Reviewed by Wendy Lipke
In her latest novel, The Shearer’s Wife, Fleur McDonald has once again given her readers an insight into life in Australia outside the big cities.
First the readers are taken back to the 1980s where Rose and her Irish shearer husband Ian pull up at the Golden Fleece roadhouse in their Holden Kingswood wagon. They are headed to a shearing shed an hour’s drive from the town of Barker. Fleur McDonald introduces the reader to the hardships and mateship these outdoor men thrive on. This is no place for a woman, especially one who is about to be a first-time mum of twins at the age of twenty. ‘The shearing team – usually a dozen of them and all blokes – camped close to each other. She is sick of the constant travel, the weary men and the stench of sheep’ (3). When her twins are born after a harrowing birth, Rose decides to stay in Barker when her husband moves on to the next job.
Barker, 2020, is the home of Detective Dave Burrows. Readers will be familiar with Dave as he has appeared in four of McDonald’s mystery novels set in an Australian rural setting. He also appears in many of her other novels, not necessarily in the dominant role. Dave is put out when the Australian Federal Police arrive and highhandedly take over, arresting grandmother Essie for receiving drugs through the mail. Having settled into this town with second wife, Kim, Dave is angry. ‘We can’t let this get into the press, I don’t want people judging Essie or making her the talk of the town. It’ll ruin her, and you and I know there’s more to this than just what we’ve seen today’ (85).
Fleur McDonald is very good at passing on to the reader the emotions experienced by her characters. The tension is obvious between Rose and Ian around the birth of the twins – the disappointment she felt that he did not visit her in the hospital and his inability to adapt to fatherhood. It is also apparent between the city and country police.
In this story the author has foregrounded one of the characters she introduced in a previous novel, Starting From Now. Journalist Zara Ellison, who is romantically drawn to Dave’s partner, Jack Higgins, had returned to Barker to be near her dying brother. She is the only one who can try to find the answers to Essie’s behaviour when the local police are taken from the case. She and Kim, Dave’s wife, are the strong women Fleur McDonald likes to include in her stories. Yet Zara has her own demons. McDonald takes the opportunity with this character to highlight post traumatic syndromes.
Fleur McDonald is well aware of the problems that often afflict country folk and has taken time out from her prolific writing of two novels a year, to create the not-for-profit organisation DVassist which was formerly known as Breaking the Silence, set up to help people experiencing Family and Domestic Violence outside urban areas. Her charity work and early life in outback areas have given her a deep understanding of people in country areas which is clearly shown in her novels.
I thoroughly enjoyed The Shearer’s Wife and the memories it prevoked of earlier times.
The Shearer’s Wife
by Fleur McDonald
Allen & Unwin