Title // We That Are Left
Author // Lisa Bigelow
Publication Date // August 2017
Publisher // Allen & Unwin
Genre // Historical Fiction
Australian RRP // $29.99
A moving debut novel about love and war, and the terrifyingly thin line between happiness and tragedy, hope and despair.
Melbourne, 1941. Headstrong young Mae meets and falls head over heels in love with Harry Parker, a dashing naval engineer. After a whirlwind courtship they marry and Mae is heavily pregnant when she hears that Harry has just received his dream posting to HMAS Sydney. Just after Mae becomes a mother, she learns Harry’s ship is missing.
Meanwhile, Grace Fowler is battling prejudice to become a reporter on the afternoon daily newspaper, The Tribune, while waiting for word on whether her journalist boyfriend Phil Taylor, captured during the fall of Singapore, is still alive.
Surrounded by their friends and families, Mae and Grace struggle to keep hope alive in the face of hardship and despair. Then Mae’s neighbour and Grace’s boss Sam Barton tells Mae about a rumour that the Japanese have towed the damaged ship to Singapore and taken the crew prisoner. Mae’s life is changed forever as she focuses her efforts on willing her husband home.
Set in inner Melbourne and rural Victoria, We That Are Left is a moving and haunting novel about love and war, the terrifyingly thin line between happiness and tragedy, and how servicemen and women are not the only lives lost when tragedy strikes during war.
We That Are Left is a debut novel about love, set during wartime, when tragedy can strike at any moment.
Following two main protagonists, Mae and Grace, we see the impacts of war on the lives of everyone – from the servicemen and women to the loved ones back home waiting for them. The women are the focus in this story – their hope and strength and despair depicted through their reactions to the effects of war in the 1940s. Mae, a young mother married to a naval engineer, who must endure upon the news that the HMAS Sydney is missing, along with her husband. Grace is an independent and determined young woman trying to make her way as a reporter in a time when women were not deemed as capable as men. When her boyfriend, fellow reported Phil, is captured, she must wait on the news of whether he’s still alive.
In both instances, Mae and Grace need to learn to survive in a world that’s been turned on it’s head, and there’s a nice contrast between the two women (who are connected by their acquaintances) and their stories.
Set in Melbourne in the 1940s, Lisa Bigelow did a wonderful job in capturing the atmosphere of the city – places I know and love in the present day, but seen through the lens of history. There’s always something magical about reading about a place you know and love, and for me, We That Are Left is full of them, from the city to the country and places I have known since childhood. It sparked in me an interest to read up on quite a few things I didn’t even realise were a part of my city’s history.
Despite it’s grim, and potentially depressing, subject matter, We That Are Left highlights the strength of women, and their resourcefulness. More than that, it shows us that support comes in many forms and sometimes it’s easily recognisable and accepted, and at other times, it might take a bit longer. I also liked the impression that even if the most desirable outcome is achieved, it may not be all that it seems to be.
Overall I gave We That Are Left 4 out of 5 stars.
(Thank you to Allen & Unwin for sending me a copy of We That Are Left for review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.)
We That Are Left by Lisa Bigelow is published by Allen & Unwin, RRP $29.99, available now.
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