This review appeared in The Harper, Spring 2007, Storytelling Guild of Australia.
“Can you keep a secret? I don’t believe you can. / You mustn’t laugh; you mustn’t smile, / but do the best you can…” A masterful debut by Melbourne author and storyteller JB Rowley, narrates a secret discovered after her mother’s death. June’s experience as a wordsmith is evident: no word is wasted, sentences are crisply crafted, characters feel utterly authentic, and plot springs open as closely coiled secrets do. (After all, this secret was literally hidden in a cash-tin!) Raised in New South Wales on the East coast of Australia during the 1930’s and 40’s, when many women were powerless, Myrtle fell in love, fell pregnant and ultimately fell victim to social prejudice. Trapped in a loveless marriage, despised by a haughty, sanctimonious mother-in-law, yet too naive to see that appearances meant everything, Myrtle soon found herself ensnared by false accusations – resulting in her children being taken. Australians are still confronting our national shame of “The Stolen Generations”, in which Aboriginal children were removed from their parents by missionaries under state-sanctioned force, albeit with good intentions. JB tells of a white family similarly torn: a tragedy that a family could not come to terms with earlier because an innocent woman was shamed into secrecy. Without sentimentality, if occasionally with reprisal, June places facts with perception, research, infinite tenderness and respect.
(My review of her sequel Mother of Ten is on Amazon.)