Review: Searching for Charlotte by Kate Forsyth and Belinda Murrell

Title: Searching for Charlotte

Author: Kate Forsyth and Belinda Murrell

Published: 1st November 2020, National Library of Australia

Status: Read November 2020 courtesy Quikmark Media

++++++

My Thoughts:

“We come from a family of marvellous storytellers….Our lives were enriched by their stories…”

In 1841, the first Australian children’s book titled ‘A Mother’s Offering To Her Children’ was published, its author, ‘A Lady Long Resident in NSW’. It wasn’t until 1980 that the book was correctly attributed to Charlotte Waring Atkinson (Barton), the great-great-great-great grandmother of bestselling authors Kate Forsyth, and her sister, Belinda Murrell.

For Kate and Belinda, who grew up listening to the stories of their ancestors adventures, both before and after their arrival in Australia, Charlotte was already a figure of fascination. To discover she was Australia’s first children’s author only increased their admiration for her, and inspired the sisters two year search for the truth of the life she lived.

Searching for Charlotte is a hybrid narrative, a historical biography but one that is inextricably blended with the folklore of the sisters family history, and their own journey of discovery. Only so many questions can be answered definitively with what remains of the past…records, letters, diary entries, all of which Kate and Belinda draw on, but to fill in the gaps the sisters take some liberties, some of which comes from the stories passed down through generations, some from the informed speculation of the two women.

I enjoyed the process of learning of Charlotte’s life, and her legacy, which includes a daughter who earned the distinction of being the first Australian born woman to have a novel published. It’s unsurprising then that Kate and Belinda take such pride in their relationship to Charlotte, who seems to have been an intelligent, spirited, and courageous woman who faced many challenges, particularly in the latter half of her life as the wife, and then widow, of James Atkinson in the NSW colony.

A narrative that reveals adventure, tragedy and triumph, country and culture, folklore and family, I found Searching For Charlotte to be an engaging and enlightening read.

++++++

Available from NLA Publishing

Or your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I Booktopia

Also by Kate Forsyth reviewed at Book’d Out

Review: The Blue Rose by Kate Forsyth

 

Title: The Blue Rose

Author: Kate Forsyth

Published: July 16th 2019, Vintage

Status: Read July 2019 courtesy Penguin AU

++++++

My Thoughts:

 

The Blue Rose is an enthralling tale of love, betrayal, peril, and adventure, set against the turmoil of the French Revolution, and the inscrutable Empire of China.

After disgracing her father, Marquis de Ravoisier, at the court of Versailles, Viviane de Faitaud is exiled to her late mother’s estate, the Chateau de Belisama-sur-le-Lac in Brittany, where she spent her childhood. Though meant as a punishment, Viviane is happy in Belisama, far from her father’s cruel attentions, and able to regularly escape the notice of her chaperone.

While the estate is barely viable after years of the Marquis’s mismanagement and neglect, when Viviane’s father remarries, he decrees that an extravagant garden shall be created to honour his new bride and hires an ambitious young Welshman to design and oversee it’s construction. David Stronach hopes that the commission will launch his career among the French nobility, allowing him to support his family, and throws himself into the project, but he soon finds himself distracted by the beauty and grace of Viviane.

Despite the impossibility of the match, Viviane and David fall in love, but when the Marquis discovers their romance, David barely escapes the chateau with his life, and Viviane is given no choice but to marry a rich Duke more than twice her age. Believing her lover dead, Vivienne returns to the palace of Louis XVI, just as the revolution begins to gather momentum, while David, believing himself betrayed, joins a British diplomatic mission to Imperial China at the behest of Sir Joseph Banks.

Forsyth deftly illustrates the decadence of life at the court of Versailles under the reign of Louis XVI, and the extraordinary evolution of the French Revolution. After the death of her hated husband during riots in Paris, Vivane serves as a lady in waiting to Marie-Antoinette and stays with the beleaguered royal family as their rule falters. Seen through Viviane’s eyes, the French royal family, especially the much maligned Marie-Antoinette, become humanised as they face the situation with bewilderment, grief, and growing horror. The author’s recounting of the astonishing historical events that defined the Revolution, from the demands of the Third Estate, to the storming of Bastille, and finally to the wholesale imprisonment and gruesome beheadings of the country’s aristocracy, is utterly engrossing.

David’s journey was inspired by the author’s discovery of a diplomatic mission led by Lord Macartney at the behest of King George III to request the Chinese Emperor open trade with Britain, during which a member of the party gathered botanicals and shipped them to Sir Joseph Banks. This trip fits neatly into the timeline of the story, and ties beautifully into David’s desire to obtain a blood-red rose, unavailable in Europe at the time. I found David’s expedition by sea, and his impressions of Imperial China, interesting.

As with much of Forsyth’s recent work, The Blue Rose also takes some inspiration from traditional lore, in this instance a version of The Blue Rose, a Chinese folk tale. It is a romantic story that ties beautifully into David’s quest, and his relationship with Vivane.

An enchanting, captivating novel, with a plausible, seamless narrative which melds compelling historical fact, with vividly imagined fiction, The Blue Rose is another spectacular story from Kate Forsyth.

Read an Excerpt

++++++

Available from Penguin Au

Or from your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository

******

Also by Kate Forsyth reviewed at Book’d Out