Matriarch: An Australian Novel of Love and War by Geoffrey Hope Gibson tells the story of five generations of one family.
The family saga begins when the son of a no-longer-wealthy British family arrives at a distant post in the Outback, and falls in love with an Aboriginal woman. (Well, there’s also a lot about the family members back home in England, and how they relate to their new Australian grandchild, and what’s really happened to all their wealth, but the Australian family begins here. Good family sagas sometimes have no real beginning and no ending, just like real families.) I didn’t know all that much about native Australians going in, besides a vague concept of walkabouts, and this novel described both daily aboriginal life and how terribly the original inhabitants were treated by colonists, and then by the Australian government. The story shows this on an individual level, as well as on a national scale.
The descriptions of Outback life were very matter-of-fact, whether it was a description of food found in the bush or of aboriginal religion. I liked that it wasn’t overly exoticized, since the author manages to avoid portraying native Australians as “other” even while explaining customs and activities that were entirely new to me.
The story covers family relationships, both loving and tense, over several generations. After a while I began to see children and grandchildren inheriting their parents’ traits.The narration and point-of-view change between characters, which helps add to the feeling of family stories, but it can been a little jarring when the story switches perspective. There’s also a huge cast of characters. Definitely not a dealbreaker, but I did find myself flipping back now and then to confirm how characters were related. (This is not unlike hearing family stories at a holiday dinner table, and trying to work out whether that’s an aunt or a great-aunt.)
Overall, this is a sweeping family epic in gorgeous surroundings.
I received a copy of this book to review. All opinions are my own, as always, because even free books can’t restrain my snark.