Review: The Last Reunion by Kayte Nunn

 


Title: The Last Reunion

Author: Kayte Nunn

Published: 30th March 2021, Hachette Australia 

Status: Read March 2021, courtesy Hachette

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My Thoughts:

The Last Reunion is a rich and absorbing story about art, war and friendship from internationally bestselling Australian author, Kayte Nunn.

Art dealer intern Olivia Goddard is excited when she’s given the opportunity to evaluate the authenticity of a unique collection of netsuke (small three dimensional carvings traditionally used by Japanese men to secure their kimono sash) including the elusive figure known as the ‘fox-girl’. Arriving at the Wiltshire estate of its owner, Beatrix Pelham, Olivia is focused on assessing the pieces and returning to London but illness and a snow storm results in an enforced stay. Keen to learn more about the netsuke, Olivia is intrigued as Beatrix reveals how the ‘ fox-girl’ first came into her possession as a gift from her first love when they were both serving in Burma during WWII.

Employing a dual timeline, Nunn seamlessly combines historical fact and fiction that centres on the unique role women played in the ‘forgotten war’, in The Last Reunion. Around two hundred and fifty Women’s Auxiliary Service members were posted to Burma during WWII where the ‘Wasbies’, as they were known, ran canteens that catered to the troops engaged in fighting the Japanese.

In 1944, Beatrix, Plum, Bubbles, Lucy and Joy are assigned to a mobile canteen unit where they find themselves working long days, and nights, to supply soldiers with food, drink, sundries and a dance partner. I enjoyed getting to know these authentically portrayed, interesting female characters, admiring the strength and courage they displayed in such physically, and emotionally, challenging circumstances. Nunn’s vivid descriptions of the environment and the ‘Wasbies’ role in Burma is fascinating, and I appreciated the opportunity to learn more about this relatively obscure facet of wartime history.

Events related in the wartime timeline play into the later time period, as in 1999, to sell her precious collection of netsuke, Beatrix needs to prove provenance, and to do so must confront a shocking incident that occurred during her time in Burma. Fortuitously an invitation to a reunion of the women Bea once served with arrives while Olivia is at Bea’s house, and sets the scene for a long overdue reckoning.

Offering intrigue, action, and a touch of romance, the well paced plot of The Last Reunion is enough to hold any reader’s attention, though it’s the Wasbies and their role in WWII that I found most compelling. This is interesting, well crafted historical fiction that I’m happy to recommend.

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Review: The Silk House by Kayte Nunn

Title: The Silk House

Author: Kayte Nunn

Published: June 30th 2020, Hachette Australia

Status: Read July 2020 courtesy Hachette Australia

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My Thoughts:

 

The Silk House is an entrancing novel from Kayte Nunn, unfolding over two timelines from the perspectives of three women.

The novel begins in the present as Thea Rust reports for work at her father’s alma mater, Oxleigh College. The exclusive English boarding school has accepted its first ever class of girls, and Thea, a history teacher, is to live in with them at their campus residence, known as Silk House.

In 1768, Rowan Caswell is an orphan employed as a maid-of-all-work by the owners of Silk House, silk merchant Patrick, and his wife Caroline Hollander. The home is not a happy one, for the master’s moods are mercurial and the mistress longs for a child.

Mary-Louise Stephenson is a spinster facing penury with her widowed sister. She believes she is capable of creating unique silk designs that will assure her a fortune, but the male dominated industry is uninterested until silk merchant Patrick Hollander offers her a commission.

Nunn weaves links between the past and present as Thea bears witness to the echoes of tragedy. Troubled by her experience of mysterious occurrences in Silk House, Thea investigates the building’s history discovering it’s reputation for being haunted due to a series of deaths, beginning with that of Caroline Hollander.

The story of Caroline’s haunting demise is revealed primarily through Rowan, who is an unwitting contributor to her mistress’s fate when her knowledge of herbal medicines, passed down to her by her late mother, is ill-used. A suggestion of witchcraft, an omen of bad luck, and a doomed love affair all contribute to the inevitable tragedy that stains Silk House.

To be honest I felt the third perspective of Mary-Louise introduced by Nunn was the only real flaw in the novel, as I thought it superfluous, even though Mary-Louise’s silk fabric design is of some significance in the story. Thea and Rowan are definitely the more compelling characters.

Nevertheless, part ghost story, part mystery the pacing is excellent as the story unravels. Nunn skilfully develops a sense of foreboding and unease as she weaves in and out of the past and present. The story is enriched by historical detail, enhanced by its feminist themes, and enlivened by interesting characters.

Atmospheric and intriguing, with gothic sensibilities, The Silk House is a finely written, spellbinding tale.

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Available from Hachette Australia

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