It is 1788. Twenty-one-year-old Elizabeth is hungry for life but, as the ward of a Devon clergyman, knows she has few prospects. When proud, scarred soldier John Macarthur promises her the earth one midsummer’s night, she believes him.
But Elizabeth soon realises she has made a terrible mistake. Her new husband is reckless, tormented, driven by some dark rage at the world. He tells her he is to take up a position as Lieutenant in a New South Wales penal colony and she has no choice but to go. Sailing for six months to the far side of the globe with a child growing inside her, she arrives to find Sydney Town a brutal, dusty, hungry place of makeshift shelters, failing crops, scheming and rumours.
All her life she has learned to be obliging, to fold herself up small. Now, in the vast landscapes of an unknown continent, Elizabeth has to discover a strength she never imagined, and passions she could never express.
Inspired by the real life of a remarkable woman, this is an extraordinarily rich, beautifully wrought novel of resilience, courage and the mystery of human desire.
My reading experience:
Firstly I would like to thank the author, publisher and Netgalley for my free ARC.
This is a literary composition – pleasantly obscure and powerful in language of the era. I found our protagonist Elizabeth so amendable in her older and wiser years – a friend to all women. She was a feminist who was compelled to succumb to the restrictions and limitations of the eighteenth century and the values and beliefs of that era.
“It was new, undreamt of, that I had reduced a man to this inarticulate yearning. Almost begging. It filled me with a sense of how powerful I must be, after all. I felt myself to be as big as the night, free, a thing with no boundaries. The sky was infinite, the stars blazed like the exhilaration that filled me, their shifting pulses and shimmer a promise of time, space, eternity, all the things a woman never had. I was at last free to find my own size, and I was gigantic.”
Eventually in this life she is propelled to lead, she has to rise up out of her previous limitations and use every sinew of voyage and passion just to survive.
I thoroughly enjoyed this story of passion and discovery, and as it is inspired by a real woman, I found myself even more drawn into her thoughts and experiences.