Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for The Philosopher’s Daughters by Alison Booth. My thanks to Anne at Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in the tour and for organising my review copy. Be sure to check out the post by my tour buddy, Haley at The Caffeinated Reader.
About the Book
A tale of two very different sisters whose 1890s voyage from London into remote outback Australia becomes a journey of self-discovery, set against a landscape of wild beauty and savage dispossession.
London, 1891: Harriet Cameron is a talented young artist whose mother died when she was barely five. She and her beloved sister Sarah were brought up by their father, radical thinker James Cameron. After adventurer Henry Vincent arrives on the scene, the sisters’ lives are changed forever. Sarah, the beauty of the family, marries Henry and embarks on a voyage to Australia. Harriet, intensely missing Sarah, must decide whether to help her father with his life’s work or devote herself to painting.
When James Cameron dies unexpectedly, Harriet is overwhelmed by grief. Seeking distraction, she follows Sarah to Australia, and afterwards into the Northern Territory outback, where she is alienated by the casual violence and great injustices of outback life. Her rejuvenation begins with her friendship with an Aboriginal stockman and her growing love for the landscape. But this fragile happiness is soon threatened by murders at a nearby cattle station and by a menacing station hand seeking revenge.
Format: Paperback (356 pages) Publisher: RedDoor Press
Publication date: 2nd April 2020 Genre: Historical Fiction
Find The Philosopher’s Daughters on Goodreads
The deceptively attractive sounding Dimbulah Downs, to which Sarah and Henry – and later Harriet – travel, is in fact an isolated farm in the Northern Territory of Australia. The author gives the reader a vivid depiction of daily life in the remote outback – basic facilities, unrelenting heat, burning sun and mail deliveries only every six weeks.
However, even in these harsh surroundings, the sisters find things to appreciate. I liked the way in which the author shows how Sarah, a gifted pianist, sees things in musical terms. For example, she observes the water flowing into a series of pools used for bathing as altering its tempo ‘from adagio to allegro’ and varying its volume ‘from pianissimo to fortissimo’. She compares telegraph wires, humming and vibrating ‘with the lives of others’, to the vibrating strings of a piano as the hammers strike them. Later she conjures up thoughts of ‘savage music’ such as Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture to give her courage to tackle difficult tasks.
For Harriet, the harsh beauty of the landscape re-awakens her enthusiasm for painting, helping quell her initial feelings of displacement. ‘She didn’t belong here, even as a visitor. She no longer had any reference points against which to measure her own sense of worth… What she thought she was good at had no value here.’ When she finds someone with whom to share her interest in painting, her outlook changes. It also marks the beginning of an important, if unconventional, relationship that will have dramatic consequences.
Both Sarah and Harriet have their eyes opened to the denial of the rights of the aboriginal people, the disregard for their cultural heritage and, in the worst cases, their savage treatment by neighbouring farm owners. As Sarah realises, ‘I’ve been sheltered all my life…despite my education. Sheltered by Father. Sheltered by Harriet. Sheltered by Henry. Hiding behind my music. Escaping into my music. And blind to what’s happening around me.’
I liked the book’s quirky chapter headings made up of phrases plucked from the text of the chapter, such as ‘A Little Ingenuity and Some Scraps of Wood’. (You’ll have to read the book to find what is constructed using those items.)
The Philosopher’s Daughters sees two young women who have been taught to believe in equality, independence and universal suffrage required to transform theory into practice and tackle challenges of a sort they could never have imagined. It’s a well-crafted story about change, widening your horizons and finding out what’s really important in life.
In three words: Absorbing, insightful, engaging
Try something similar: The Moral Compass by K. A. Servian
About the Author
Born in Melbourne and brought up in Sydney, Alison spent over two decades studying, living and working in the UK before returning to Australia some fifteen years ago.
Her debut novel, Stillwater Creek, was Highly Commended in the 2011 ACT Book of the Year Award, and afterwards published in Reader’s Digest Select Editions in Asia and in Europe. Alison’s also written The Indigo Sky (2011) and A Distant Land (2012). Alison wrote an article for The Guardian on domestic violence; a major theme in her last book, A Perfect Marriage (2018).
Alison is Emeritus Professor of Economics at the Australian National University. In November 2019, Alison was made Fellow of the Econometric Society, a prestigious international society for the advancement of economic theory in its relation to statistics and mathematics.