26 September 2023

Orphan Rock

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Reviewed by Rama Gaind.

By Dominique Wilson, Transit Lounge, $32.99.

Orphan Rock is not a chirpy novel, partly because it credibly portrays many of the difficulties people have experienced over the years.

It spans the period from when Australia still had bushrangers like Ben Hall to the early part of World War II.

Dominique Wilson weaves the major events of the times, like the smallpox outbreak of 1913, into the life stories of her characters. At times, to explain those events, Wilson resorts to a more well-informed exposition.

The earlier period is seen from the point of view of Bessie, who spends her early days in an orphanage. The story unfolds to focus on Bessie’s daughter Kathleen. While most of the action takes place in Australia, glimpses of what is happening in France are provided through Bessie’s European acquaintances and Kathleen’s visit to Paris.

Orphan Rock is a complex and richly detailed story of secrets and heartbreak that will take you from the back streets of Sydney’s slums to the wide avenues of the City of Lights.

The impressive novel: gives an insight into the effect of the white Australia policy, a stark reminder of the tragedy of war, there’s a passing reference to the Stolen Generation and the suffragette movement that began to influence the thinking and activities of many women who were not directly involved.

There is much to commend this novel: it’s both a splendid elicitation of early Sydney, and a powerful story about how women and minorities fought against being silenced.

What details are outlined in Orphan Rock? If you answer correctly, you could be one of two winners. Entries should be sent to [email protected] by Monday, 19 September 2022. Names of the winners will be announced in Frank Cassidy’s PS-sssst…! column on 20 September 2022.

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