19th Century / 1890s
"Auckland at the turn of the century. A city on the cusp of change. Isobel, a settler of ten years, waits for her sister to cross the ocean to join her. Separated by distance, disappointments and secrets, the women reunite in a land where the rules of home do not apply. Women push for the vote and the land offers opportunity and a future for those brave enough to take it. But some secrets run too deep, some changes too shocking to embrace. Against this backdrop of uncertainty and promise, Isobel and Esther have to determine what – and who – means most"
It was, perhaps, particularly poignant that I was reading this novel at the time of the awful murder of fifty Muslims while they were at prayer in Christchurch, New Zealand.
The story is of two sisters, Isobel and Esther, their lives and their problems, the first of which is Isobel - Bella - who emigrated to New Zealand with her husband, Brendan. Ten years later, Esther, is to join her, only to discover that things are not as her sister has implied in her letters home. The elegant townhouse, for a start, is nothing but a tumbledown shack set between a carpenter shop and the slaughterhouse. Worse than the wallpaper made from newspaper stuck on the wall and furniture made from packing crates, is that Bella's previously apparent dashing husband is nothing but abusive and a drunk. But that is the way it is for the many who struggle to survive in this new land. They gather at the waterpump each day to gossip, to share experiences and to look to the future.
Esther also has her problems. Under the illusion that her sister would be able to aid her financially, she soon discovers that this is not so. Between them are jealousies, skeletons in the cupboards and matters to come to terms with - none of which I will mention because of spoilers.
I found this an absorbing read, both from the perspective of the two sisters whose secrets, hopes, dreams and the dawning of the reality of life is superbly explored, and the background tale of the struggle for women's suffrage - the Vote is wonderfully explored and portrayed. I think we, here in England, tend to forget that the Suffragette movement was not confined to our shores alone, but other countries around the wold as well.
Skilfully written, a superb read.
© Anne Holt
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