Beyond the Bay by Rebecca Burns conveys a strong sense of what life was like for English settlers in New Zealand in 1892. The central characters are Isobel, who along with her husband, has been living in Auckland for ten years and her younger sister Esther newly arrived. In alternating chapters, the sisters let us see what was like to be a woman struggling to get by in New Zealand.
Isobel left England because she felt her husband Brendan, constantly losing jobs while bordering on abusive, and her marriage, would be revitalized by moving to New Zealand. Her mother often harped on what a poor husband she had. Moving to New Zealand was a huge undertaking, requiring courage and was often motivated by near desperation. Esther was only 12 or do when Isobel left.
Isobel periodically sends letters back to England describing the mansion she owns, the servants she employs. She reports Brendan has totally reformed and has a very good job. He is now sober and all is well. She paints a picture of Auckland as a near paradise. When Esther arrives in Auckland she finds Isobel has been lying. Isobel lives in a tentament apartment, Brendan gets fired from one job after another and Isobel does laundry and garment work for rich families. Much of Auckland is squalor.
As the story progresses we slowly learn about their mother who is now rich and has given Esther some money. Burns does a very good job walking us through the rough streets of Auckland, we see how poor women help each other.
Isobel is involved in the suffragette movement in New Zealand to give women the right to vote and hold office. She takes Esther to meetings. This is a huge change for New Zealand. ( In England women got the right to vote in 1918, in the USA 1920, 1944 in France, 1902 in Australia, Canada 1917.)
Esther begins to see the sad state of Isobel's marriage, both financially and personally. In one very moving scene Esther and some neighborhood women are talking when a man approaches. Everyone but Esther runs at the sight of him. It turns out he is their landlord. Esther ends up paying Isobel's rent. The landlord will come to play a very important part in the story.
I don't want to give away much of the plot but Esther has a past in England and a secret. She had an affair with a rich older man. Basically to get rid of the threat she might pose to his marriage, he has given her land in New Zealand.
A lot of exciting things happen, an ardouos back country trip, a new romance and a shocking but ultimately very satisfying conclusion.
Burns shows us the sisters gradually getting to know each other again. There are interesting minor characters. We get a feel for ranch life in New Zealand. People we at first disliked reveal their characters and life history expanding our sympathy for them.
I highly recommend Beyond the Bay to all into quality historical fiction. I would for sure read a sequel to this book to see the lives of the sisters develop.
Author supplied data
“Fowey Festival of Words and Music Short Story Competition Winner 2013
Black Pear Press Short Story Competition 2014
My short story collections - Catching the Barramundi (2012) and The Settling Earth (2014) - were both published by Odyssey Books and longlisted for the Edge Hill Short Story Award, the UK's only award for short story collections.
My first novel, The Bishop's Girl (Odyssey Books), was published in September 2016.
My third collection of short stories, Artefacts and Other Stories, was published in September 2017 (Odyssey Books).
I have a writer's website at www.rebecca-burns.co.uk
Follow me on Facebook at http://www.facebook.com/RebeccaBurnsWriter
Follow me on Twitter at @Bekki66”
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Dana Hui Lim is the author of Mother and the Tiger- A Memoir of the Killing Fields. Published by Oddsey Books, it is a masterpiece. Of the 3609 posts on my blog, I am most proud of my Q and A Session with the author of Mother and theTiger A Memoir of the Killing Fields, Dana Hui Lim