On reading selfishly.
I’ve just finished reading Deborah Burrows’ A Time of Secrets, a novel that I picked up because…well…the cover caught my eye. So yes, I did judge a book by it’s cover, but for very good reason. The woman on the cover is wearing a WWII era AWAS (Australian Women’s Army Service) uniform and I am currently working on a PhD which will be a novel and exegesis focusing on some AWAS members. So of course I plucked the book off the shelf and added it to my ever growing ‘to read’ pile. At this stage of my PhD the majority of my reading has been non-fiction so it was wonderful to come across a novel set in the same era with similar themes.
A Time of Secrets is set in 1943 in Melbourne, with protagonist Stella Aldridge who is an AWAS sergeant working in the Australian Intelligence Bureau. Stella has two important mysteries to solve – In chapter one she overhears some soldiers discussing a plot for a revenge killing which she determines to investigate, and then her work leads her to another mystery – who is leaking information from the Intelligence Bureau to the enemy? Weaved around these two key plots is romance, murder and the ongoing sense of good-guy/bad-guy with the reader constantly switching loyalties between Stella’s friends and love interests as more secrets are exposed.
This novel was a chance for me to read selfishly. While I read historical fiction quite widely and always take note of how research is woven into the text, I haven’t read any books that draws from the same (or similar) pool of research documents. The women I will be focusing on worked in the Survey Corps in Bendigo, so while there is a big difference in our plots and characterisations it was great to absorb the general mise en scene of WWII Melbourne – the rations, the music and of course, the Americans.
It also got me thinking about the publishing trends for a novel of this type. I’ve been lamenting the lack of representation of women’s war experience in Australia, in both popular culture and formal histories (by ‘lack’ I don’t mean that there is no representation, I just mean that it is minimal – but that’s a post for another time). So it was great to see that there was some shelf space for a novel like this and gave me some hope that mine might also find some space there one day.
Deborah Burrows, A Time of Secrets, Pan Macmillan Australia. 2015.
I’d be interested in this one too… my mother served in the ATS (Auxiliary Transport Service) during WW2 in Britain, driving trucks, ambulances and POWs to camps in Scotland. The ATS gets more publicity than the other women’s services in Britain because Princess Elizabeth ‘served’ in it too but I’ve never seen the ATS referenced in a novel. Maybe it seems not glamorous enough to warrant attention, but it certainly had its share of dangers. I am named after my mother’s best friend who died when she was thrown out of the vehicle on an icy bend en route to Scotland…
LikeLiked by 1 person
Thanks for commenting Lisa. I have heard of Queen Elizabeth serving. Actually the lady I interviewed for the novel wanted to join the AWAS to be a driver, however she was working in an essential service as a draftswoman so was only allowed to join if she served as a draftswoman.
Yes, I agree there does seem to be a limited amount written fictionally about our Australian women and their service during the second world war. One can only guess that there is a wealth of stories and experiences that would wind into a wonderful novel. I’m wondering if many of those stories have faded with the age and passing of our women from that time. I’m sure there will be shelf space for your novel Melissa. Enjoyed your review and blog.
LikeLiked by 1 person
Yours sounds likes great PhD project, Melissa. I look forward to reading the novel that results.
How did I come across this now? Anyhow I did, and enjoyed your review. My first reaction though, was oh no, another book with a woman’s back on the cover. Still, it worked for you but for very specific reasons which I don’t think were in the cover designers’ minds!