Review :: The Widow of Ballarat :: Darry Fraser

February 05, 2019

I was really keen to read Darry Fraser's The Widow of Ballarat after getting a taste of her writing in HQ Fiction's Christmas release Our Country Christmas (as an aside, this is one of my favourite things about those kinds of anthologies/short story collections - it is such a great way to discover new favourite authors!)

1854, Ballarat, Victoria When Nell Amberton's husband is shot dead by a bushranger, there are few who grieve his passing, and Nell least of all. How could she miss the monster who had abused her from the day they wed – the man who had already killed his innocent first wife? But his death triggers a chain of events that seem to revolve around the handsome bushranger who murdered him – a man to whom Nell, against her better judgement, is drawn.
But Nell has far more than a mysterious stranger to worry about. With a mess of complications around her late husband's will, a vicious scoundrel of a father trying to sell her off in matrimony, and angry relatives pursuing her for her husband's gold, she is more concerned with trying to ensure her safety and that of her friend, goldfields laundry woman Flora, than dealing with the kind of feelings that led her astray so catastrophically before.
After the violence on the goldfields, Nell's fate also hangs in the balance. It seems that, after all, she might need to do the one thing she has avoided at all costs … ask for the help of a man.

This book kept me company as we travelled across the US and Canada in December/January (it's pictured here on the on Chattanooga's Walnut Street Bridge on the Tennessee River) - and it was wonderful company!  The story was really easy to get into, which made it perfect reading for those times when I had to read in brief chunks - it was easy to get back into the story and I never felt like I lost track of where I was up to.

It has a lot of the things I am loving in books at the moment - strong women, alternating POVs/stories that come together, and an historical Australian setting. One of the things that I thought Fraser did exceptionally well in this book was to put women back in the story of the goldfields. She really shows the importance of women in that time and place, and the variety of roles that they took - from laundry women like Nell and her friend Flora, to women panning for gold themselves, running the homes, or providing food, lodgings, or entertainment for the men. It was fantastic to see this aspect feature so strongly in the story, since women are so often written out of these space in history.

As a fan of Australian historical fiction I'm looking forward to seeing what Fraser writes next!

x Bron

I received a copy of The Widow of Ballarat from HQ Fiction (Harper Collins). All views are my own.

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