I reviewed this book on the ABC radio program ‘Overnights’ in May 2016, contact me if you’d like to hear the full review (:
This is a story set in colonial Sydney from the 1840s and 50s and tells the story of Mary Ann Gill who was a first generation native born Australian and the daughter of ex Irish convicts turned entrepreneurs who own what becomes the most successful hotel in Sydney of the time. Mary Ann, at 15 sneaks out at night attempts to elope with James Kinchela, who’s this headstrong son of the former NSW Attorney-General, gets caught and this becomes a very famous abduction case in Australian history.
I had the opportunity of interviewing Kiera Lindsey about her writing process and the research that went into this book. Research began in 2007. Lindsey was inspired to write Mary Ann’s story based on a newspaper clipping Lindsey found in the library. Mary Ann is also the great, great, great aunt of the author.
This is first and foremost a story about a romance, you hope that James keeps his promise to marry Mary Ann but through the story you get this incredible insight into this time period which was a time where the stakes were high for people and Sydney was on the cusp of social and political change
Since Lindsey wanted to story to be a fast-paced as the period itself she wanted to leave enough for imagination. So that in situations in her research were the clues and trails stop and you have to make assumptions and keep the story going. Though these creative liberties were not done without using her research to accurately depict what would have been
It was a unique period in history were people were incredibly ambitious were people (particularly ex-convicts) were determined to become respectable so that they could have a greater say in their future. That they won’t simply be dismissed as colonists but claim their rights as any other British citizen
Though because of this ambitious time and the stakes were high people could be incredibly ruthless and were willing to destroy other in process. Therefore though it’s exciting, you feel the horrid reality that people faced
A great element in this book is seeing the role of women in this period. Mary Ann and her mother Margaret play a key role in the story as agitators in the story. By the end of the Mary Ann not only gets to decide her own fate but gets to travel and Margaret becomes a successful businesswomen. What we find is that women played a role in deciding the fates of their families, which in turn builds on the society that is changing at the time.
What was interesting was that women like Mary Ann, who had ambition for themselves, women refusing to conform and worked in their own interest was very much desired by men in this period- women who knew the lay of the land were in higher demand than European new settlers.