Title: The Harp in the South
Author: Ruth Park
Published: Penguin 2009 (First published 1948)
Synopsis:Ruth Park’s classic novel Harp in the South is one of Australia’s greatest novels. Hugh and Margaret Darcy are raising their family in Sydney amid the brothels, grog shops and run-down boarding houses of Surry Hills, where money is scarce and life is not easy. Filled with beautifully drawn characters that will make you laugh as much as cry, this Australian classic will take you straight back to the colourful slums of Sydney with convincing depth, careful detail and great heart.
I think I was about eleven when I first read this Australian classic and I decided to reread this year it to fullfil my Eclectic Reader challenge requirements after it was named in the First Tuesday Book Club’s Top Ten Books to Read Before You Die.
The Harp in the South is a glimpse into the everyday life of inner Sydney’s poorest post war community and introduces the Darcy family who live in Sydney’s slums at Twelve-and-a-Half Plymouth Street, Surry Hills. The Irish Catholic Darcy’s are an average family in their neighborhood, working class battlers struggling to survive in their damp, flea infested home. Mumma does the best she can with the little she has while her feckless husband Hughie drinks away much of what he earns. Sweet natured and naive eldest daughter Roie longs for romance while quick witted Dolour dreams of escape.
To supplement their meagre income the Darcy’s rent rooms to the irascible Miss Sheily and her illegitimate disabled son, and Mr Patrick Diamond, a protestant who baits the family each St Patrick’s Day. They take in Grandma when she needs extra care, a lively character who knows her own mind. They are neighboured by a Chinese grocer, Mr Lick, financially assisted by the local madam in time of need and attend church in their Sunday best.
The Darcy’s are resigned to the grinding poverty and immune to the violence, finding joy where are able – a New Year’s bonfire, a school trip to the seaside. They face heartbreak with stoicism and though their home is often chaotic, there is plenty of love within it’s peeling walls.
Though perhaps more properly a series of vignettes rather than a cohesive narrative, following the Darcy’s over a period of about a year, the story is well written. Park has an eye for authentic detail, character and dialogue- not surprising really since she lived in Surrey Hills with her husband at the time. The Harp in the South is a social commentary and brutally honest examination
Later followed by Poor Man’s Orange and Missus, tracing the Darcy family’s past and future, The Harp In The South is an engaging tale of the triumphs and tragedies amongst the poor working class in Australian cities. A must read classic for every Australian.
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