Books & Literature

Book Review: The Forthright Woman, by Darry Fraser

HISTORICAL FICTION: Widow Marcella Ross won’t let anything – or anyone – stop her from discovering the truth behind a deadly family mystery … Mystery and romance collide in this compulsive historical adventure from a bestselling Australian author.

A sweeping tale spanning two generations which gives the reader a real sense of what it might have been like living in Colonial Australia.

Feature image credit: HarperCollins Australia

Local author Darry Fraser lives on Kangaroo Island and writes historical fiction using stunning Australia as the backdrop to her novels.

Her latest novel, The Forthright Woman, has a dual timeline told from the point of view of the two main women characters who have links to each other. Itis set in the Flinders Ranges both in 1898 and 1955. In 1898, Marcella Ross (born to Italian immigrants), her brother Adam and his wife Hilda are on their way to Kanyaka Station, a group of abandoned buildings near Hawker in the Flinders Ranges. Marcella and her brother want to uncover family secrets. They are accompanied by a man called Proby Cutler who Marcella has never met. Fran has uncovered a small torn piece of paper which has some information she would like to look into further and her brother has business with Mr Cutler to which Marcella has not been made privy.

In 1955, Fran is travelling with her husband Joe in their caravan. Fran wants to stop at the Kanyaka ruins to find out more about her ancestors and what happened to her Uncle Luke and his best friend, but Joe sees the whole side trip as pointless and a waste of time.

Both women suffer a disaster while at the ruins and gradually the reader is taken on a journey as both women discover not only their family’s past, but also just how tough they need to be to survive in a world where everything seems to be against them. They need to draw on all their strength to overcome stereotypes and be strong and courageous in a time when arranged marriages were the norm in Italian communities in a male-dominated Colonial Australia, and women were still expected to answer to a husband, the head of the family.

This historical mystery, threaded throughout with romance, takes us from Kanyaka to the docks of Port Adelaide where life is also tough for those who are trying to make a living. It weaves drama through a historical plot that has a well-crafted narrative.

Fraser’s excellent research makes the reader feel like they are actually back in 1898 with her richly detailed settings: bustling train stations and port docks, flies and dust, as well as the tough living conditions. She intertwines her research with characters who feel real by painting a picture of not only the main characters but also those with whom they come into contact.

The harsh and unforgiving climate before air-conditioning and decent forms of transport bring home what it must have been like to live in Colonial Australia. But not just then. Life was also not easy in 1955 when most women were still unable to make their own decisions. Factors like distance, lack of roads, and the time it took to get anywhere are evident in the story. Descriptions of carts, horses, trains, and walking long distances help us to imagine how brave these people were who chose to settle in inhospitable places.

The chemistry between Proby and Marcella is palpable and adds to the story. Mrs Costa is a funny character who offers some light relief.

For those who love a historical drama, threaded with romance, this is the book for you. And it may make you want to spend more time discovering some of the history of our beautiful state.

Reviewed by Sue Mauger

This review is the opinion of the reviewer and not necessarily of Glam Adelaide.

Distributed by: HarperCollins Publishers
Released: November 2022
RRP: $29.99

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