Friday, 4 July 2008

The Dark Moutain

"The Dark Mountain" by Catherine Jinks, is a departure from my recent reading. It is historical fiction set in Australia, in the Southern Highlands south of Sydney, in the mid 1800s. Charlotte Atkinson and her family show some of the difficulties of the expectations of society on colonial life. The central characters, and the main features of the story are based on fact. Charlotte's widowed mother remarries, and the new stepfather is a man who is an alcoholic, probably leading on to mental instabilities, who was previously the overseer of the estate. His actions lead to the ruin of the family estate, and lead Charlotte's mother taking the children to Sydney in a bid to be rid of him. But he continues to cast a dark cloud over their lives for many years to come.

The central themes of this book, are the division of the classes, based on background (breeding), wealth, and religion, that actions and words have consequences, and the mother and daughter relationship. It gives a glimes of the culture of colonial Australia, especially the portion of the book set in Sydney, where the family attend events such as cricket matches, fine works displays, regattas, lectures and day trips to Bondi Beach (not the easy trip it is today!). The story begins to be told by Charlotte in her later life, as she looks back to the past, to tell her family about the story of her childhood. Interlude chapters are interspersed where she comes back to the present to give an explanation of something as she sees it from currently, rather than as it happened, and we get to know some of how Charlottes life came to be so different from the path it started out on.

Thanks to Allen & Unwin, for the chance to read this new release.