Where Fortune Lies by Mary-Anne O’Connor

Reviewed by Ian Lipke

It is important to realise that this story was written for an audience that requires an exciting story not too troubled by authenticity. It is not for the serious reader. Given the book’s limitations and accepting that the genre is romance literature, readers can be comfortable that what they’re about to read will satisfy the ‘feel-good’ criterion that they will most likely apply.

The story opens in County Donegal Ireland in 1879. Its first pages introduce a character who will play a large role in the unfolding story. The woman is poor and blessed with the not very Irish name of Anne Brown. A quirk within the book’s structure is the division into parts identified by colours. Hence this first part is called ‘Brown’, Part 2 is ‘Grey’, Part 3 is ‘Green’ and so on.  This is a bit of welcome novelty in a well-trodden path. The poverty of late nineteenth century Ireland is written in handsome prose and includes the pagan festival of Beltane at which the players’ personal characteristics, of men and women of noble birth or otherwise, are described in sharp relief. The consequences of the Beltane celebrations are felt for a long time by both the guilty and the innocent alike.

There is beauty in the mud of Ireland and in the rural descriptions of Victoria. There are likeable, even realistic, characters in the story. Evidence exists in many situations that demonstrates the sensitivity of this writer. For example, the sex scene between Charlie and Chrystelle is told in a professional and pleasing manner. The author has potential but, among other things, has not demonstrated an understanding that research is a big help to an aspiring novelist. Nor has she nailed a consistency in presenting believable characters is another observation I would make.

Part 2 introduces a brother and sister who will have a leading role throughout the story. They are a likeable pair who depend on a bequest of ten thousand pounds from their mother’s estate. As the will is about to be read, an exquisite character, calling herself Chrystelle Amour, arrives. This is where the novel descends into farce. This persona for another well-known character in the book is a step towards the ridiculous. She is so much a creature of slapstick comedy that her creation questions the author’s integrity. Her influence on the plot is extreme, but is rendered unbelievable by her actions here and subsequently.

Leaving Miss Amour out of this review for a moment, I found farcical incidents one after another. The hero, his bequest from his mother no longer available, meets a drinking companion who just happens to be very rich, who has a weakness for titles, and has a very beautiful daughter. Brothers, estranged from their father, supposedly break in brumbies for a living but do a spot of bushranging as well. (The author demonstrates a lack of knowledge of what can, and what cannot, be done with wild brumbies). Having beaten a vicious sergeant of police who was intent on killing another man, the same brothers are put on trial from which a farcical court scene develops.

A narrative thread, such as it is, links all episodes together. The author simply tacks episodes together. Many will read the book and enjoy it at this level. It will be seen as a wonderful story and will sell many copies, since it belongs to a genre that harvests money. If that is Ms O’Connor’s purpose, she will have no doubt succeeded, and flushed with good will, she will embark on another novel as important as this book.

This is a book that does not suit my taste but will be loved by many.

Where Fortune Lies

(2020)

By Mary-Anne O’Connor

Harper Collins

ISBN: 978-1-4892-6153-3

$32.99; 416pp

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