A tale of two very different sisters whose 1890s voyage from London into remote outback Australia becomes a journey of self-discovery, set against a landscape of wild beauty and savage dispossession.
London in 1891: Harriet Cameron is a talented young artist whose mother died when she was barely five. She and her beloved sister Sarah were brought up by their father, radical thinker James Cameron. After adventurer Henry Vincent arrives on the scene, the sisters’ lives are changed forever.
Sarah, the beauty of the family, marries Henry and embarks on a voyage to Australia. Harriet, intensely missing Sarah, must decide whether to help her father with his life’s work or to devote herself to painting. When James Cameron dies unexpectedly, Harriet is overwhelmed by grief. Seeking distraction, she follows Sarah to Australia, and afterwards into the outback, where she is alienated by the casual violence and great injustices of outback life.
Her rejuvenation begins with her friendship with an Aboriginal stockman and her growing love for the landscape. But this fragile happiness is soon threatened by murders at a nearby cattle station and by a menacing station hand who is seeking revenge.
The late 19th century was a period of change, new worlds were opening up, society moving forward in so many ways, not least that of women.
Many were not content with their societal role, of marriage, children and a voice that was never heard. Harriet, single eldest daughter of philosopher James Cameron was such a woman, determined to live her life independently and as she wished. Not for her the traditional route of marriage and children, an attitude that often put her at odds with those around her, and at time’s her younger sister, Sarah.
Sarah did what was expected, found a wealthy husband and disappeared to the outbacks of Australia.
Harriet, left behind was plunged into a sense of despair, a questioning of her own view and indeed her future, as Booth dug. deep into her inner turmoil. At the death of her father, you urged Harriet to make the right decisions, to not accept second best and I was relieved when she finally set of for Australia.
I loved Booths’s wonderful imagery as she described the city of Sydney, the hustle and bustle, the people and its surroundings. It wasn’t until Harriet finally joined her sister in the outback that Booth came into her own.
You couldn’t help but imagine yourself there, the arid heat, the ramshackle homestead with its basic facilities and the simple life they led.
It may have appeared simple but did little to hide simmering tensions between whites and aborigines. Booth gave us a realistic picture of the difficulties faced by the aborigines, their land taken from them, forced into camps, their life and culture treated with scorn and derision.
It forced Harriet and to some extent Sarah, to question their own beliefs. Would they stay quiet or maintain the statues quo, yet it went against everything Harriet stood for, that she would fight for equality and justice.
Her relationship with aboriginal stockman, Mick, was her brave and some some would say foolhardy stand against those injustices which you could not help but admire. It was a relationship Booth filled with mutual respect and tenderness, race and its differences pushed to one side. Rumour and derision from those around only highlighted further the ignorance that pervaded the community.
You never knew how it would end, the latter parts tense and drama filled. I was glad Booth tied up all the loose ends, and didn’t leave the reader guessing. Booth showed the strength of women in adversity the idea of their perceived delicate and fragile nature left behind, and in its place bravery and determination.
It was Booth’s skill at showing both sides of the argument, her portrayal of the women’s movement that made this novel so interesting and her ability to balance alongside wonderful storytelling that made The Philosophers Daughter hugely enjoyable.
I would like to thank Red Door Books for a copy of The Philosophers Daughters to read and review and to Anne Cater of Random Thongs Tours for inviting My Bookish Blogspot to participate in the blogtour.
About the author
Alison Booth was born in Melbourne, brought up in Sydney and has worked in the UK and in Australia as a professor as well as a novelist. Her most recent novel, A Perfect Marriage, is in the genre of contemporary fiction, while her first three novels (Stillwater Creek, The Indigo Sky, and A Distant Land) are historical fiction spanning the decades 1950s through to the early 1970s. Alison’s work has been translated into French and has also been published by Reader’s Digest Select Editions in both Asia and Europe. Alison, who holds a PhD in Economics from the London School of Economics, is an active public speaker and has participated in many writers’ festivals and literary events.
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Thanks so much for the blog tour support Amanda xx