There’s a myriad of books, tv series, and movies set during WW1 out at the moment (for obvious reasons) and I, just like many others, have been swept up in the wave of enthusiasm of needing to know more about this significant era of Australian history.
Therefore, when I received this book via Hachette Australia and The Reading Room, I had high expectations simply because the book was set in 1915, and thankfully, I can say this book delivered admirably.
You often hear that ‘war changes everything and everyone’ and The Soldier’s Wife is a great example of exploring that theme while still delivering an enjoyable story.
The book follows the life of Ruby, a young newlywed who has just arrived in Sydney from Bourke to farewell her husband of only a few weeks as he leaves for the trenches of Turkey.
Simply being married is the first change for our heroine. She comes to realise that she is treated differently due to her marital status and begins to feel like a mature adult for the first time. Believing that returning to Bourke will mean taking a backward step in this regard, Ruby decides to stay in Sydney.
She finds a permanent place to stay, boarding with Maree, whose husband is also enlisted in the army and fighting overseas. And she finds a job, at a timber yard as a bookkeeper.
I could simply say, ‘we follow Ruby as she faces the many hurdles life throws her way on her journey’, but it does sound quite inadequate.
One of the charms of the book, definitely, is that each hurdle is realistic. Each challenge that Ruby needs to overcome is frustratingly normal. (For example, a woman cashing a cheque in 1915 was a huge struggle.) The supporting characters she interacts with are (often depressingly) typical. The choices she has to make could be similarly forced upon us today.
I’d tag The Soldier’s Wife as ‘historical feminist literature’, seeing as sexism and prejudice against women is probably the main theme addressed in the novel. Thankfully Australians and their attitude towards women have changed for the better.
The book also raises the issues of premarital sex, birth control, religious bigotry, prejudices against people with disabilities, ageism, racism, and classism. PTSD, such an unknown element to those eager to enlist at the time, is painfully highlighted too.
Hart addressed each ‘ism’ subtly. She’s the perfect example of ‘show, not tell’ writing. There was never any preaching (or the dull rattling off of facts) getting in the way of the story.
It’s also obvious that Hart has meticulously researched the era. I loved all the tiny details she seamlessly wove into the story. From descriptions of visiting the toilet, to those explaining how a soldier was paid, all the historical finer points are fascinating additions to the characterisation and plot.
If I had one quibble, it would be the ending. I can see why Hart chose that ending, but I can’t say it was the one I wanted. Again, however, it’s probably the most realistic and that suits this novel.
I highly recommend this read and will eagerly await Hart’s next offering.
My rating 5/5