What’s it all about?:
Kate Dowd’s mother raised her to be a lady but she must put away her white gloves and pearls to help save her family’s sheep farm in New South Wales.
It is 1945, the war drags bitterly on and it feels like the rains will never come again. All the local, able-bodied young men, including the husband Kate barely knows, have enlisted and Kate’s father is struggling with his debts and his wounds from the Great War. He borrows recklessly from the bank and enlists two Italian prisoners of war to live and work on the station.
With their own scars and their defiance, the POWs Luca and Vittorio offer an apparent threat to Kate and Daisy, the family’s young Aboriginal maid. But danger comes from surprising corners and Kate finds herself more drawn to Luca than afraid of him.
Scorned bank managers, snobbish neighbours and distant husbands expect Kate to fail and give up her home but over the course of a dry, desperate year she finds within herself reserves of strength and rebellion that she could never have expected.
The Woolgrower’s Companion is the gripping story of one woman’s fight to save her home and a passionate tribute to Australia’s landscape and its people.
What did I think?:
First of all, a huge thank you to the author, Joy Rhoades for getting in touch and asking whether I’d be interested in reviewing her novel and to Virago UK for sending me a copy in exchange for an honest review. I had already seen some very positive reviews of this book from my fellow bloggers and was really looking forward to getting stuck in. I’m a big fan of historical fiction, especially when based around the Second World War period and even more so when we get to hear about a country aside from Germany, France, Holland or Britain that was based so far away from the immediate troubles but you could still see the devastating effects that the war had on the communities. I particularly love reading about countries that I’ve never visited before and the landscape and culture were so vividly drawn in The Woolgrower’s Companion that I could almost imagine I was right there experiencing everything our characters are going through at that point in their lives.
Joy Rhoades, author of The Woolgrower’s Companion.
Our female lead for the novel is Kate Dowds who lives on an estate, Amiens that farms primarily sheep, with her father in New South Wales. The year is 1945 and Kate soon finds out that the family are in dire financial straits with the terrifying possibility that Amiens will be re-claimed by the bank and that her and her father will be forced to leave and find a new home and livelihood. Kate’s father hasn’t been the same since he returned from the Great War, his memory decidedly unreliable and his moods changeable, prone to uncharacteristic outbursts. Additionally, two Italian prisoners of war have recently arrived at Amiens in order to help with the daily work, Luca and Vittorio but instead of being put at ease and relieved by their presence, Kate feels increasingly threatened and confused. Brought up as a lady and not accustomed to the hard work of running a farm, Kate must not only step up and take on more responsibility for running Amiens due to her fathers ill-health but she must also find a way to raise the money to save the family from an increasingly dire situation. However, as the money continues to trickle away, her father slowly deteriorates, the bank closes in and the tension between workers heightens on the estate, Kate begins to realise how desperate her life has really become and must draw on all her abilities to rescue them all.
New South Wales, Australia where The Woolgrower’s Companion is set.
Although it took me a little while to become fully invested in this story, by about halfway through I had become enraptured with both the plot and the characters, particularly our female lead, Kate, the struggles she goes through and the patience, strength and determination she displays to try and get herself and her father out of a very sticky situation. I’ve had personal experience with witnessing a person I know with PTSD and I fully understand how frightening, heart-breaking and frustrating it can be not only for the individual going through it but for the people around that it also affects and so my heart broke a little bit for Kate each time we saw a scene with her and her father. His reactions to his daughter were so familiar and reminiscent of my own experiences that at times, it was difficult to read but at the same time, highly rewarding as I felt even more connected to Kate than when I first began the novel.
Finally, I appreciated that the author didn’t make this novel a typical love story which it could quite easily have been. Perhaps the reader might realise where the narrative is heading eventually but I was delighted that it wasn’t all about the romance. It was much more about Kate as a character, her struggles and triumphs, the difficult relationship with her father, the treatment of the Aboriginal people and in effect, it was more a love story to Australia itself as the description of the land and the creatures within it was nothing short of magnificent and so visceral in the details. I would definitely be interested in reading more from Joy Rhoades in the future and was mesmerised by a truly captivating story.
Would I recommend it?:
But of course!
Star rating (out of 5):