Rush Oh! – Shirley Barrett

Rush Oh! – Shirley Barrett

Title: Rush Oh!
Author: Shirley Barrett
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Picador
Publication Date: 1st September 2015
Pages: 349
Rating: 4/5 stars

Thanks to Dymocks Books for the review copy!

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When Mary Davidson, the eldest daughter of a whaling family in Eden, New South Wales, sets out to chronicle the particularly difficult season of 1908, the story she tells is poignant and hilarious, filled with drama and misadventure.

It’s a season marked not only by the sparsity of whales and the vagaries of weather, but also by the arrival of John Beck, an itinerant whale man with a murky past, on whom Mary promptly develops an all-consuming crush. But hers is not the only romance to blossom amidst the blubber…

Swinging from Mary’s hopes and disappointments, both domestic and romantic, to the challenges that beset their tiny whaling operation, Rush Oh! is a celebration of an extraordinary episode in Australian history, when a family of whalers formed a fond, unique allegiance with a pod of frisky Killer whales – and in particular, a Killer whale named Tom.

I had heard the story of Tom the Killer whale before – an animal who helped men capture and kill other whales. It was intriguing (and also rather horrific) so I was excited to revisit his story in this historical fiction. Beautifully written, there will definitely be comparisons to Moby Dick, though this novel is definitely more accessible!

Mary was an interesting narrator to choose – of all the characters, her life after this particular episode appears to have been the most boring. The story is a vicarious attempt to relive her past, and an attempt to make sense of the occurrences of 1908. At times she was rather bland, but for the most part the story was so interesting that the narrator didn’t matter all that much.

Some of the whaling scenes were truly horrific, definitely driving home the nature of the job and bringing relief that it is no longer a common practice. I honestly felt sick, particularly when we witnessed Louisa’s (Mary’s sister) grief at watching her father and his team chasing a whale.

Barrett also considers pertinent themes of poverty (through Mary’s family) and racism (through the Aboriginal men who join the whaling crew). She approaches these issues considerately and with care. Where I felt she didn’t quite hit the mark was with her representation of relationships, both familial and romantic. Mary’s preoccupation with John Beck takes up much of the book, but I was disappointed with its resolution (or lack thereof). In addition, her relationships with her sisters and her father all appeared very strained, with little development over the novel’s course.

Although there were quite a few plot elements which I felt weren’t tied up very nicely, the book was a pleasant read (and a nice detour from my favourite genres of YA and fantasy)! Perfect for those interested in Australian history, it is an interesting and incredibly well-researched insight into the period. I particularly loved the insertion of ACTUAL newspaper clippings from the time!

What do you like to see in historical fiction? What is your favourite time period to read about?

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