A most satisfying read.
The Homestead Girls
Penguin Random House
After her teenage daughter Mia falls in with the wrong crowd, Dr Billie Green decides it’s time to leave the city and return home to far western NSW. When an opportunity to pursue her childhood dream of joining the Flying Doctor Service comes along, she jumps at the chance. Flight nurse Daphne Prince – who is thrilled to have another woman join the otherwise male crew – and their handsome new boss, Morgan Blake, instantly make her feel welcome.
Just out of town, drought-stricken grazier Soretta Byrnes has been struggling to make ends meet and in desperation has opened her station house to boarders. Tempted by its faded splendour and beautiful outback setting, Billie, Mia and Daphne decide to move in and the four of them are soon joined by eccentric eighty-year-old Lorna Lamerton.
The unlikely housemates are cautious at first, but soon they are offering each other frank advice and staunch support as they tackle medical emergencies, romantic adventures and the challenges of growing up and getting older. But when one of their lives is threatened, the strong friendship they have forged will face the ultimate test . . .
A Little History:
Before I begin I would like to clarify my position on reading Australian Rural Romance. When I was younger (much much younger) I read anything and everything I could get my hands on – some would say I haven’t changed very much in that respect. I love reading. As many of you who are around the same vintage as will remember, early reading ( primary school age) was mostly centred around Enid Blyton’s Famous Five, Secret Seven and then…well really I think there was not much on offer until I started high school when I was able to read books from the school library. So there was this in-between stage where I can’t really recall what books I read… but thinking hard maybe it was around this age (12/13years) I discovered a well-known brand of romance books. As I recall – they were fast reads – I do recall at one point noting I could read ninety pages an hour. They were formulaic, full of misogynistic stereotypes, back then I didn’t know the meaning of the word – life taught me that one pretty quick 🙂 Misogynists as defined by http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/misogynist “noun – a person who hates, dislikes, mistrusts, or mistreats women.” Yep that pretty much summed the protagonist in these type of reads – the male protagonist – and yes a male was always the important character – was always good looking, physically strong, rich and had a passive aggressive relationship with the female love interest – who was usually of a lower social economic class than the protagonist – usually cook, maid, tutor, book keeper, shop assistant, waitress etc….usually always in desperate financial situation, lacking in choices and needed rescuing….and initially she hated the arrogant protagonist who treated her terribly….then in the next .x. number of pages (I used to know the formula) he would “force” himself on her (more often than not), then she would realise she was really attracted to him, then they would share a few pages of bliss and then have a big fight and them on the last few pages make up and marry. Did I get that right? That is roughly my recollection of the formula. And at one point this teenager thought she would write these type of books – and easily I thought. I never did. I progressed to Agatha Christie, Stephen King and the likes. Much better reading material
But by then I had these false impressions of “life” stamped on my brain and real life caught up with me – I had my own “bookish romance experience” and to answer your question, no, passive/aggressive controlling, violent behaviour isn’t romantic… but it did take me a while to realise this and to escape the situation – what doesn’t kill you…..Anyway it did make me stronger and empathetic.
Down the track, now older, wiser (mostly or at least I like to think I am) and better educated, a quiet feminist, happily married…I vowed never to set my eyes on those sort of formulaic “bodice rippers” ever again. I am sure many of you have heard me say that on my blog. And that fact remains true. Those style of books are not for me. But lately you may have noticed I have a read a few books which I think are loosely classified as Australian Rural Romance or maybe even Women’s Fiction. I have not been able to find a description of a genre that sits well with me that these books fit into – even Women’s’ Fiction comes with an implied second class reading (and writing ) status, a literary sexism; maybe we should just call these books Contemporary Fiction – for that is indeed what they are.
Anyway – back to the point – these works of contemporary fiction, in particular Australian contemporary fiction (I can’t comment on other countries contemporary fiction as I have not read any that I can recall) are so vastly different to the romance books of my childhood. Romance rules of old have been turned on their head; the protagonists in these reads are women, strong women, they are generally well educated; doctors, teachers, nurses, pilots, cops, soldiers…they may be divorced, or raising a child by themselves. They are resourceful, they are strong, they may have a great support/community network of mostly women behind them, they don’t put up with violent or controlling behaviour, life has its challenges but these women prefer to write their own destinies; this doesn’t however make them unlovable. Often there are elements of humour, spotlights on contemporary social, health and environmental issues and no bodices are ripped! These are the types of books I enjoy reading. The other style is probably still around but I will continue to avoid it. Contemporary fiction has an important place is my reading life – it provides a change in pace and storyline to my first love in reading – crime fiction. Reading crime fiction, novel after crime fiction novel, can be wearing; often books of this genre are intense and can leave me emotionally drained (not much humour in crime fiction – unless it is black humour), a change of pace and style keeps my reading fresh and alive; revives me.
Back to the review at hand.
My View: The Homestead Girls
I really enjoyed this book – its outstanding quality – it made me smile. This is a great example of contemporary Australian fiction – wonderful rich warm characters, so many strong and feisty women, a great showcase for the service provided to the community by Royal Flying Doctor Service (RFDS), an opportunity to remind people of how the drought effects farmers, rural life in general and regional towns. The protagonists work for the RFDS and as such a few health issues are exposed and explored and there is the most wonderfully satisfying relationship that develops between The Homestead Girls. What more can you ask for in a contemporary Australian rural setting? Nothing!