Veronica O’Shay is 17 and supposed to be learning how to behave in a way that is fitting for a young lady. Instead she’d rather be tearing around in a horse and cart having adventures. She harbours a secret passion for Jack Murphy, the friend of her older brothers but despairs of his connection to the stunningly beautiful Rose Dwyer, the daughter of friends of her family.
As the world teeters on the brink of war, the three families are caught up as Veronica’s brothers and Jack enlist when Britain enters the conflict. They’re sent to Gallipoli, the disastrous attempt at taking the Ottoman Empire and Veronica, unable to sit idly by at home in Australia while her boys are fighting decides to enlist as a nurse so that she might be of use and be closer to her beloved Jack, even though she has promised herself to another.
Gallipoli Street is a sweeping family saga encompassing several generations of three intertwined and closeknit families throughout the Great War, the traumatic aftermath, the Great Depression and into the conflict of World War II.
It’s kind of fitting that I’m posting a review of this novel today, given that tomorrow is the 100th anniversary of the ANZAC landing at Gallipoli. It was mostly an accident that I came to be reading it in time for the day, which has become the most important recognition of our veterans, to be honest. It’d been on my TBR for some time so perhaps these things just have a way of working out!
The story starts in 1913 with Veronica, on the cusp of womanhood and being pulled in several different directions. Her mother wants her to act in a certain way, Veronica would rather be more like her tomboyish friend (and Jack’s sister) Pattie. She has a deep love for Jack but is mostly forced to stand idly by and watch as Jack courts the pretty but very conniving Rose Dwyer. Things are made difficult by the fact that the Murphys, O’Shays and Dwyers are all friends, usually throwing them into close proximity with each other which leads to tension between Rose and the other girls. Rose is one of those girls who isn’t really interested in being friends with other women – she sees them as little more than competition. Men have the power and women acquire it by the men they connect themselves to. Rose makes several choices during this book, most of which render her utterly unpalatable presumably to smooth the way for Jack and Veronica’s true love and that meant that I ended up feeling little pity for her. I was sorry about several things that happened to her, but she still seemed to make choices that hurt other people. I suppose things are different in the war and you grasp what you can but it still made it difficult to connect with Rose or feel much for her.
Veronica and Jack are a lovely story, the friends-to-lovers against a backdrop of misery in WWI. I think if I were born in that time, I’d have been a bit like Veronica – I’m not much of a lady! I don’t like dresses and the idea of racing a pony and cart sounds like fun. I liked the carefreeness of their lives pre-war – the families all seem quite wealthy and spend a good deal of time socialising- and the way in which it changed during and after,which is showcased quite well. I admire Veronica for signing up, although I did feel as though her motives were a bit thin, to be honest. The depiction of places like Cairo etc during the war was interesting and contrasted with the vision of Australia and their lives back home. I also really appreciated the difficulties that several of the characters experienced post-war. Despite the fact there’s a strong thread of romance running through this book, not everything is rosy and a lot of the characters experience pain, difficulty and heartbreak after finding their match. Post-traumatic stress disorder is explored in a fledgling form, as back in the 1920’s it wouldn’t have even had a name or a treatment.
There is one thing that did sour me on this story a bit and that’s the behaviour of a character towards the end, when the story moves to the next generation of the families. I know it’s a different time and there were different views of women and behaviour but the words used are very harsh and really would’ve been quite damaging and quite possibly even unforgivable. You’re supposed to be able to trust in the person you’ve chosen to support you, to listen and believe in you and if they react in ways that are abusive, unsupportive and basically quite nasty, it would be difficult to put that aside, I think. Everyone seems to push for this person to be forgiven, but even his attitude in asking for forgiveness was somewhat abrasive – “I’ve apologised, what more do I have to do?” Yes, no one is perfect, but there’s a big difference between being flawed and needing time to process and lashing out with immature name calling.
Apart from that, I really enjoyed this beautiful, sweeping story that takes place during a time of such heartbreak and turmoil. Each of the characters experience such ups and downs but still manage to maintain that closeness of their childhoods, the relationships that have made them stronger. It showcases that classic Australian mateship and this was a perfect time of year to become absorbed in it.
Book #81 of 2015
Gallipoli Street is book #32 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2015