All The Books I Can Read

1 girl….2 many books!

Blog Tour Review: We That Are Left by Lisa Bigelow

on September 7, 2017

We That Are Left
Lisa Bigelow
Allen & Unwin
2017, 400p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

A moving debut novel about love and war, and the terrifyingly thin line between happiness and tragedy, hope and despair.

Melbourne, 1941. Headstrong young Mae meets and falls head over heels in love with Harry Parker, a dashing naval engineer. After a whirlwind courtship they marry and Mae is heavily pregnant when she hears that Harry has just received his dream posting to HMAS Sydney. Just after Mae becomes a mother, she learns Harry’s ship is missing.

Meanwhile, Grace Fowler is battling prejudice to become a reporter on the afternoon daily newspaper, The Tribune, while waiting for word on whether her journalist boyfriend Phil Taylor, captured during the fall of Singapore, is still alive.

Surrounded by their friends and families, Mae and Grace struggle to keep hope alive in the face of hardship and despair. Then Mae’s neighbour and Grace’s boss Sam Barton tells Mae about a rumour that the Japanese have towed the damaged ship to Singapore and taken the crew prisoner. Mae’s life is changed forever as she focuses her efforts on willing her husband home.

Set in inner Melbourne and rural Victoria, We That Are Left is a moving and haunting novel about love and war, the terrifyingly thin line between happiness and tragedy, and how servicemen and women are not the only lives lost when tragedy strikes during war.

I really enjoy historical fiction and have been particularly interested lately in fiction set around both WWI and WWII. It’s really nice to get an Australian perspective and this, Lisa Bigelow’s first novel uses her family experience and the loss of her grandfather aboard the HMAS Sydney to showcase the strength of the women left behind.

Mae is a young bride about to give birth living in the inner west of Melbourne. I found that the setting was a really fun part of the book for me because I live in the west (a bit further out than the featured Yarraville/Williamstown areas) but I loved getting a glimpse of what it would’ve been like in this area all those years ago. It was great to see such familiar places featured. When Mae gets word of the rumour that the HMAS Sydney has gone down with all on board, she immediately slips into a state of denial. She’s sure that Harry, if anyone, could survive such a thing and the fact that there’s talk the wrecked sub was towed to Asia with some survivors just feeds her belief that Harry will come home one day. She struggles to cope on her own, relying on the family that raised her, an aunt and her two uncles, all getting on a little bit in age now. They are close knit though and Mae also has a strong friendship bond with her neighbour, wife of a newspaper editor and mother to two young children.

Grace has moved from the country to Melbourne to work as an assistant to Sam Barton, editor of the afternoon paper The Tribune but what she really wants is to be a journalist. Her father ran a country Victorian paper and it’s been a part of her whole life. Grace composes headlines about her daily life in her head constantly as she negotiates the politics of her new workplace and  deals with handsome reporter Phil Taylor who is just becoming something more when he heads overseas to cover the war up close and personal. He is taken hostage during the fall of Singapore and word is slow. He’s been horrifically injured and Grace isn’t sure at times, if he’s even still alive or will ever return to her. And if he does, what will she face? Will he be a broken, shell of a man like her father, still damaged from his time in WWI?

It’s hard to believe, living in the age that I do, that there was a time when you had to wait weeks for word or information from another part of the world about something so serious as a submarine sinking or a hostage situation. In this case, Sam Barton, the newspaper editor, and presumably most of the reporters are aware of strong and probably credible rumours surrounding the loss of the HMAS Sydney but they don’t have permission to print the story just yet. And Mae is his neighbour, so that must’ve been quite an awkward situation for him as well as a stressful one for Mae, with these rumours circulating but no government word or confrontation. It’s an horrific state of limbo to be in. The lack of accurate information also leads to more swirling rumours that give Mae and probably others the hope that their loved ones could have possibly survived this. For Mae that leads to a real deluded state, where she absolutely refuses to believe that Harry could have died and that he is alive somewhere and will make his way back to her and their baby soon. Time rolls on though, with no credible information that anyone did survive and slowly others accept their loss and begin moving on with their lives. Mae isn’t able to do this though and she spends a large portion of the book assuring people and herself that Harry will be back one day. I found it quite sad because she’s a young woman with her whole life ahead of her, who should’ve been making the best of it and at times it was like she wasn’t living at all. Just merely existing and waiting for something that wasn’t ever going to happen.

Likewise, I found Grace’s situation very sad also. I felt like her story was very much unfinished at the close of the book and that a lot of the defining moments in her life might come later on. I admired her dedication and drive and the way in which she didn’t allow anything to stand in her way and that should’ve been celebrated by those that love her rather than viewed with suspicion and derision. If I had a criticism of Grace’s story it’d be that I just didn’t really buy the romance……the pacing was off too, it seemed to start off in one way, go no where for the longest time and then a few things happened and then Phil left to go overseas. I didn’t really get a chance to get to know Phil or experience any chemistry between the two of them at all and the skipping forward in time at the end of the book only further cemented that fact.

Despite the fact that it’s subject matter tended a bit towards the grim, I found We That Are Left to be a very enjoyable read, particularly for its showcasing of 1940s Melbourne and the surrounds. It’s a very promising debut and I’ll be keeping an eye out for Lisa Bigelow’s next book.

7/10

Book #150 of 2017

We That Are Left is book #45 of my participation in the Australian Women Writers Challenge for 2017

This review is part of the We That Are Left blog tour. Please make sure you check out the other spots on the tour, featured below.

We That Are Left is published by Allen & Unwin, out now. RRP $29.99

Visit Lisa Bigelow’s website 

Follow her on Facebook

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: