Historical novel set in 1930s SINGAPORE
Novel set in rural AUSTRALIA (Victoria)
16th August 2022
Blue Hour by Sarah Schmidt, novel set in rural Australia.
Blue Hour by Sarah Schmidt is a novel that centres on two women who are torn by tragedy. It’s set it small-town Australia and follows the fortunes of Kitty Turner and her daughter Eleanor through the 1950s to the 1970s. The themes are universal: the fear that women have of turning into their mother; the inability of both men and women to articulate their feelings and the masks we all wear to face others. The themes might be familiar, but this treatment is not for the faint-hearted reader. There are scenes of violence and intimacy that are disturbing. The reason the narrative has the power to affect the reader is that it is so involving. There are many situations that are easily recognisable: the tensions between mother and child; the anxiety of a new mother; the inability of the bereaved mother to let go of their beloved child. The author cleverly creates a bond between the reader and the characters, such that we continue to empathise with them, even when their actions alarm or even disgust us.
The beauty of Blue Hour is it’s language. It is poetic, lyrical and emotional. Eleanor in particular takes solace in nature and descriptions of the mountains, flowers and the wildlife are evocative and passionate. In contrast is the claustrophobic setting of Wintonvale and the Turner household, from which the two women make futile attempts to escape at different times. Eleanor’s love of nature, and the birds that she studies in particular, are a metaphor for the freedom that she desires.
The book opens with Kitty as a nurse, caring for returning war veterans. Though she is professional and caring, these skills desert her on the death of her first child, nicknamed Badger. She is unable to love either her husband or, later, her daughter. Eleanor grows up in a dysfunctional household and is doomed to repeat the same patterns as her mother. Both women experienced criticism and hurt from their mothers, their relationships incomplete. The thoughts of the women narrate the book in turn, with a desperate internal monologue.
The author tells us that Eleanor’s favourite book is Eleanor Dark’s The Little Company, in which she reads about another unharmonious family where each generation repeats the mistakes of the one before. The two books also share wartime settings – in the case of Blue Hour this is the aftermath of both World War II and the Vietnam War. The menfolk of Blue Hour suffer from post-traumatic stress, and it is interesting to contrast the ways in which their characters adapt to this new reality.
On a positive note, there are the hopeful and redeeming relationships in the book: Eleanor and her father, George, love each other unconditionally, as Eleanor also loves her daughter, Amy; Eleanor’s friends love and support her as far as they are able; and Eleanor loves her brother, even though he died before she was born. These are cause for optimism in what would otherwise be a pretty bleak book.
I feel sure that Blue Hour will stay with me long after reading it, mostly for the language and the positives, but possibly also for the violence, fear and hopelessness that it describes so skilfully.
Sue for the TripFiction Team
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