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Review: The True Story Of Maddie Bright by Mary-Rose MacColl

on May 10, 2019

The True Story Of Maddie Bright
Mary-Rose MacColl
Allen & Unwin
2019, 504p
Copy courtesy of the publisher

Blurb {from the publisher/Goodreads.com}:

In 1920, seventeen-year-old Maddie Bright is thrilled to take a job as a serving girl on the royal tour of Australia by Edward, Prince of Wales. She makes friends with Helen Burns, the prince’s vivacious press secretary, and Rupert Waters, his most loyal man, and is in awe of Edward himself, the boy prince.

For Maddie, who longs to be a journalist like Helen, what starts as a desire to help her family after the devastation of war becomes a chance to work on something that matters. When the unthinkable happens, it is swift and life changing.

Decades later, Maddie Bright is living in a ramshackle house in Paddington, Brisbane. She has Ed, her devoted neighbour, to talk to, the television news to shout at, and door-knocker religions to join. But when London journalist Victoria Byrd gets the sniff of a story that might lead to the true identity of a famously reclusive writer, Maddie’s version of her own story may change.

1920, 1981 and 1997: the strands twist across the seas and over two continents, to build a compelling story of love and fame, motherhood and friendship. Set at key moments in the lives of two of the most loved and hated figures of the twentieth century, in Maddie Bright, a reader will find a friend, and by novel’s close, that friend’s true and moving story.

I feel as though interest in the royal family is probably the highest it’s been in a while. Both the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge and the Duke and Duchess of Sussex have brought a younger, more relatable vibe and the marriages and babies seem to have renewed interest and favour. Wills and Kate, Harry and Meghan, people want to know what they’re doing, what they’re wearing, if they’re having another baby and annoyingly, if any of them hate each other or are fighting.

I was 15 when Diana died in 1997. I honestly wasn’t the biggest fan of her, but then again what I knew about her I knew from the media. The outpouring of grief when she died felt very foreign to me, she wasn’t someone I could relate to, she wasn’t someone that I knew personally or even felt like I knew and the hysteria just felt a bit…..wrong. It was certainly a tragedy she died young, and even more so that her boys were left without their mother. But I didn’t feel a deep and abiding grief at the time.

What I know about Edward, Prince of Wales in 1920 is that he regarded the Crown so little that he abdicated almost immediately to wed divorcee Wallis Simpson. And I’ve read one or two books about Wallis, fiction with a little bit of reality mixed in but focusing much more on Wallis’ story rather than that of the man himself. In this book, it is definitely pre-Wallis. Edward is still the Prince of Wales, touring Australia in a royal train. He’s exhausted from duty, fatigued from the constant grind but his father, the King, is a seemingly hard man with little sympathy and a strict adherence to rules, protocol and tradition. That is not to say that Edward is a sympathetic character at all.

Maddie is a young woman whose family has suffered when she interviews for a role of maid on the royal tour and somehow, due to some extraordinary circumstances, ends up answering the Prince’s correspondence. Many people write to him and he doesn’t have time to answer or even dictate responses so it’s up to Maddie, with her poet-father and knowledge of words, to imitate the response she feels the Prince would wish. It throws her into close proximity with him and she also becomes embroiled in the tangled love affair of Helen, a journalist who acts as a press secretary/speech writer and the only other woman Maddie interacts with on the train, and Rupert, the Prince’s right hand man who keeps him on schedule and ‘on brand’.

In 1997, English journalist Victoria Byrd is sent first to Paris to cover the death of Diana and then to Australia to track down the mysterious novelist M. Bright and see if there’s any truth to the claim that a sequel for the one novel M. Bright wrote to much acclaim, is forthcoming. Instead Victoria finds a surprise waiting for her and a connection she never thought she would have.

This is set in three different time periods – the train travel in 1920, Maddie in Brisbane in 1981 and Victoria in London, Paris and Australia in 1997. I enjoyed all three timelines but I feel as though 1920 and 1997 were primarily the focus and supported most of the story – 1981 wasn’t particularly necessary for me. In the 1920 part of the story, I really liked Maddie as a character and I felt a lot for her family. It’s just after WWI, a lot of families are still in shock, still grieving losses. This was a war that was supposed to be over in six months, was supposed to be a way for young men to see some of the world. Instead it dragged on for years and thousands of men were killed or injured. The country had changed in their absence and then had to kind of reset itself after the war finished and those that had survived returned home. PTSD was very much a thing but didn’t have a name and wasn’t particularly understood. Maddie needs to help her family and she is I think, somewhat overwhelmed by the glamour of being around someone such as the Prince and his entourage. I think the story highlights the direction well and it’s not exactly a surprising outcome but from what I’ve read about Edward as a person, it’s probably fitting with his character and position.

1997 and Victoria is in a bit of a difficult situation as well. This is outlined very subtly, with the reader putting together most of the pieces before it is really confirmed. I found this section to be probably my favourite – I was quite interested in her situation as well as the conflicted feelings she was having about being a journalist around the time of Diana’s death. After all it’s well known the car was fleeing the paparazzi and Diana was a figure who had long had a difficult relationship with the press, both using them to her advantage at times and at others, desperately seeking privacy. She seemed to be a person that inspired a lot of complex feelings in the public, particularly after her divorce from Charles and the embarking of new relationships. Victoria has to examine her own feelings about her job, especially when she finds herself on the receiving end of attention due to a high profile relationship. She is harassed and stalked as paps try to get that big dollar picture – mostly one of her looking incredibly awful, doing something inane but unflattering.

There were some good twists and turns in this, some excellent portrayals of love, friendship and the struggles of being a powerless woman in a world of men, post-war. I found Helen and Maddie’s friendship a very fascinating part of the novel. It was by all means not perfect at all, with its ups and downs but in a short amount of time the two of them forged something special. Likewise, I was also very interested in Helen and Rupert and part of my enthusiasm turning the pages in this was to discover the ending to their story.

A great read which reminds me again, that I must make an effort to explore Mary-Rose MacColl’s backlist because there’s plenty by her that I haven’t got to yet but the books I have, I’ve loved.

8/10

Book #67 of 2019

The True Story Of Maddie Bright is book #32 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2019


2 responses to “Review: The True Story Of Maddie Bright by Mary-Rose MacColl

  1. In Falling Snow was wonderful, I’d like to read this to see how it compares.

  2. […] The True Story Of Maddie Bright by Mary-Rose MacColl. My review. […]

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