All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

The Longing – Candice Bruce

on October 15, 2013

LongingThe Longing
Candice Bruce
Random House AU
2012, 368p
Read from the Maribyrnong Library Service

Assistant curator Cornelia is researching for an exhibition of famous colonial artist S.P. Hart’s work and part of that research involves going through his journals, diaries and sketchbooks as well as visiting private collectors who still own his paintings with view to loan or purchase them for the exhibition. She finds herself at the homestead of Strathcarron, having stumbled upon an interesting piece of information that could change everything about the exhibition. Strathcarron is a 30-room monstrosity, a light of better and more properous days. Inhabited now by Duncan MacRorie, his sister-in-law and his nephew, it is in need of much repair. They possess an original S.P. Hart and Cornelia discovers sketches and drawings from the time that Hart visited the homestead in the 1840s when the homestead was owned by its builder, Alexander MacRorie and his wife Ellis.

Ellis was sent from her home of Scotland to Australia to marry Alexander, who was about thirty years her senior. Her new life in the Western Districts of Victoria wasn’t easy for her and she found herself isolated on the 100,000 acre property, saved only by the arrival of her Aboriginal servant who sweeps in and takes over and helps get Ellis back to herself. Known as Louisa, her real name is Leerpeen Whelan and she is the sole survivor of a deliberate massacre of her people, surviving because she was down at the river bathing her sick baby. She fled along the riverbank and was eventually found by missionary people. Louisa is biding her time until she is ready to leave to go and find the daughter that the whites took from her, the one she fled with down the river. But for now she is an observer when artist S.P. Hart arrives at the homestead to sketch. He has been commissioned by Alexander to do several paintings of the property and from the moment she sees him, Ellis is transfixed.

For the lonely and often unappreciated Ellis, Hart is a breath of fresh air. He makes her feel alive again when she has felt lost and alone for so long, with only the company and guidance of Louisa to help her along and prevent her from doing something terrible. But Ellis is also naive and her foolish love for Hart can only lead to her downfall.

The Longing was my October book club’s selection and I have to admit, I’m surprised that I didn’t know anything about it (and hadn’t even heard of it) before it was handed out at the previous month’s meeting. Having taken part in the Australian Women Writers Challenge last year and this year and read an awful lot of reviews and heard a lot about releases, I thought this one would’ve popped up on my radar somehow. But it didn’t but I was glad it provided me with an opportunity to read something set in Australia in a time that’s not overly represented in my reading and also a book that deals with Aboriginal issues and also includes art. I figured it’d be win-win.

However, it wasn’t quite that simple. There were parts of this novel that I enjoyed – such as the glimpse into life in 1840’s Australia for Ellis and also for Louisa/Leerpeen but overall I felt a little dissatisfied when I finished it. It felt to me like there were the good bones for a story but that most of them were left bare without being fleshed out enough for me to really get right into it. I found the ‘romance’ between Ellis and S.P. Hart sort of baffling in many ways. I know that Ellis was lonely and that she was trapped in a loveless marriage to a man much older than her, she’d had numerous miscarriages and/or stillbirths and felt disconnected to the two children she had given birth to but I don’t really get what happened between her and Hart. In the way in which it was set up, it felt like it was going to be romantic but it seemed to turn really quickly and I couldn’t quite connect with that. The same thing happened in the modern day story with Cornelia, something else that only felt half finished, if even that. She ends up staying overnight at Strathcarron to investigate the painting and the drawings but everyone is so full of loathing and so rude and borderline leaping across the table and choking each other. Where does that go? Does the painting go into the exhibition? Is it sold? Does the house get renovated? What happens to Maggie and Hugo and Duncan? What became of Louisa/Leerpeen and Thookay? I felt like this book had so many unanswered things happening for me.

Our bookclub raised the issue of whether or not a white person is qualified to write about/talk about Aboriginal history and events and what has happened to them. It’s something that has come up before but I think (and this is just me) that if anyone is raising awareness for past history and dealing with it in a way that is realistic and genuine and respectful to what occurred during that time frame of massacres and rapes and horrific treatment then it is beneficial. I am aware though that it can be a really delicate topic and that others may feel much differently and I’m hardly qualified to comment myself really, given I’m not of Indigenous descent either. I found the story of Louisa/Leerpeen far more interesting than that of Ellis but I think that’s because I felt so much of Ellis’s story was untold or not told in enough detail. It did cement for me though that I would like to read more fiction set in this time.


Book #262 of 2013


The Longing is book #95 for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2013



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