All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Maralinga – Judy Nunn

on October 21, 2012

Judy Nunn
Arrow (Random House AU)
2011 (originally 2009), 569p
Read from my TBR shelves

It is 1954 and Elizabeth Hoffman, a smart woman in her early 20s is looking to break into the cutthroat and men-only world of feature reporting and investigative journalism. She’s been given a job by a paper who doesn’t care if she’s male or female and she is using it to get a better foothold before submitting her resume to the large London papers. While covering a military event in Aldershot, the ‘home of the British Army’ she meets Lieutenant Daniel Gardiner.

For Gardiner, it is love at first sight and despite the fact that he’s two years younger than Elizabeth he knows that she is the woman he wants to marry and spend the rest of his life with. Elizabeth is slower to come to the party, focused on her career and not willing to be one of those women that marries and goes off and has babies and never goes back to work. She resists her feelings for Daniel, working on getting the job in London she so desperately desires. Feelings don’t go away though and after some time, the two of them come to an understanding.

Then they get word that Daniel is to be posted to the desert in South Australia on a promise of a rapid promotion. No one really knows much about what the posting is for, although there are rumours – the British military are going to undertake nuclear testing. It’s the height of the Cold War and although allies, Britain and the United States are still in their own race to develop and test nuclear weapons. And what better place to test something dangerous than in the middle of no where. Gardiner meets bushman Petraeus Mitchell at Maralinga, the liason for the Aboriginal communities. Mitchell, fond of a drink, is a tough bugger but the atrocities he has seen spill out of him one night, leaving young Daniel horrified. The local nomadic Aboriginal community, who move through the area to a waterhole that is the backbone of their land, were supposed to be rounded up and removed from the area. But it seems as though they didn’t manage to find all of them.

When Elizabeth receives devastating news in London, it arouses her journalistic instinct. She’s sure she’s being lied to by the British military but what she doesn’t realise is just how far up the chain this lie goes. She’s prepared to go halfway around the world to discover the truth behind just what is going on at Maralinga….

Recently I decided to make a conscious effort to balance out my reading a little more and stop ignoring the books sitting on my TBR shelf that had been there some time. I had a bit of fun deciding to choose a title that had been there for about a year and ended up picking up Maralinga. I went to an event last year with the author, Australian TV and stage actress Judy Nunn (you can read about that here) and she was such an amazing speaker, so passionate and enthusiastic that I ended up buying myself a huge pile of her books, 4 of which I got signed by her. She wrote something different in each one, relating to the book itself and the dedication in this one is that it will contain a few shocks.

I have to admit, I had no idea about Maralinga until listening to Nunn talk and it seems that I’m not alone. There are plenty of Australian’s who know relatively little about it, as many facts were kept from the Australian public until after the McClelland Royal Commission exposed many facts about what had occurred there in 1984-5. I was born in 1982 and this was not something I was ever taught about in school.

Maralinga is a work of fiction, but it weaves in real events with thorough research. It was hard not be drawn in, this was a fascinating story, basically an entire population of a country oblivious while another country’s army exploded nuclear bombs in their backyard. Nunn plays up on the rumours that local Aboriginals were poisoned by the tests, including some really disturbing snippets from the point of view of various local nomadic Aboriginal families. While it’s never been proved that things like this did happen, it’s never been totally proved that they didn’t either.

Maralinga isn’t just a story about the nuclear testing, it’s also a love story but that part wasn’t the novel’s greatest strength. I liked Daniel and I liked Elizabeth but them together didn’t really work for me and I can’t quite put my finger on why. I think it was mostly the effort they went to in order to remain friends when Elizabeth was still shunning relationships that when they actually did step it up to the next level, it still felt like they were just friends to me. I never really got the urgency of her feelings until she decided to give up everything and go to Australia and search out the truth of what was really going on a Maralinga. Then I got it.

Meticulously researched and also wonderfully written, this is a really fascinating blend of the truth and embellishment. I actually read this book in a day, and it’s a pretty hefty size but I found it an easy page-turner and it kept me invested the whole way. There were some twists and turns that I didn’t see coming. It showcases the beauty of our desert wonderfully and also gives us a really progressive, ahead-of-her-time protagonist, someone to admire for her principles and just how far she will go to know the truth.

Very enjoyable – I’m looking forward to reading my other Judy Nunn books!


Book #209 of 2012

Maralinga is the 69th novel read and reviewed for the Australian Women Writers Challenge, 2012.

4 responses to “Maralinga – Judy Nunn

  1. brendat59 says:

    Great review…I enjoyed this one too:)

  2. Great review Bree! I’m yet to read any of Nunn’s titles though i see her books about all the time. I haven’t heard about the history of Maralinga either and Judy’s exploration of this sounds really fascinating.

  3. Marg says:

    Yay! You read one and liked it! I need to read her still too.

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