirror a diary, and go back and forth between a young, vibrant Alice in the 1940s and 1950s to a disoriented, confused old woman, trying to claw towards a freedom that she has been denied for so long – whether physically by her husband, or emotionally by the thoughts of doubt that imprison her.

This structure shows how Alice became the way she is at the opening of the novel, and slowly, she finds a way to be free with the help of her neighbour in Oxford, Emily, and her son, Richard.

Zoe Morrison deals with the issue of domestic abuse and the silence it can cause, even when attempts are being made to combat it. Alice’s fight for freedom is life long, and only when she is an elderly woman, can she finally find the freedom she desires, and find a way back to music, and a way into a new form of freedom: writing.

An eye-opening and emotional story, it is told with care and sensitivity for Alice, and has incorporated necessary research. This is just one story, one experience in a time when there were different expectations for men and women in some areas, and a time when the lines between what people expected men and women to do began to blur. The setting of Oxford illustrates this in the traditions that Edward holds so dear, and in the desires that Alice has throughout the novel about her music and freedom.

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The Lost Sapphire by Belinda Murrell

 

 

Title: The Lost Sapphire

Author: Belinda Murrell

the lost sapphireGenre: Fiction/Historical Fiction

Publisher: Random House Australia

Published: 16th May 2016

Format: Paperback

Pages: 310

Price: $17.99

Synopsis: Marli is staying with her dad in Melbourne, and missing her friends. Then she discovers a mystery – a crumbling, abandoned mansion is to be returned to her family after ninety years. Marli sneaks into the locked garden to explore, and meets Luca, a boy who has his own connection to Riversleigh.

A peacock hatbox, a box camera and a key on a velvet ribbon provide clues to what happened long ago . . .

In 1922, Violet is fifteen. Her life is one of privilege, with boating parties, picnics and extravagant balls. An army of servants looks after the family – including new chauffeur Nikolai Petrovich, a young Russian émigré.

Over one summer, Violet must decide what is important to her. Who will her sister choose to marry? What will Violet learn about Melbourne’s slums as she defies her father’s orders to help a friend? And what breathtaking secret is Nikolai hiding?

Violet is determined to control her future. But what will be the price of her rebellion?

 

~*~

 

The Lost Sapphire is this year’s historical novel offering from Belinda Murrell. Like the rest of her historical novels and time slip novels, it is set in Australia and begins in the present day, before flashing back to 1922 and a story that mirrors what is going on in Marli’s life. In the decades between the wars, Marli’s great-grandmother encounters a Russian chauffeur, Nikolai, when he comes to work for her father. In 2016, Marli discovers that an abandoned mansion is going to be returned to her family, and she starts exploring it with a new friend, Luca, who also has a connection to the Riversleigh property Marli’s family is getting back. As Marli and Luca build a friendship, and explore Riversleigh, they discover its secrets.

Back in 1922, Violet begins to assert her beliefs and discover who she is. Her passions lead her to helping Nikolai and other friends who are less fortunate. In this world of changes in industry and worker’s rights, the echoes of World War One and events of 1917 foreshadow the world that Violet and those she holds dear will be plunged into soon. It brought another layer to the novel that those who know the history can appreciate. The rundown mansion of Riversleigh has echoes of The Secret Garden: a place locked up, that two children in need of companionship restore the house and garden, guided by a fairy wren in place of the robin.

All these layers in the story, and the characters that seemed to mirror each other, though in separate worlds, made for a wonderful story. Ever since I started reading Belinda’s books about a few years ago, I have waited eagerly for new ones to come out. Reading The Lost Sapphire, I was taken away to a different world. I travelled with Marli as she worked to restore Riversleigh, and explored Riversleigh of the past with Violet, explored her world of privilege but also the world of the underprivileged that she sought to expose through her writing and pictures with the help of Nikolai and her maid, Sally. The contrasts of the poor and rich were more apparent in 1922, yet the echoes of them could be seen a little in Marli’s time, in what was expected of her father. Like the other books Belinda has written, The Lost Sapphire has been rooted in a key cause or event in the lives of the characters that drive them on their journey to form their lives and the story. Each novel by Belinda Murrell is unique. I’d say this is one of my favourites, with the other top two being The River Charm and The Forgotten Pearl. These stories introduce younger readers to history in an accessible and interesting way that allows them to see the real events through the eyes of fictional characters, or fictional characters linked to family history, as in Locket of Dreams and The River Charm. I recommend this book to fans of Belinda Murrell, fans of history and mystery and readers everywhere who love a good book.

The Forgotten Pearl by Belinda Murrell

Title: The Forgotten Pearl

Author: Belinda Murrell the-forgotten-pearl

Genre: Children’s Fiction/Historical Fiction

Publisher: Penguin Random House

Pages: 282

Price: $17.99

Published: 2nd February 2015

Synopsis: When Chloe visits her grandmother, she learns how close the Second World War came to destroying her family. Could the experiences of another time help Chloe to face her own problems?

In 1941, Poppy lives in Darwin, a peaceful paradise far from the war. But when Japan attacks Pearl Harbor, then Australia, everything Poppy holds dear is threatened – her family, her neighbours, her friends and her beloved pets. Her brother Edward is taken prisoner-of-war. Her home town becomes a war zone, as the Japanese raid over and over again.

Terrified for their lives, Poppy and her mother flee to Sydney, only to find that the danger follows them there. Poppy must face her war with courage and determination. Will her world ever be the same again?

 

In the two days it took me to read this, I was completely absorbed by the story, day and night, even when not reading it. Starting out in 2012 with Chloe, a young girl talking to her grandmother about an assignment, readers are whisked back to 1940s Australia in the days before the war hits our shores. The peace and carefree life Poppy lives is shattered like glass, and she runs from Darwin to Sydney with her mother, where the fear remains but for a while they are safe. When the threat of war and death follows them, Poppy’s world falls apart again, but her strength and resolve to not let the Japanese chase her away from her new life, and what she knows wins over.
From the first page of this book, I knew it would be one that would stay with me but I didn’t know how it would affect me. Having a brother in the army, and with what is currently going on in the world, suddenly, the reality of war, of what Poppy and her family went through, what she told Chloe, seemed all that more real to me than just images on the television and talks of air raids and strikes and invasions. I found myself crying at times, sometimes having to put the book aside. Poppy’s fear and life had become my own and I was dreaming about the book, about the bombing of Darwin, about finding Daisy and Charlie dead in the bomb shelter. Previously all I had known about these events were the facts: the history books I had had never put a human face to these events. Until I read Belinda Murrell’s The Forgotten Pearl. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, as I have her other time slip books, with one left on the pile to make my way through. I could taste and feel Darwin as well. The heat, the stickiness, the mangoes, and all Poppy’s animals leapt off the page into my arms, especially Honey, her beloved dog. She made me feel safe just as she comforted Poppy.
It is a fictionalised account of very real, and terrifying events as seen through the eyes of a child. Children can relate to Poppy, and her fear for her family, her pets and all she holds dear. She is a remarkable character and I will definitely be revisiting this book when time allows. It has a part of me in it now, and always will. I will not stop fearing for Poppy and her family, or my brother, when I read it or think about what wars my brother could face, but it will be a book that will help me through those moments, as many books have and will.

A five star rating for this book.