Talking Location With .. Venetia Welby – OKINAWA
Novel set mainly in Queensland
11th October 2021
Under the Golden Sun by Jenny Ashcroft, novel set mainly in Queensland.
It is England in 1941, and Rose Hamilton is on the train to London to join her beloved uncle and brother for afternoon tea at the swish Goring Hotel to celebrate her twenty-fifth birthday. She’s hoping that her somewhat elusive fiancé, Xander, will also make an appearance. Bored on the painfully slow journey, she takes up a discarded newspaper and notices an unusual advertisement for a companion to escort a very young orphaned child to Australia. There is little to recommend the position and much against it – the war, the perils of trying to make a sea crossing during the war, her family, her fiancé. But a recent personal tragedy compels her to respond and she makes a detour to seek out more information. As soon as she meets the charming and desperately sad little boy, Walter Lucknow, she is smitten and before she knows it, they are on board The Illustrious and on their way.
Walter’s guardian, Vivian, gravely ill, has given Rose only the sketchiest information but has led her to believe that she is taking Walter to reunite him with his father’s family. When they arrive at the remote cattle station, two hours’ drive from Brisbane, they do not receive the welcome she had hoped and are left outside in the pouring rain without food or shelter. By this time, Rose has become completely devoted to Walter and he has developed a similarly fierce attachment to her and she is infuriated that his family could treat him in this manner. As she gets to know the family, she learns that much of what Vivian had told her was wishful thinking if not downright lies and that there are many secrets from the past to uncover that explain their strange behaviour. Rose has promised young Walter that she will not leave him until he is ready for her to do so, so she prepares for a long stay while she tries to unravel the complex history.
Under the Golden Sun is Jenny Ashcroft’s fourth novel and quite possibly her best so far. Like all the others it is peopled with a host of complex and intriguing characters, including Walter’s uncle Max, a wounded ex-airman, who is the key to the mystery. The child, Walter, is a delightful creation, working his charm on the reader in much the same way as he charms the initially frosty Australian family. In common also with her previous novels, settings are wonderfully evoked and a clear testament to the amount of careful research the author has carried out. The war is an omnipresent backdrop to the story and the reader becomes painfully aware of the frustration caused by lack of information – letters take months to arrive (if they ever do), the radio is full of misinformation, servicemen are missing, presumed dead and families are separated. Rural Queensland at that period is painted in great detail, allowing the reader to experience the beauties and the hardship – the fabulous sunsets, stunning scenery and exotic wildlife as well as the unbearable searing heat. Jenny Ashcroft gives us an accurate portrayal of human nature – there are good characters and frankly pretty despicable ones and she doesn’t paint a sanitised version of 1940’s attitudes – we are left in little doubt about some attitudes to Aboriginal Australians and the difficult path in front of young Walter.
This is powerful and beautiful writing that grips the reader from first page to last.
Ellen for the TripFiction Team
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