Ruth by Marlene S Lewis
|Ruth by Marlene S Lewis|
|Category: General Fiction|
|Reviewer: Sue Magee|
|Summary: A well-thought-out story which goes beyond the usual 'bad girl makes good' story line and brings Australia and Papua New Guinea in the fifties and sixties to life. An enjoyable and recommended read.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 336||Date: March 2012|
|External links: Author's website|
The late 1950s saw a lot of changes in society but they were late in coming to Ruth's home in the Owen Stanley range in Papua New Guinea. Ruth, the only daughter of plantation owner John Madison, was still in her late teens and away at boarding school for much of the year, but when she returned home one of the first people she wanted to see was her great friend Tommy. They'd grown up together but there was no possibility of the relationship being taken any further as Tommy - despite being light skinned - was the son of one of the black plantation workers and certain 'standards' were expected of Ruth.
Once back at boarding school in Sydney Ruth finds herself in disgrace and forced into a hard, menial job and denied any contact with her family. For years her life will revolve around earning enough money - without descending into poverty or prostitution - to maintain herself and her son. Even when it looks as though life might be working out for her fate has tragedy in store for her and the world she left behind in Papua is collapsing for the natives and the family she left behind. When Ruth returns home she's shocked by what she finds - and devastated by the family secrets which had been hidden all these years.
When I began reading Ruth I wondered if was going to be another reworking of the 'girl from a good family goes bad and then makes good again' storyline but I was pleasantly surprised by the extent to which I was transported to the Australian outback or the Papuan plantation. Marlene Lewis has the talent of an experienced travel writer when it comes to evoking these parts of the world which will always be on the verge of being reclaimed by the wild. She's less strong on cities but this, in turn, is more than balanced by her ability to bring the fifties and sixties to life. Ruth's naivete as a teenager would stun today's equivalent - but Lewis has it just right. The issues which the world was facing - civil rights and the women's movement are woven deftly into the storyline.
Ruth pulled me into the book. She's determined, completely lacking in self-pity and she lives in the mind long after you've finished the book. Some of the lesser characters don't come off the page quite so strongly and I did struggle with one or two to distinguish them one from the other. It's a minor quibble though in an otherwise very good read and I'd like to thank the author for sending a copy to the Bookbag.
For a travel book which samples this part of the world we can recommend Wanderlust by Elisabeth Eaves. For a book about small-town Australia you might like to try Nights in the Asylum by Carol Lefevre, but we did find it rather disappointing.
You can read more book reviews or buy Ruth by Marlene S Lewis at Amazon.co.uk.
You can read more book reviews or buy Ruth by Marlene S Lewis at Amazon.com.
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