The Passengers by Eleanor Limprecht – Book Review

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Eleanor Limprecht’s latest novel is a delight, with compelling characters that kept me sitting up way past lights out.

In The Passengers, Hannah and her grandmother Sarah are travelling, on a cruise ship, from San Diego to Sydney. Sarah left Australia at the end of WW2, as a young Australian war bride married to a US serviceman she barely knew, and has never been back since. As their ship moves across the ocean Sarah tells Hannah, a young woman struggling with her own past, how it was that in 1945 she came to be on the USS Mariposa, travelling in the reverse direction.

Limprecht ably  conveys a sense of time and place, describing Sarah’s early farming life and her family’s subsequent move to inner Sydney with nuance and depth. Sarah’s journey, across the sea and then across the US to her new family, is subtly mirrored by Hannah’s inner journey. Both women, in very different ways, struggle to determine whether the decisions they have made are about moving forward, or running away.

The story moves deftly between the past and the present, between Sarah’s story and Hannah’s, between the land and the sea. Sarah and Hannah are drawn with a sympathetic eye, but their flaws and mistakes are used to good effect, lifting the novel up and beyond the usual tropes of commercial fiction. This is Limprecht’s third novel and her experience shows. Thoroughly researched, The Passengers wears its erudition lightly, and the story never suffers from a surfeit of period detail. Instead, Limprecht’s readable and evocative prose propels the reader forward while at the same time effortlessly conveying multiple layers of meaning.

Nor is it a coincidence that Limprecht writes so well about the cultural difficulties of moving from one nation to another. The conflation of a writer’s life story with their fictional stories is a practice I usually condemn. Which part of ‘fiction’ don’t people understand? But in this case Limprecht’s personal experience – she is an American who is now an Australian citizen – has clearly informed her understanding of the hopes, difficulties and challenges inherent in such a move.

If this were a book about an Australian man in similar circumstances, perhaps a war veteran who marries a woman he met while serving overseas, there is every chance it would be hailed as an Important Novel. Richard Flanagan’s The Narrow Road to the the Deep North, for example, was a good but not perfect novel about war and love, and he was lionised for it. But because this is a book about women, and written by a woman, I fear it will be overlooked or relegated to ‘chic lit’ status. Don’t make that mistake. The Passengers is an excellent novel that deserves a wide readership.

 

My review of Limprecht’s second novel, Long Bay.

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Beautiful, beautiful blurbs

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So the blurbs for my book have arrived.

I can’t begin to explain how pleased, grateful and – well – humbled I’m feeling. So I’ll stop explaining, and let you read them for yourself.

‘The triumphs and trials of Elizabeth Macarthur, a capable business woman and dedicated wife and mother, are given their due in this impressively researched biography.’ Brenda Niall

‘Finally, Elizabeth Macarthur steps out from the long shadow of her infamous, entrepreneurial husband.  In Michelle Scott Tucker’s devoted hands, Elizabeth emerges as a canny businesswoman, charming diplomat, loving mother and indefatigable survivor.  A fascinating, faithful portrait of a remarkable woman and the young, volatile colony she helped to build.’ Clare Wright

‘An intimate portrait of a woman who changed herself and Australia…Michelle Scott Tucker makes Elizabeth Macarthur step off the page.’ David Hunt, Author of GIRT

Hard to believe that three years ago I blogged about Clare Wright’s online conversation with the participants of the HardCopy professional development program. And now here she is, generously blurbing my book. And Brenda Niall! And David Hunt!

Wow, just wow.

Let me tell you, this book writing thing is a hell of a ride.

 

Elizabeth Macarthur’s Grave

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I took the opportunity, late last year, to visit Elizabeth Macarthur’s grave.

The Macarthur family graveyard is on a quiet hill, about a mile away from and opposite the family home at Camden Park House (about 70kms south west of the Sydney CBD). Elizabeth’s son William, passionate about botany, planted the site with exotic palms, which no doubt quickly grew tall enough to be seen from the house, but most of the site is now sheltered by native trees.

In all my years of researching, I never did find a picture of John or Elizabeth’s gravesites, or any information about them. So, for any researchers in future, here is what little I know.

Elizabeth’s husband John was the first to buried in the family plot, then her adult daughter Elizabeth, then Elizabeth herself. Now the site is a memorial to many generations of Macarthurs, included those who died and were buried elsewhere. The site itself was sold to the NSW Government in 1984, and is now (I believe) administered as part of the historic Belgenny Farm complex, with the proviso that the family will always have access.

Elizabeth’s grave is, actually, a family tomb. There’s no telling Read the rest of this entry

Guest Post and Holidays

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Worked like a demon to get the first big edit of the manuscript finished before the end of 2017 – and made it with, at least 48 hours to spare!

Then my family and I went to the beach for a week. No wifi. Bliss.

Then (thanks to my hard working editor) came back to find the first nine chapters of the manuscript ready to copy edit. So that’s what I’ve been doing, instead of blogging. But if you would like to read a little something, try this Guest Post I wrote for Bill over at the The Australian Legend.

Most of you already know Bill – not least because he is a prolific commenter here at Adventures in Biography – but for those who might like an introduction, he’s a blogger who is also a long distance truck driver with an MA in Australian Literature and an interest in Australian women writers.

Over the next weeks, Bill is presenting a series on Australian women writers.

My post starts at the beginning, and is called: Australia’s First Women Writers – a piecemeal and imperfect overview enlivened by a giveaway at the end.

 

SMH – What to read in 2018

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Wow! Got a mention beside the big kids in today’s Sydney Morning Herald.

Jane Sullivan has an article called ‘What to read in 2018: a selection of the big books on the shelves next year.’ And if you scroll right down (keep going, yep keep going), you might find a mention of me. Huzzah!

From Sullivan’s list I’m also keen to read:

  • Eleanor Limprecht (The Passengers, Allen & Unwin, March) – because I’ve enjoyed her earlier novels.
  • Ruby Murray (The Biographer’s Lover, Black Inc., April) – because with a title like that, why wouldn’t I?
  • Melissa Lucashenko (Too Much Lip, UQP, August) – because her earlier novel Mullumbimby is one of my all time favourites.
  • Historian Peter Cochrane’s first novel, The Making of Martin Sparrow (Viking, May), is described as “Deadwood on the Hawkesbury” – which sounds fantastic too me.
  • Robbie Arnott’s Flames (Text, May) – because when I met Robbie last month he seemed really nice.
  • Anne Summers’ memoir is Becoming (Allen & Unwin, second half of the year) – because anything Summers writes is usually worth reading.

Happy new year, everyone.

 

Finding images for the book

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‘Clovelly’, Watsons Bay, NSW (circa 1900). Source: SLNSW

When you pick up a biography, do you first turn to those glossy pages in the middle? The pages with the pictures, the paintings, the maps. The pages that somehow tell you what it is you’re going to be reading about. The pages that the author – a person by definition good with words, rather than images – has sweated blood over.

Reader, I know of what I speak!

When I signed the contract with Text Publishing, my agent carefully pointed out the clause that says I’m responsible for “all illustrative material” and “shall bear all costs relating to supply of such illustrative material”. Yep. Sure. No worries.

In the writing lull which occurred after I submitted the draft manuscript to my editor, I started compiling a list of all the images I wanted to include. Then I went away to find them, on the interwebs.

Some of them were easy to find (thanks, Google).  Some were happy surprises, like this photo of Clovelly, the Macarthur holiday house at Watsons Bay, where Elizabeth Macarthur died. Some of them were much harder to find (and I could only find them in hard copy books). Some of them didn’t exist – for example, Elizabeth Macarthur’s youngest daughter, Emmeline, does not seem to have a picture anywhere, despite being married to a premier of NSW (Henry Parker).

Eventually, long weeks later, I happily sent off my list (my very long list) to the editor.

You, being a person of intelligence and discernment, can probably guess what happened next.  Read the rest of this entry