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Publisher's Summary

What if Elizabeth Macarthur – wife of the notorious John Macarthur, wool baron in early Sydney – had written a shockingly frank secret memoir? 

In her introduction Kate Grenville tells, tongue firmly in cheek, of discovering a long-hidden box containing that memoir. What follows is a playful dance of possibilities between the real and the invented. 

Grenville's Elizabeth Macarthur is a passionate woman managing her complicated life-marriage to a ruthless bully, the impulses of her own heart and the search for power in a society that gave her none - with spirit, cunning and sly wit. 

Her memoir reveals the dark underbelly of the polite world of Jane Austen. It explodes the stereotype of the women of the past - devoted and docile, accepting of their narrow choices. That was their public face - here's what one of them really thought. 

At the heart of this book is one of the most toxic issues of our times – the seductive appeal of false stories. Beneath the surface of Elizabeth Macarthur's life and the violent colonial world she navigated are secrets and lies with the dangerous power to shape reality. 

©2020 Kate Grenville (P)2020 Bolinda Publishing

Critic Reviews

"There is no doubt Grenville is one of our greatest writers." (The Sunday Mail)

"Kate Grenville is a literary alchemist, turning the leaden shadow of the historical Elizabeth Macarthur into a luminescent, golden woman for our times. Intelligent, compassionate, strategic and dead sexy, Grenville’s Macarthur is an unforgettable character who makes us question everything we thought we knew about our colonial past. A polished gem of a novel by a writer who is as brave as she is insightful. I simply loved it." (Clare Wright)

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Not what I was expecting

I love Kate’s books and pre purchased this one but I was expecting something very different. Her usual touch and sense of humour is completely missing as is her special ability to create Aussie characters that resonate in time.

This book instead is a previously unpublished autobiography very slightly edited. It’s missing massive parts of the history of MacArthur and ends really abruptly.

5 people found this helpful

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Splendid imagining of a woman's life.

I listened to this book shortly after The Dickens Boy by Tom Keneally, and could compare and contrast the two approaches to historical characters based on limited material. Both books are superb and entertaining. There were more 'external events' in The Dickens Boy, whereas Kate Grenville lets us see events purely through the eyes of Elizabeth Macarthur. Any woman with the misfortune to have married John Macarthur would deserve our pity, but Elizabeth finds ways of living semi-independently with this obstreporous man, partly by striking up a relationship with Mr Dawes. And she learns to manipulate her husband, up to a point. Kate Grenville has told her story with great sensitivity and skill.
Reader Valerie Bader does a sterling job throughout.

3 people found this helpful

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Like being there ....

I loved this book. Beautifully written and beautifully read. Amazingly descriptive. A real page turner. I was sorry when it ended.

1 person found this helpful

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Intriguing and engaging speculative history

Australian colonial history is predominantly about men. Men’s actions, men’s voices, and much of the primary source material obscures the stories of colonial women. Their letters were not personal so much as acts of PR.

Kate Grenville’s novel asks the question of what would a women write about these times if she knew she would have no audience until some time in the unknowable future. As Elizabeth MacArthur, the wife of John MacArthur of rum rebellion fame, Grenville paints an engaging and satisfying picture of life in a hostile land with a husband who can only really be described as a dick. It is a warm, captivating concept that is well executed. I’d recommend listening to it while out in the Australian bush for an even more immersive experience.

1 person found this helpful

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Wonderful storyline full of historic references

As they say behind every great man is a woman rolling and her eyes and that is exactly the relationship between Mr & Mrs Macarthur. Kate Grenville has truly brought this historical character to life. Whilst the stories are fictional, the telling of the first interactions with the local indigenous communities tells a tale that needs to be told, and with sensitivity to both sides and I hope this book allows Mrs Macarthur's story of survival, resilience and courage to be told far more broadly than ever before.

1 person found this helpful

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Disappointing

I didn’t enjoy this book but persevered with it. Although it is a work of fiction I think it fails in its aims. The sensibilities, political correctness and guilt of today seep through the text giving an unrealistic gaze on the perspectives of the time. The voice of John Macarthur and his relationship with Elizabeth seemed to lack authenticity. This was further exacerbated by the reader whose pace and pronunciation of words became annoying.

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A subtle masterpiece

Captivating, authentic, inspiring, evocative, clever and humorous. Kate has a real talent for figurative language and it was a pleasure to discover it through this book.

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A great read

Easy to listen to, nice narrator. I love how you can practically hear Mrs Mcarthur rolling her eyes at Mr Mcarthur throughout the entire book. I was slightly disappointed by how quickly events happened towards the end and were hardly mentioned, it felt rushed. Nevertheless, I enjoyed this book.

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Enjoyable and beautifully written

Thoroughly enjoyed hearing Mrs MacArthur’s tale set within that early period in European settlement of Sydney. Interesting to follow her growing up and maturing into a thinking woman!

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Fantastic experience

An absolutely marvellous story. Valerie Bader is as much responsible as Kate for the pleasure of the book. I love how it dovetails with The Lieutenant.
Thanks all.

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  • Gordon
  • 29-09-2020

Historical fiction

Thoroughly enjoyable historical fiction, based on the life of Elizabeth MacArthur. I would recommend this book!

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  • Paula Beavan
  • 02-08-2020

Exquisite

There isn’t much more to say. So well written and researched. Not to mention relatable.

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