I was struggling to think of what I could say this book is about without giving away plot points, when upon reflection I realised that the book is about change. In 1881 'Big Jim' Durham, an English soldier of fortune and profiteer, ruthlessly creates for Elianne Desmarais, his young French wife, the finest of the great sugar mills of the Southern Queensland cane fields, and names it in her honour. My thanks to the publisher for providing an Advanced Reading Copy of this book. I loved the setting in Bundaberg in Queensland in the sugar cane industry and have always been fascinated by that industry. Do yourself a favour don't waste your time reading this one.
Judy Nunn at her best here. There were some parts set in Brisbane, and it was nice to recognise local places. Her subsequent bestsellers, Kal, Beneath the Southern Cross, Territory, Pacific, Heritage, Floodtide, Maralinga, Tiger Men and Elianne confirm Judy's position as one of Australia's leading fiction writers. I'm assuming that Judy Nunn has something to say about the racist attitudes of Australia in the 1960's. In the tough world of Queensland sugar mills, it's t only cane that is crushed.
After combining her internationally successful acting career with scriptwriting for television and radio, Judy decided in the 80s to turn her hand to prose. The estate, which became the most successful Sugar Cane Plantation in the 1880s employed Kanakas Pacific Island workers to work in the sugar cane industry. While Big Jim is a dominating patriarch who rules his business and family with a rod of iron, his marriage to Ellie is seen to be one of apparent unquestioned love and support for Jim over the years of success and great tragedy. Young Australians leap to the barricades of the social revolution. What Kate Durham found in the dairies will change her, and her family lives forever. They have survived and will do anything to find a way back home. Until then she was shaping to be a bland hero.
In particular how the author went between the past and the present. What will be the price of silence? The finale was well written and while the plot twist was not surprising given Australian history, it was well depicted. For Kate Durham and her brothers Neil and Alan, freedom is the catchword of the decade. I recommend this book I feel dumber for reading it. It is always great to read a book where you know the regions so well. As a relatively new Queenslander I didn't know much about the blackbirder era which I first read about in Peter Watts' great Frontier series.
Big Jim Durh This is the second book I have read authored by Judy Nunn and I am sure to read more. And the Durham family, its secrets exposed, begins its fall from grace. The workers leave the great sugar estates as mechanisation lessens the need for labour. For a man who has been portrayed as egotistical his response to Kate calling it off was unbelievably wimpy. But underneath those books, Kate discovered ledgers, and within the writings of the ledgers she learned her grandmother had written her diary — all in French. His grandparents had been viewed with reverence by the family until Stan's daughter Kate had discovered the diaries of her grandmother Ellianne and they told a different story. If I'm honest I'd say that I wasn't normally interested in reading a book like this but I'm so very glad I did.
Because there, at the very end, there was a lovely arch, on which was written in curly letters Model Gowns. The awkward Christmas lunches in the Durham household will be recognised by most readers. As a relatively new Queenslander I didn't know much about the blackbirder era which I first read about in Peter Watts' great Frontier series. My thanks to the publisher for providing an Advanced Reading Copy of this book. The women in black are run off their feet, what with the Christmas rush and the summer sales that follow. Judy Nunn tells a wonderful tale of a family, their history and the dark past of racism in this country.
What Kate Durham found in the dairies will change her, and her family lives forever. The massive estate becomes a self-sufficient fortress and home to hundreds of workers, but 'Elianne' and the Durham Family, have dark and distant secrets; secrets that surface in the wildest of times, the 1960s. Elianne, her new bestseller, is a sweeping story of wealth, power, privilege and betrayal, set on a grand sugar cane plantation in Queensland. Stan had grown up admiring his grandfather, know as Big Jim, who had started the cane plantation years before. I look forwarding to reading more of the authors work. I also have a friend who grew up in the cane district and I could also relate her experiences to those of the Durham family.
I often find in most fiction that I cannot relate or like the lead female, however I did like the lead female characters in this book. Warm, devastating, shocking and touching is how I would describe it. The Vietnam war, activists for Aboriginal rights, the white Australia policy, just to name a few. Why do you need to spell out a characters personality surely that can be gained by skilfully telling their story and their reactions to the conflict? In 2002 she returned in a guest role as a ghost that only her former on-screen husband, , could see. Everything changes for Kate when she finds Ellie's diaries written in French for secrecy days before Stan demolishes the original Elianne homestead because this is cheaper than maintaining the old building. The exposure of Kate's grandmother's judgemental attitude to Bundaberg's women is also spot on. None of this takes away from the wonderful, sweeping narrative that Judy Nunn has created - the book is a joy to read and at the end of the day, that's why we do it.