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New Zealand, Scotland
Although not divided as such, this is a book of three parts. In the beginning we meet James Bantrie, a Scottish minister who is unwilling to meet the changes imposed by the Scottish church – the 'Disruption' of the title. He secures an appointment as minister on a fairly remote Scottish island where nearly all of the few inhabitants are employed in the slate mines. Almost at once he is beset by doubts and guilt that he has taken his family away from a degree of luxury. He and his wife, Judith, befriend a widow, Jessie Dundas, a woman shunned by the islanders, Though she is respectable, she does have a past. We also meet Alexander Beaton, a doctor whose hopes of inheriting his father's practice are dashed when his elder brother returns and is given the honour. Separately, they decide to take up an offer for Scots to settle in New Zealand, Jessie travelling with the Bantrie family. Another good reason for the title.
The second part is the voyage in which a few more characters are introduced and finally we follow their varying fortunes on arrival in their new home, their adjustment to the new conditions and interaction with the native Maoris.
Throughout these three important phases, Ms Withall never flags and holds the reader’s interest at all times. She is not afraid to portray her protagonists as nothing less than normal human beings, none of them infallible, all doing and saying things in common with their personalities and situations as the author develops their characters. Nor is she afraid to kill off a character or two on the way.
This a large book of nearly 500 pages, yet I found it difficult to put down and completed a full reading in just a couple of days.
The author has been very badly let down by her editors/publisher. There are a number of typos, spelling mistakes and punctuation errors. 'Born' for 'borne' on two occasions, for example. The character of Tobias Leny changes a couple of times to 'Levy' and that of Eleanor Parker switched from 'Nellie' to 'Ellie' and back again. Although pounds shillings and pence are used regularly, there is one instance of 'thirty shillings and thirty pence' – surely '2s and 6d' to be consistent? These, I feel are not the fault of the writer, but of an editor/proof reader and should have been picked up well before the printing stage. For me they mar an extremely interesting and well-written book. I wholeheartedly suggest a re-edit and reprint - this would have rated a 5* Discovered Diamond without the mistakes.
I don't know whether the author has plans for a sequel, but there is plenty of scope for one as the remaining characters – and the children of course – have plenty of mileage left within them.
All in all, then, a thoroughly enjoyable story, despite the bloopers. It is well-written and the author displays a remarkable knowledge of mining and 'primitive' medical issues. I was also impressed by the diverse characters and their progress.
© Richard Tearle
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