Friday, 10 June 2016
Bookclub Discussion: A Greater World by Clare Flynn.
About Clare: Award-winning author, Clare Flynn is a former global marketing director. She now runs a successful strategic management company, although most of her time these days is spent writing her novels.
Amazon Description: “When Elizabeth Morton hears her father wants her to travel to the other side of the world to marry a complete stranger, she thinks he must have lost his mind. This is 1920 and a woman has rights - she might still be too young to vote, but she's not going to be treated like a chattel. But she's reckoned without the brother-in-law she's always despised, who brutally shatters her
comfortable world, so she has no choice but to sail to Australia.
When Michael Winterbourne, a Cumbrian lead miner wakes up with a hangover after his engagement celebrations, he has no idea he is about to be the cause of a terrible tragedy that will change his life and destroy his family. When Michael and Elizabeth meet on the SS Historic, bound for Sydney, they are reluctant emigrants from England. They may start to hope their troubles are over, but they'll find they're only just beginning.
A Greater World is set in the early 1920s, a period of transition between the old pre-World War One way of life and the post-War, with the coming economic Depression, major social change and the evolving role of women in society. It moves from the dales of Cumberland and the docks of Liverpool to Sydney and the beautiful Blue Mountains.”
Okay, ladies. Time for your feedback.
1. Parting thoughts at the end of the book?
(GEH) That I wanted to know more! I found the book quite a slow starter for me and it took quite a while for me to bond with the characters. But by the end, I had connected. Elizabeth and Michael had such a difficult and traumatic journey to get to that point, they more than deserved some happiness, but I couldn't help but think there had to be more twists along the way!
(CT) There was a sense of satisfaction that, after all the twists and set backs, the characters had found their resolution.
(JJ ) Yes, satisfying and sad in some ways, as some characters I loved didn't make it all the way.
(LP) I sympathised with the main characters immediately, so found the ending satisfactory.
2. Location is a big part of our Triskele brand, and this book certainly took us around the globe – how do you think the author handled the various settings of the novel?
(GEH) I enjoyed the attention to the detail in the location, especially in Australia. The description of the cottage, the remoteness and bleakness of it, really resounded with me. I liked the bustle of the town and how different it felt. Obviously, I've not been to the Blue Mountains (unfortunately) but everything felt right to me.
(CT) I spent six months living in the Blue Mountains (a long time ago!) so it was a pleasure to revisit them. The flashes of breathtaking beauty among the hardship suffered by the settlers and miners made the location feel very special.
(JJ) One of the things I enjoyed most was the exploration of environment and culture. I also got a sense of newness - not just for Elizabeth but of a country making its own rules.
(LP) Really enjoyed how the author evoked these regions, familiar to me in modern-day, but only imaginable during that period of history.
3. There was a lot of drama here, a lot of sadness and loss, how do you feel the author handled the balance?
(GEH) I think it's part of this historical drama genre that it does feel a touch heavy on melodrama for my tastes, but there was never a point I felt it was handled wrongly. Yes, Elizabeth had a terrible run of bad luck and her heart must have been made of strong stuff, but I've no doubt many women went through very similar experiences back then.
(CT) Yes, plenty of melodrama! But most of it arose out of hardships of Australia, compounded by the Depression, or out of the social restrictions of the time, so not gratuitous or tacked on for the sake of cheap thrills.
(JJ) I had the impression the author gave us a condensed experience of life for women in the country, all packed into one character's life. Women experienced all these things and we feel the injustice and pain keenly having seen them through one individual's eyes.
(LP) A realistic illustration of how it was for women (and men) during these difficult times in Australian history.
4. Which was your favourite character – and why?
(GEH) Elizabeth - for her inner strength and determination. The way she handled so many things throughout her life proved she had an exceptional character. I particularly like the way she handled her husband's business dealings after his imprisonment - no doubt she was a far more astute businessman than him any day!
(CT) Like Elizabeth herself, I grew very fond of young Will. With maybe one exception, all her characters grew in depth as the story progressed. Jack Kidd could have been a cardboard villain, but was allowed to be much more.
(JJ) Michael Winterbourne. I was also was delighted to see the relationship between Jack and Elizabeth change and mature. Some characters lacked nuance, such as Harriet, but I warmed to Verity, Will and of course, Elizabeth.
(LP) I felt most sympathetic to Will, but feel most of the main characters were well developed.
5. Did you find you were able compare this author’s authors writing style to any big names authors of the genre?
(GEH) I came to this genre early on, pre-teens probably, through reading my nan's battered copies of Catherine Cookson novels and there is something reminiscent about Flynn's writing in her approach of building a rags-to-riches story but also of developing strong female leads.
(CT) Yes, Cookson is an obvious comparison, and hence her literary succession, Margaret Graham. It's not a genre I read widely in, but I remember many years ago reading a novel about a female convict sent to Australia who managed to build a life out there. Although it was set in an earlier century, A Greater World reminded me of that.
(JJ) The epic reach of such a novel and the tribulations endured reminded me of The Thorn Birds, with the echo of forbidden love. Another example which came to mind but set in a very different location was Isabel Allende's Portrait in Sepia.
(LP) Yes, I recently re-read The Thornbirds too, which A Greater World brought to mind. I don't really read this genre much though.
6. Research is obviously critical in historical fiction – how do you feel the author handled the period research?
(GEH) I thought it was handled very well. There were none of the dreaded info-dumps where I becomes clear the author has done their research and is determined not to waste it! As I said, I don't know the area or the period, but I have every faith in the author's ability. If I had to point out one area, I think the illness and doctor scenes were particularly strong.
(CT) I felt that the strands about mining in Australia, and also the legal system (which becomes quite important) felt as if they were well handled. You felt the presence of a confident knowledge, without having it rammed down your throat. There is also a scene that pivots on the visit of the Prince of Wales to Sydney that was very vividly drawn - good news of an event that must have been headline news!
(JJ) Agreed. Subtly woven and consistent so the reader understands the precarious and vulnerable nature of life in a small mining-town, as a child, as a woman, as anyone with something they wish to protect.
(LP) I enjoyed learning about this period of Australia's history and didn't feel information was dumped at all; cleverly woven though the narrative, it brought the period to life.
7. How do you think the author handled the multiple POVS?
(GEH) I liked both Michael's and Elizabeth's stories, both worked well and we had enough background on each that we understood where they came from and why they were the people they were. I wasn't so keen on Harriet, I didn't find her POV as believable, or necessary if I'm honest. But I thought the dual roles worked very well and moved the story on very well in terms of pace and drive.
(CT) I agree. I think it was important that we understood both Michael's and Elizabeth's point of view. Each added pathos to the other's story.
(JJ) Both worked in harmony to deliver dramatic irony and pull the reader's sympathy in opposite directions. I agree the background was crucial to character development. Also agree Harriet was extraneous and less plausible. But one thing I really enjoyed was seeing the glimpses of other personalities through our MCs' eyes.
(LP) Definitely enjoyed seeing both sides of the coin, from the two main characters' POV. Agreed, wasn't too keen on Harriet's, as I think her actions spoke loud enough.
8. Would you look to read more novels by this author?
(GEH) Yes, I definitely would. It's a genre I don't read enough. And it's made me want to revisit Catherine Cookson again, which would no doubt make my nan smile!
(CT) Yes, especially if she were writing of a period or location that appealed to me.
(JJ) Yes, definitely and would recommend them to people I know would love these books. My instinct tells me this is an author who will take me to unusual places and allow me the intense experience of unfamiliarity and excitement. With the added interest of a personal journey. I already bought Kurinji Flowers.
(LP) Yes I would, to learn about other time periods in different settings.