In which my love of the Rome series tricks me into reading another Colleen McCullough novel.
I have mixed feelings on Colleen McCullough’s work. On one hand, Caesar’s Women and the rest of her Rome series are epic and well researched, grand-scale and personal, and basically everything that a historical novel should be. On the other hand, The Independence of Miss Mary Bennett takes the prize for the worst Austenite fiction I’ve ever read, and I’ve read quite a few. I was excited to read and review Bittersweet because I was sure it would either be amazing or dreadful, to the extreme.
So I was surprised at how terribly slow the first two thirds of the book were. The story focuses on four sisters, two sets of twins with the same father and different mothers. After the mother of the older twins died, their rector father quickly remarried the housekeeper, who gave him another set of twin girls. There is a tantalizingly brief mention of Maude’s speedy engagement and premature babies, which I translated into shotgun wedding, but it wasn’t really addressed again. The two sets of twins are almost the same age, and the older ones are kept back a little bit and the younger ones sped up a little bit so they can all start school together. (Squishing the girls into not-quite-right because it’s convenient for those around them is kind of the theme of the book.)
The sisters become nursing students, and there is mildly interesting class tension among hospital staff, and thoughtful commentary connecting the nurses’ special role of half waitress, half doctor to larger themes of women’s lib in Australia. It’s all engaging, but it’s not exactly a sweeping epic. The hospital is built on wide level ground so they don’t have to have stairs. (This is mentioned by pretty much every character in the book, so I thought it was worth mentioning in the blog review.)