11 Jul 2009
Sonia Orchard’s debut novel is inspired by the life of Noel Mewton-Wood, an Australian-born pianist and a prodigy of Sir Thomas Beecham. He first rose to fame in London during the Blitz in World War Two, performing concerts with Beecham and recitals which continued through bombing raids and which helped to galvanize the spirits of Londoners during the darkest days of the war. Sadly Mewton-Wood committed suicide in 1953 at the age of 31 after the death of a lover. The narrator of the novel is a young musician who himself is enthralled by Mewton-Wood’s youthful expertise and beauty. The young man’s longing and obsession for the charismatic Noel are sadly one-sided; the reader is left to endure the narrator’s inevitable decline into melancholy. Sonia Orchard writes beautifully about music, which is at the centre of the novel, and about the hazardous nature of homosexual love in the England of World War Two and the more difficult, puritanical, post-war years when the police were active in the prosecution of such activity. The writing is absorbing; Sonia Orchard reveals the musical and emotional life of a young Australian musician of great promise. Anyone with an interest in music will find the book an absolute joy.
Based in part on the true story of the pursuit of a Uruguayan fishing boat by an Australian vessel in the Southern Ocean in 2003, Pescador’s Wake recounts on one level the chase through some of the world’s most dangerous waters and on another it describes the emotional impact on the families left behind in both in Uruguay and Australia. Desperate to escape enslavement to the unscrupulous Spanish owner of the Pescador, the ship’s captain chooses to risk the lives of his crew in order to land his illegally-caught catch. The captain of the Australian vessel, who is struggling to come to terms with the death of his son, is ordered to follow ‘in hot pursuit’. The text has an immediacy which both puts you the reader in danger with the seamen in the middle of the raging oceans and also gives you insight into this hazardous occupation and the fragile life of the families left at home. Katherine Johnson’s writing describes vibrantly the sprawling southern oceans and the extreme weather conditions endured by those who work there. She is also able to portray the searing impact of family loss and deprivation on the women left behind on shore. Excellent.