A DISTANT PROSPECT
by Annette Young
Distant Prospect Publishing, Lorn, NSW
Price: paperback $US19.95; hardback $US36.95
Available at Amazon and at www.adistantprospect.com
Reviewed by John Young
This is a fascinating novel, set in Sydney in the 1920s. The central character, Lucy Straughan, is a teenage girl partly crippled as a result of polio. She and her father are Irish, and had moved to Australia some years earlier, after the tragic death of Lucy’s mother.
When Lucy begins attending a Catholic school at Strathfield she at first finds it hard to fit in, and is subjected to teasing and bullying from certain of the other girls. To some extent this is due to her own antisocial behaviour and bitterness.
Her father is devoutly Catholic, while Lucy has difficulties about the faith, agonising over why a good God would allow the suffering that she undergoes.
Gradually, as she finds friends, she overcomes her antagonism. This is particularly through a common interest that she and three other girls find: namely, music. The theme of a developing friendship through the medium of music is central to the plot of this story.
All the characters in the novel are very clearly portrayed, and their interactions move the story along and show the development of the characters.
The period – Sydney in the late 1920s – is well presented, as are the localities, including Newtown and Strathfield, in which the action takes place.
The author has researched her material meticulously, a fact which shows especially in the dialogue in Irish when Lucy and her father are talking to each other.
Different views emerge about the British occupation of Ireland, with Lucy even blunter than usual in telling the snobbish Mrs Sotheby some unpleasant truths about the behaviour of British soldiers towards Irish who opposed them.
Unlike so many novels today, A Distant Prospect has no coarse language or sexual scenes: it is realistic without being offensive. Nor is it negative about religion: it presents the differing views of the characters, and without any embarrassment lets us see that Lucy’s father is a fervent Catholic, attending Mass and praying the Rosary.
A disappointing thing about many modern novels is the materialistic view they portray, excluding spiritual values. Sex figures highly in these works, as does unnecessary violence. The dialogue is often crude and at times blasphemous.
For these reasons many works that have good qualities can’t be recommended, and are certainly unsuitable as gifts. Those drawbacks certainly do not apply to this work by Annette Young.
A first novel, the author developed the plot over a period of many years from when she was in her 20s. Now married with four young children, she draws on her varied experiences over the years to convey a richness and depth of feeling that is evident throughout the novel as the characters come to terms with the difficulties in their lives, and learn to appreciate each other and to form close friendships.
The author’s love of beauty and music, especially classical music, shows clearly in the writing. A life-changing moment in her life occurred when, as a teenager, she climbed a mountain in Tasmania at sunrise. In an interview she spoke of how she was overwhelmed by the beauty of God’s creation. “In that moment, I suddenly had no doubt God existed. That’s when I realised God existed and that I had to do something about it.”
She began this book in her 20s, but had to put it aside until a few years ago – a fact which has added to the quality and depth of the story. As she says: “Being part of a family as mother you are immersed in lives that are so varied and filled with different characters, stories, frictions of personality and the whole wonderful mess of life.”
The book does not push a particular philosophical or religious view of life, but goodness, beauty and other spiritual qualities are evident as the characters come to terms with their difficulties and struggles.
This is a book that will appeal to a wide range of readers, from early teenagers onwards.
Annette Young is at present working on a sequel, which many readers of the present book will be eager to read. It is a trilogy to be called In the Hearts of Kings, with the first volume expected in 2018.