Review & Giveaway: Out of the Silence by Wendy James


Title: Out of The Silence

Author: Wendy James

Published: Momentum April 2013

Read an Excerpt

Status: Read from April 11 to 13, 2013 — I own a copy {Courtesy the publisher}

My Thoughts:

Set at the turn of the last century in Australia, Out of the Silence is a compelling blend of historical and crime fiction. Based on a true story it draws from historical record and the imagination of Wendy James to explore the fate of two women, working class Maggie Heffernan and genteel immigrant, Elizabeth Hamilton at a time when the suffragist movement, led by Vida Goldstein, was gaining ground in Victoria.

Maggie’s story is told in the first person, beginning in rural Victoria where she lives with her family. A little wild, Maggie wants more than “…a life indoors where nothing happens but potatoes boiling over and socks that need darning, or a child to be fed or changed or beat.” and when she meets Jack Hardy, who similarly longs for more than his status offers, she falls desperately in love.

Elizabeth’s life is shared through letters to her brother and private journal entries. The tragic death of her fiance in an accident shattered her dreams for the future and she chose to emigrate to Australia to take up a position as a governess. When she determines she unsuited to the situation she is instead offered accommodation with her cousins and Elizabeth joins the staff of a private school in Melbourne, finding herself a witness to the growing suffragette movement but yet hoping for “the promise of the fulfillment and contentment and happiness that for [Elizabeth] only marriage can provide”.

Vida Goldstein, who is a real figure from history, is Elizabeth’s employer at the private school where she works, and a close friend of her cousin, Harriet, with whom she lives. Vida’s passion for women’s rights is what brings these three very different characters together, when Maggie is accused, convicted and sentenced to death for murder.

Out of the Silence is not a who-dunnit but a why-dunnit exploring the social and personal contexts that led Maggie to commit such a heinous crime. It questions where the blame lies for the path her life takes, for the choices she is forced to make and how society’s perception of who she is, and so what she deserves plays a part in determining her fate. It’s a fascinating tale that James writes with empathy and adds human interest to the wider debate about women’s rights.

Though Elizabeth’s accounts can be rather dry, her moderate views temper Vida’s enthusiasm and Maggie’s desperate circumstances. I like that James gives each woman and her perspective a voice without judgement. Though their situations are very different their basic desire, to choose their own fate, is the same.

Out of the Silence is rich in period detail, it illustrates a time, place and attitude where science, religion and social awareness began to conflict. In large part this novel is a historical record of the momentum of the suffragette movement in Australia around the year 1900. It explores the role of women in accordance with class, privilege and law of the time, contrasting the circumstances of individuals like Maggie and Elizabeth.

A well crafted, thoughtful novel, Out of the Silence is a fascinating story of women, of love and desire. I am very pleased that Momentum has republished this award winning title for a new audience to discover.

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