Saturday, August 9, 2014

Bittersweet: A Novel

Title:  Bittersweet:  A Novel
Author:  Colleen McCullough
Publication Information:  Simon & Schuster. 2014. 384 pages.
ISBN:  1476755418 / 978-1476755410

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Favorite Quote:  "I grow very tired of egalitarian generalizations - all men are not equal, nor are all women. Individualism should be prized."

I loved the premise of this novel. Four sisters - two sets of twins - set out in the 1920s to carve their futures as trained nurses. They are to become some of the first specifically trained nurses.

Edda wants to be a doctor but settles for nurses' training as that is what is available. Grace wants to get married and raise a family; she goes to nursing to be with her sisters. Tufts wants the independence that knowledge and training will bring. Kitty fights against her own beauty, seeking to be recognized for the person that lies behind the beautiful face.

The four sisters, born to the same father but two different mothers, are growing up in 1920s New South Wales, Australia. The nursing training offers a new and acceptable opportunity through which to escape their dominating mother. Maude is mother to Tufts and Kitty, and stepmother to Edda and Grace.

Along with the story of the sisters comes the story of the men surrounding them. Jack is the bachelor running his ranch. He is a friend to Edda, but is he more?  Dr. Liam Finucan is a physician at the hospital. He is knowledgeable and kind. He too becomes a friend to the sisters. Bear is a traveling salesman whose relationship begins with a chance meeting. Charles is the heir to a local fortune; he is also a physician, whose life up to this point has been spent in England.

1920s and 1930s Australia provide the backdrop to this saga. The weather, the political climate, the economic depression, and the societal role of women all play a role and provide a context to this book. However, the background is not sufficiently developed, just briefly introduced where relevant. This is not an epic book of Australia; it is family saga set there. The focus is definitely not the bigger context.

The premise of this book holds such promise - four strong young women seeking change and independence. If romance and relationships come their way, great. If not, the focus remains on their individual journeys and their sisterhood.

Unfortunately, the reality of this book leans significantly toward the romance and the relationships rather than the development of these young women. At the end of the day, "there were men's things and women's things; they led on from the manifest differences of anatomy into the realms of the intangible soul."

As a result, several of the characters seems one dimensional and undeveloped. For example, early on, the book reveals that Kitty is the sensitive one that the other three protect. We know that this is the result of childhood experiences, but that is all. The reference is repeated several times during the book, but never truly explored. The characters could have been compelling and could have drawn the story together, had they been more fully pictured.

A somewhat disappointing development to a promising beginning. Without giving things away, I will say that I was also particularly disappointed in the ending point of two of the sisters' stories. Some of it seemed unbelievable, and some of it disappointing. I wanted and expected the story of women doing great things or at least managing life on their own; what I got was a romance with heroes and villains.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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