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Thursday, May 09, 2013

The Heiresses By Alison Rushby. Sydney:Pan Macmillan, 2013

The year is 1926. Seventeen year old Thalia, Erato and Clio are summoned to London by a woman called Hestia, who tells them that she is their aunt and they're triplets. They were separated at birth, after their mother's death. Now, their unpleasant father has also died and the money he held in trust for his wife should be theirs, but there's a problem: a half-brother, Charles, has the money and isn't about to let go of it. And in 1926, the law allows this. Hestia is determined that her beloved sister's children shall have the money she wanted them to have. They will live with her meanwhile.

Each of the girls has a different background and personality. Thalia, who has been kept on her guardians' estate all her life, not allowed to learn much beyond French and the piano and repressed, is grabbing the excuse to rebel and do all the things her "uncle" thinks women shouldn't do. Erato aka Ro was brought up by a loveable but irresponsible university academic and his wife, who was the one who looked after the money and has died, leaving him to make disastrous financial decisions. Ro wants to study medicine and is generally the most sensible of the three - until she meets a young man. Clio has been brought up by a vicar and his wife, the only parents she has ever known, and had a more or less normal life, but her father has died and her mother is very ill, needing treatment. This could be her chance to get the money she needs.

The 1920s was a lively era. The world had just been through "the war to end wars" with millions dying, first from the war itself, then from the Spanish Flu that came almost immediately after. People reacted against this. The outrageous flavour  of  the  times comes through well in this novel. 

 Among the books many positive features was the occasional touch of humour, such as when Thalia is caught with a boy in her room and has to put up with a tutorial on various types of birth control. We weren't given an info dump, just hints, as the novel went, of what made the characters act the way they did. There were some interesting and sobering touches about the eugenics studies happening at the time, with a young eugenicist suggesting the sterilisation of those who don't measure up, which made me, at least, shudder, knowing what happened in Germany only a few years later.

A number of things didn't quite make sense for me. For example, having summoned her nieces to London and vowed to get them their mother's money, Hestia then disappeared for large chunks of the novel, leaving them to do their own investigation into mysteries around around their birth and make their own arrangements about wresting the money from their half-brother; her only contribution, after a useless meeting, is to phone him up and yell at him now and then. And while I could understand Thalia's rebellion, I wondered just how she learned to drive and smoke a few days after arriving in London from a country estate in which her guardian wouldn't let her wear make-up let alone smoke or learn to drive! Yet one day she goes out and returns a little later in the day driving a car and smoking, with not a single cough or splutter.

This novel has been slotted into the "new adult" category rather than YA, but really, I will be happy to offer it to the better readers among our students in Year 9 and 10. There's very little in it that I haven't seen in YA before and the characters are in their late teens.

A light, entertaining read that would be just right for the beach or over a coffee.

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