Out Of The Silence
2013 (originally2005), eBook
Copy courtesy of the publisher
Maggie Heffernan is a country girl, raised by a strict and never satisfied mother on a farm in country Victoria at the turn of the last century. She’s a hard worker and has often escaped the farm to go and work for family members, looking after them while they’re in the last stages of pregnancy or doing housework. She meets a young man named Jack and is immediately drawn in by his handsome features and easy going manner. With her sister as her accomplice, it isn’t long before Maggie is sneaking out to meet Jack every weekend. He promises her love, undying devotion and the eventuality of marriage. When Jack moves on for work, Maggie finds herself a position where she can be near him. Although she attempts to remain strong until they are married, Maggie does eventually succumb to Jack’s charms (and sulks) and it isn’t long before she finds herself pregnant with his child. And instead of announcing a wedding like she thought, Jack seems to have disappeared off the face of the earth.
Elizabeth Hamilton lost the love of her life some time ago. She has left her brother on the other side of the world and traveled to Australia in order to become a governess. However, her first position doesn’t work out exactly as she planned – it’s in a very remote location and although the three children are well behaved, Elizabeth soon finds herself heading back to Melbourne where she lodges with her cousin and attempts to secure teaching work at one of the nearby schools. Through her new life she meets Vida Goldstein, a suffragist who is campaigning heavily for equality and rights for women. Vida is passionate and full of life and Elizabeth dallies on the fringe of this group, listening to their talk.
When Maggie’s hard life becomes unbearably harder and the most terrible of things happens, her world collides with that of Elizabeth and Vida, both of whom show her kindness, sympathy and are interested in helping her to negotiate the perils of a judicial system. Elizabeth and in particular Vida prove that in a society still prejudiced against women, that the most powerful show of persistence and persuasion can help unleash all manner of possibilities.
I was first introduced to Wendy James last year, when I read her most recent novel, The Mistake. It had a huge affect on me and the last line still sticks in my mind to this day so I was always intending to go back and read some of her earlier work. Momentum Books are republishing two of these titles, Out Of The Silence and The Steele Diaries in eBook form and I was keen to read both of them. I chose this one first because in a recent interview I did with Wendy’s sister Rebecca, also an author, she chose this as one of her favourite books.
It’s set around the turn of the 20th century and revolves around three women, although the narrative heavily focuses on only two – Maggie and Elizabeth. Maggie is a simple country girl who just wants to marry the boy she loves, Jack and escape the rather tyrannical presence of her perennially unsatisfied mother. Elizabeth is still mourning the love she lost and through letters to her brother, on the other side of the world, she details her new life in Melbourne and how she comes to cross paths with Maggie.
Maggie’s plight is probably not an uncommon one to begin with – she falls in love with a boy that she thinks loves her back. She tries to hold out against giving up something precious but eventually is talked into it and then not long after that, she is promptly abandoned as Jack moves on to greener, richer pastures. Alone, searching for Jack who she doesn’t think capable of leaving her, Maggie doesn’t discover that she is pregnant until she is quite significantly far along. She mostly manages to conceal her pregnancy from her employers until baby Jacky is about to be born. After his birth, accommodations are secured for her but once again believing that Jack is nearby and coming for her, she leaves these in order to pursue him. And it’s after that where Maggie’s situation really becomes dire. It is hard to articulate my feelings for Maggie – she was so blinded by her love for Jack that she couldn’t allow herself to choose anything else but to be with him. These unfortunate choices that she made led to her downfall. A young girl, alone, too frightened of going home for the reception she’d receive, no money, no where to go, heartbroken by rejection and a baby that wouldn’t settle. It’s a disastrous equation and the result is horrific and yet strangely unsurprising. It was almost like Maggie’s whole life moved her down a path to this one moment where she did a desperate thing.
Out Of The Silence is a fascinating blend of history and human nature resulting in a terrible crime. It’s done without censure, without judgement, with a gentleness that doesn’t justify Maggie’s actions but seeks to explain how she may have been so far pushed to end up at this point. How as a young, single woman, her options were so few and that for her, what she did was the only solution to her problem. Her story is written with such sensitivity. Although Elizabeth and Vida respond to her story in different ways and for different reasons, they champion Maggie for the fact that she was pushed to such a limit by the ways in which society constrained her. It’s the struggle to have a voice and a choice.
Wendy James continues to deliver thoughtful reads that make me want to examine every line and I’m looking forward to getting to The Steele Diaries soon.
Book #118 of 2013