Review Written By
Karen Chisholm

Set in Victoria in the early 1900s, OUT OF THE SILENCE has been republished by Momentum in digital format. This novel won the 2006 Ned Kelly for Best First Australian Crime Novel. Given that Wendy James has now written a number of other books, not only is this a chance to look back at an extremely worthy award winner, it's also a chance to look at back at the work of an author who specialises in sensitive looks at difficult subjects.

Whilst the packaging might be suggesting something a little on the romantic side, and the subject matter pertains particularly to women, this novel is a clever combination of true history and fictional stories that would work for all readers. The fictional stories revolve around two women - country girl Maggie Heffernan and immigrant Elizabeth Hamilton. Although from considerably different backgrounds, both women find themselves in need of work and a way to support themselves in early Melbourne. In a time when the most basic of women's rights were still being fought for by the fledgling Suffragette movement.

Maggie's story starts out in rural Victoria where, living with her family, she longs for something more than that the destiny of country wife and mother. When she meets Jack Hardy part of her sees him as a way out, part of him simply falls in love. Despite all his promises, when she discovers she is pregnant, Hardy is nowhere to be seen.

Elizabeth lost her true love, killed in a tragic accident in the UK, she emigrates to Australia with the promise of a job as a governess. When that job isn't all she hoped for she returns to Melbourne, to live with relatives, and work as a teacher in a specialist school for young women where she encounters the fledgling suffragette movement and Vida Goldstein. Goldstein, a real-life figure, is one of the leaders of that movement, and a passionate believer in the rights of women. It's through Goldstein that Maggie and Elizabeth's lives collide, after she takes up the case of Maggie's murder conviction after her baby is found, drowned in the Yarra River.

OUT OF THE SILENCE is a slow burner book that switches backwards and forwards between the two women's stories. It's a careful and pointed look at the nature of the society and the avoidable circumstances that can tragically lead to murder. In particular it looks at the restrictions and expectations forced on women by others. Whilst it might be easy to dismiss this as "women's fiction", this book does something very clever, very subtly. It personalises the pressure. It shows clearly how unfair the double-standards about unwanted pregnancy were, how restrictive the expectations of women "in their place". It takes all of that out of the realms of history and right into the lives of two women who, because of the skill with which James writes their stories, feel very real. Not surprising that it won the Ned Kelly really.

A giveaway for this book is open for another few days.

Year of Publication

I call his name - only quietly, but he hears me as I knew he would, and wants me as he always does. And we come together - right there in the darkness. And even though there is no way to be certain of any other thing in the world, I am certain that I would risk anything to keep what is between the two of us. For love, I would risk anything, lose everything.'

Out of the Silence is a stunning debut novel about three Australian women from very different worlds: Maggie Heffernan, a spirited working-class country girl; Elizabeth Hamilton, whose own disappointment in love has served only to strengthen her humanity; and Vida Goldstein, a charismatic suffragist from Melbourne and the first woman to stand for Parliament in Australia. When Maggie's life descends into darkness after a terrible betrayal, the three women's lives collide.

Around this tragedy Wendy James has constructed a masterfully drawn and gripping fiction. Based on a true story, it unfolds at the dawn of the twentieth century against the compelling backdrop of the women's suffrage movement and a world on the brink of enormous change. The novel powerfully evokes the plight of women in the early 1900s - not least their limited options, whatever their class and education. However, at its heart this is a story of love - of love gone wrong; of its compromises and disappointments; but ultimately of its extraordinary transformative power.

Review OUT OF THE SILENCE - Wendy James
Karen Chisholm
Friday, April 26, 2013
Blog CR - Out of the Silence, Wendy James (and a giveaway)
Karen Chisholm
Monday, April 15, 2013
Blog Ned Kelly's 2006 Ceremony Report
Karen Chisholm
Wednesday, August 29, 2007

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