Friday 6 June 2014

Midnight Burial

Midnight Burial by Pauline Deeves (National Library of Australia)
PB RRP $ 14.99
ISBN 9780642278500
Reviewed by Anastasia Gonis

Pauline Deeves has built a wonderful story around the mysterious and sudden death of Lizzie, one of four daughters of a wealthy sheep farmer, in the Australia of 1868. Lizzie’s death is the central stone around which all the rich history of that era is constructed. The narrative is comprised of diary entries and letters from and between the female characters presenting varying points of view. There are dramatic descriptions of life and living, employment, men’s attitudes, and social norms. Beautiful scenes incorporating the natural surroundings add a newsreel effect to the prose.

Ten year old Florence and her sisters live subject to the harsh commands of their father. His authoritarian rule diminishes their dreams and silences any opinions they have. But the three older girls are strong-willed and strong-minded.

When Florence is told that Lizzie has died suddenly due to the fever, she refuses to believe her healthy sister could die so suddenly. The burial takes place late at night without a doctor or a minister attending. All her clothes are burnt, except her fur coat that is nowhere to be found. Jane the second eldest descends into silence.

Florence’s schooling is taken up by Lizzie’s best friend, Susannah, a liberal thinker who allows the child freedom to flourish.

Father is a keeper of secrets. When he is attacked by bushrangers and almost dies, he undergoes a complete change of character. Secrets are revealed. So is the truth about Lizzie’s death. Jane is also transformed by her new found freedom, leadership qualities and her determination to prove herself.

The story accents the role of women in society and at home, and showcases strong, independent female characters whose courageous spirit and liberal ideas influenced the course of history. It further depicts the discrimination that convicts and their descendents experienced. This outstanding book was inspired by a true story discovered within the collection of the National Library of Australia. 

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