Bittersweet: A Novel by Colleen McCullough

ARC from Edelweiss

To be published: August 19, 2014

This book is the story of the four Latimer sisters, two sets of twins, named Edda, Grace, Tufts and Kitty. They live with their father, a Church of England rector, and their stepmother in 1920’s Australia. The girls are going to be the first formerly trained nurses in Corunda, a prosperous town outside of Sydney. There is a lot of resistance to them to be thus trained not only by the un-trained female nursing staff already in the hospital as well people who don’t think the girls should be able to live on their own as unmarried women. The book chronicles not only the girls settling into their jobs as new trained nurses (which made me think of the Call the Midwife book and TV series, though it was set about 30 years later in England), but also how they each matured on their own in their personal and emotional lives. The story chronicles not only the sisters but also the lives of common Australian folk during the Depression of the 1930s, a story not usually told outside of the US. 3-1/2 stars.

Ok, I will admit that I originally picked up this novel because I had read The Thornbirds by the same author after watching the 1980s miniseries, and really enjoyed them. This one sounded just as interesting, so I decided to give it a try as well. Overall, I really enjoyed the story, even though it seemed to have suddenly ended just as it was getting interesting. I really think the author should’ve divided this story into two books or possibly one book per sister as that would make a better “romantic saga” as the publishers are terming the book. One of the things I did really like about the book is that the author had excellent vocabulary. The complex nature of the words used impressed me, and I found myself looking a lot up, which doesn’t bother me. I like books that educate me. I also liked learning about the Australian Depression, which I did not previously know that much about. I knew a little bit it as my paternal grandmother had grown up around Sydney during this time period, and she had told me some things.

 Edda was probably my favorite sister, or the one I could most identify with as she was not afraid to speak her mind and was the most independent and knew exactly what she wanted out of life. Grace and Kitty started out weak, but eventually became much more complex characters as the story progressed. I also really liked Tufts as she ended up being the more research-minded sister, content to be a teacher though she does end up with a much more public job by the end of the book. I thought Jack’s character was a little weak, but I’m glad he was able to find happiness in someone. Charles Burdum was an interesting character, and I have definitely met men like him before. I would’ve liked to hear more about Dorcas as she was only included in the last part of the book.

Disclaimer: I received this advanced reader’s copy book via Edelweiss in exchange for my honest review.