Clancy of the Overflow by Jackie French (Matilda Saga #9)

clancy of the overflow.jpgTitle: Clancy of the Overflow (Matilda Saga #9)

Author: Jackie French

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: HarperCollins Australia

Published: 21st October 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 448

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: From Australia’s best-loved storyteller comes the final book in the bestselling Matilda Saga

This is a love song to our nation, told in a single sweeping story

Jed Kelly has finally persuaded her great aunt Nancy to tell the story of her grandparents. The tale that unfolds is one of Australia’s greatest romances – that of Clancy of the Overflow, who gave up everything for Rose, the woman he adored, and yet still gained all he’d lost and more.

But Nancy’s story is not the history that Jed expects. More tales lurk behind the folklore that surrounds Clancy – the stories of the women hidden in Australia’s long history, who forged a nation and whose voices need to be heard.

It is also a story of many kinds of love. Clancy’s growing passion for the bush, immortalised in Paterson’s poem, which speaks to him in the ripple of the river and the song of the stars, and Nancy’s need to pass on her deep understanding of her country.

But perhaps the most moving love story of all is the one that never happened, between Matilda O’Halloran and Clancy of the Overflow. And as Jed brings all of these stories to life in her book, Matilda and Clancy will once again waltz beside the river and the forgotten will be given a new voice.

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After nine books, The Matilda Saga is coming to a close – after almost one hundred years of retelling history, of telling the stories of women and their role throughout Australian history. These are the stories that are untold – from pre-Federation to the late twentieth century, and women from all walks of life  – whether it be race, disability, age or economic situation, and everything in between. From Matilda to Flinty, Blue and Nancy, Jed, Fish, Scarlett, and all the people of Gibber’s Creek – the family comes together – blood and chosen – as Nancy tells Jed the story of her grandparents – Clancy and Rose.

But Clancy and Rose’s story is not simple, and they face many obstacles. The tales Nancy has to offer are horrific and complex, filled with conflicting ideas and feelings as love – for family, for country, for the bush and friends . These stories have come to life through Jackie’s words and characters, and have, through fictional characters based on poems, real events and indeed, real people at times, reinvigorated Australian history and brought through new voices that were once silenced, and now, have the chance to speak.

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I have been following The Matilda Saga since the beginning – from the early days of Matilda O’Halloren living in a city slum in 1894, seven years before Federation, through to World War One, the interwar period, World War Two, Vietnam, the moon landing and in between, crises amidst the families – injuries, internments, and working towards goals that a character may have been told are insurmountable for them.

More than anything, this encapsulates a lot of what is missing from the official historical record, whilst at the same time, drawing on it, and marrying it with the untold stories we all need to know. And drawing on Jackie’s own experience of the sixties and seventies, and family stories, makes it all the richer.

Throughout each book, the words simply dance off the page, and sing their love song, based on the words of poets like Banjo Paterson, and Dorothea Mackellar, and many other poets, as well as the oral traditions and stories. It brings together a century of stories, of women and what they experienced, expressed through nine books, and unites Clancy of the Overflow and Matilda in a waltz by their billabong, as life goes on around them and their families are happy.

I have loved this series for ten years, since I first picked up A Waltz for Matilda, and coming to the end is bittersweet. It had to end somewhere, and it was given the ending it needed and deserved. Yet I am going to miss these characters, but can revisit them anytime, simply by re-reading the books, which I plan to do, in order, one after the other, to get the full story in a new way, and with a new understanding of all of the events and characters. A wonderful series.

The Lily in the Snow (Miss Lily #3) by Jackie French

The Lily in the SnowTitle: The Lily in the Snow (Miss Lily #3)

Author: Jackie French

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: HarperCollins Australia

Published: 1st April 2019

Format: Paperback

Pages: 480

Price: $19.99

Synopsis: The world is at war, and women are working, often behind the scenes, in areas from nursing to espionage. And despite their many successes, these are the women the men don’t see.

Unimaginable danger creeps ever closer to Miss Lily and her loved ones . . .

Amid the decadence and instability of Berlin in the 1920s, a band of women must unite to save all that is precious to them.

With her dangerous past behind her, Australian heiress Sophie Higgs lives in quiet comfort as the Countess of Shillings, until Hannelore, Princess of Arneburg, charms the Prince of Wales. He orders Sophie, Nigel – and Miss Lily – to investigate the mysterious politician Hannelore believes is the only man who can save Europe from another devastating war.

His name is Adolf Hitler.

As unimaginable peril threatens to destroy countries and tear families apart, Sophie must face Goering’s Brownshirt Nazi thugs, blackmail, and the many possible faces of love.

And then the man she once adored and thought was lost reappears, and Sophie will be confronted by the girl intent on killing the mother who betrayed her family in the war: Miss Lily.

The third book in the Miss Lily series, The Lily in the Snow is a story filled with secrets that also explores the strength of friendship and the changing face of women in this new Europe.

 

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The third book in the Miss Lily series starts moving into the end of the 1920s, with the looming economic crisis that will become The Great Depression, affecting the whole world, and creating the foundations for the Nazi regime of the 1930s and 1940s in Germany. Sophie and Nigel have not seen Miss Lily for many years – and their twins, Rose and Danny, who are nearly three. They are living their lives when a young girl named Violette – claiming Lily Shillings is her mother. Her arrival disrupts Shillings just as Hannelore and David, Prince of Wales, start trying to get Sophie, Nigel and Miss Lily to meet with the politician, Adolf Hitler. Forced into a trip to Germany, Sophie, Nigel, and their family are drawn into a world of espionage, Brownshirts, anti- Semitism and various other ideas about what Hitler called “degenerates” through blackmail, as people question Miss Lily’s absence amidst political and economic turmoil.

Sophie’s ideas of love will be tested as she grapples with love for home, love for family, and love for those who have shaped her life since before the Great War. During their travels, the man Sophie loved during her time in Australia after the war reappears. Sophie is caught between all these people she has loved – and what everything she is facing in Europe and the coming threat from Germany will mean for her.

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As the Miss Lily series moves through the twentieth century, the politics of the time start to shape what the characters do and who they are. Sophie has changed since she first arrived at Shillings in 1913 – in many ways. She has fallen in love, is married and is a mother to beautiful twins. But she’s still not content to sit back and let men tell her what to do. She is determined to see if she can help convince David to pull his support from Hitler, and not support the National Socialist party of Germany, to prevent another war. She wants to convince Hannelore that Hitler is not going to help Germany. Helping Violette is important too – and Violette was a really lovely addition to this series – there were lots of things I loved about her as she grew into her role in Sophie’s life, and the way she at first, came across as impulsive and dangerous, but once she had a home and security, she proved her loyalty to Sophie, Green and the rest of the Shillings family over their time in Germany.

I have loved the Miss Lily series since it first came out a few years ago, and I am working my way through the Christmas stories as well – with a couple to go to read and review. These novels approach the first half of the twentieth century – so far up to the start of the Great Depression – through the lens of the women of the era and what they did – and the stories that are untold. Many people know women served in various ways on the home front or as nurses in World War One, but what is less known is the role of women as spies, collecting intelligence and tracking troop movements, or blowing up bridges. These women were known as La Dame Blanche – and would use knitting to send codes and messages – which is woven throughout the Miss Lily novels intricately. It is these actions that helped defeat Germany.

In this novel, Jackie French delves into the dark, horrifying mind of Hitler and Nazi ideals – repeating them for context, and distinctly showing Sophie and Nigel’s discomfort and unease with these ideas – as Nigel is both Nigel and Miss Lily – comfortable as both, it seems, and they support Doctor Hirschfeld, who tells them about his theories about sexuality and gender, and identity and acceptance. It is these ideas, and Nigel/Miss Lily – that are an example of what Hitler dislikes – and the results are heartbreaking. We know what is to come, and we know what happens within ten years of this novel closing. These conflicting ideas show how one man can twist a country to believe what he tells him, and how he can alter so many lives – and take the world in an entirely different direction than if he had perhaps been stopped, if the ideas of someone like Dr Hirschfeld had been allowed to flourish beyond the secrecy Sophie and Nigel witnessed in 1929.

Economic turmoil is present in this book too across Europe, and this unease is always at the back of everyone’s minds as they settle into relative peacetime – and work towards preventing another war. As Sophie plans to take her family back to Australia, she prepares to protect those closest to her. Even as she does this, there are still some secrets that are kept from her – all for her own protection, she is told. These secrets drive the novel, and there are hints towards things coming in the next book. It is interesting reading these books in hindsight, knowing what happens, and what is to come, and wanting to warn the characters. Ever astute though, Sophie can see what must be done, with the knowledge she has. And Jackie French has cleverly managed to combine what she knows with what her characters would have known or felt they would have known in the 1920s to create a realistic world and one that I can’t wait to get back to when Sophie Vaile returns next year.

Into the World by Stephanie Parkyn

into the worldTitle: Into the World

Author: Stephanie Parkyn

Genre: Historical Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 1st December 2017

Format: Paperback

Pages: 448

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: Abandoned by her lover and fleeing the wrath of her family, Marie-Louise must make a desperate choice. Find a man or become one.

  1. In the midst of the French Revolution, unwed mother Marie-Louise Girardin takes one last look at her baby son before entrusting him to her friend, the revolutionary Olympe de Gouges. She must escape, and only the most daring plan will bring her both the anonymity she needs and the independence to return one day for her son.Marie-Louise disguises herself as a man and joins a voyage of exploration employed as a steward on the Recherche, one of two ships commissioned to journey to the Great Southern Ocean to find the missing explorer La Perouse.

    Protecting her identity throughout, Marie-Louise forms friendships among the eccentric naturalists. But tensions rise between the royalist officers and the revolutionaries, and Marie-Louise’s position becomes precarious when she discovers someone on board knows the secrets of her past. When the expedition docks in Java, chaos erupts as they learn of King Louis XVI’s execution and are imprisoned by the Dutch. Marie-Louise seems certain to be unmasked. Will she ever return to France and be reunited with her child?

    Inspired by a true story, Into the World is a compelling novel of the amazing life of Marie-Louise Girardin battling perilous seas, her own self-doubt, and finding unforeseen loves on a journey to reclaim her child.

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Marie-Louse Giradin lives in a time of turmoil, where revolutionaries – the Jacobins – and royalists, the supporters of Louis XIV and his Austrian queen, Marie-Antoinette, are at loggerheads as the Jacobins petition for the removal of the King, and a new, more egalitarian government. In 1791, Marie-Louise finds herself alone, and a single mother, she fled during the early days of the revolution, and found herself aboard a ship, disguised as a young man named Louis. The Recherche and the rest of their fleet are charged with finding out what happened to explorer La Pérouse. As they follow his path in the Great Southern Ocean, exploring the Cape of Good Hope, various Pacific Islands, New Holland and Van Diemen’s land, Marie-Louise must find a way to hide her true identity. Only a few senior officers know, the captain, Kermadoc and a few others, and she is at the mercy of their protection during the perilous journey that has separated her from her son. Far from home, and unaware of the dangers of the revolution, Marie-Louise is fighting her own battle – abandoning her son, and where she fits in the world. As a man, she is still mocked in some ways, and finds herself caught between the royalists and the revolutionaries aboard the ship as they navigate the Southern Hemisphere and what was at the time, in the 1790s, the unknown and exotic. Told through Marie-Louise’s eyes in third person, the reader can experience her horror at the way islander tribes and Aboriginal people are treated, and the awe that she has when coming into contact with these people who appear to be wary, but at times happy and helpful – for a woman in the 1790s to have these experiences would have been extraordinary and her reactions reflect how she coped with the unknown, whilst reflecting the attitudes of the time, and coupling them with the horrified reactions and emotional outpour from Marie-Louise.

As they journey home after their experiences in Van Diemen’s Land and New Holland, unsuccessful at finding La Pérouse, they are taken hostage in the Dutch East Indies, where they hear what has happened back home during the revolution and the end to the monarchical system. But to Marie-Louise, the fear of being unmasked and unable to return home to her son looms overhead.

aww2017-badgeIt is always refreshing to read a novel where the central female character isn’t driven by romantic love, but rather, the love for son and country, and where she heads off into the unknown because of this love. It is as much about the journey and subsequent history as it is about Marie-Louise herself, and what she went through and endured to return to France in 1793-4. A quick Google search spat back some resources from various state libraries, the national library and the Australian Dictionary of Biography, in total, 245,000 results, with the most relevant appearing to be at the top. Stephanie Parkyn’s book takes a look at Marie’s journey and what she went through, in an eloquent and interesting way, perhaps hinting at romance between another crew member and Marie-Louise, but not explicitly stating it. In doing so, Parkyn has recreated a historical figure, who, had she submitted to society’s expectations as her father demanded, might never have set foot in Australia and we might never have known her story. Stephanie’s story has provided readers with a strong, determined character who flouts convention and manages on her own, a refreshing characteristic in historical fiction, and a trend I have been observing. Allowing the characters like Marie-Louise to be strong in many ways but at the same time of their time is a feat that when done well, results in an engaging and intriguing story that sparks interest in these characters beyond the pages of the book they appear in.

I thoroughly enjoyed this book, which has sparked an interest in the French Revolution and finding more about Marie-Louise Giradin and her fate at the end of the expedition. Each character is a real person, giving the story a colour that ensures the history as it is retold feels as real as it would when reading about it in a history book, with a little more colour to it that is engaging and enjoyable. I found this book hard to put down, and it is one that will show what women were capable of and achieved in a time when the people around them expected less of these women.

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