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Orphan Rock

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Orphan Rock is a complex and richly detailed story of secrets and heartbreak that will take you from the back streets of Sydney’s slums to the wide avenues of the City of Lights. The late 1800s was a time when women were meant to know their place. But when Bessie starts to work for Louisa Lawson at The Dawn, she comes to realise there’s more to a woman’s place than servitu Orphan Rock is a complex and richly detailed story of secrets and heartbreak that will take you from the back streets of Sydney’s slums to the wide avenues of the City of Lights. The late 1800s was a time when women were meant to know their place. But when Bessie starts to work for Louisa Lawson at The Dawn, she comes to realise there’s more to a woman’s place than servitude to a husband. Years later her daughter Kathleen flees to Paris to escape a secret she cannot accept. But World War One intervenes, exposing her to both the best and the worst of humanity. Masterful and epic, this book is both a splendid evocation of early Sydney, and a truly powerful story about how women and minorities fought against being silenced.


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Orphan Rock is a complex and richly detailed story of secrets and heartbreak that will take you from the back streets of Sydney’s slums to the wide avenues of the City of Lights. The late 1800s was a time when women were meant to know their place. But when Bessie starts to work for Louisa Lawson at The Dawn, she comes to realise there’s more to a woman’s place than servitu Orphan Rock is a complex and richly detailed story of secrets and heartbreak that will take you from the back streets of Sydney’s slums to the wide avenues of the City of Lights. The late 1800s was a time when women were meant to know their place. But when Bessie starts to work for Louisa Lawson at The Dawn, she comes to realise there’s more to a woman’s place than servitude to a husband. Years later her daughter Kathleen flees to Paris to escape a secret she cannot accept. But World War One intervenes, exposing her to both the best and the worst of humanity. Masterful and epic, this book is both a splendid evocation of early Sydney, and a truly powerful story about how women and minorities fought against being silenced.

30 review for Orphan Rock

  1. 4 out of 5

    Terri

    The strength of this epic novel, which spans two generations and covers a broad expanse of important moments in world history, is the history itself. Wilson did her homework and went on to use her research in a way that never felt like an info dump. So often historical fiction authors feel a need to include too much of their research because they think it gives their novel credibility, or because they have put so much work into research that they hate to use a little and throw the rest away. I u The strength of this epic novel, which spans two generations and covers a broad expanse of important moments in world history, is the history itself. Wilson did her homework and went on to use her research in a way that never felt like an info dump. So often historical fiction authors feel a need to include too much of their research because they think it gives their novel credibility, or because they have put so much work into research that they hate to use a little and throw the rest away. I understand how painful it must be to do hours of research, if not days, and then use it to inform a single line or small paragraph. But its a pain that surely goes hand in hand with the craft of writing historical fiction. Wilson had the right formula of just enough and never too much. For that, this is a four star book all day long. I learned things. I was often moved and excited and impressed by the history woven into the story. I was transported back in time, and why else do we read historical fiction but to have that experience? As far as the story goes, it broke my heart a couple times. It also gave me joy and sadness. Sounds like a bad thing, but it's a good thing. You want an author to trick you into feeling something. For most of the novel, I kept turning the page and looked forward to getting back to it at night. However, (and I hate to undermine the positive things I've said with a negative), there were some things I didn't like about the way it was written. Sometimes it was written in what I suppose you would call, omniscient (aka head hopping). I didn't feel like this was necessary. It nearly made me give the novel three stars. But, thankfully, the author's excellent use of historical fact saved the day. I'm a history lover at heart, and she fulfilled my requirements for history brought to life.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Jo | Booklover Book Reviews

    I have had the great pleasure of reading all of Dominique Wilson’s novels to date. Of her moving debut offering The Yellow Papers, I said “there is an observant eye and clear talent with language just waiting to shine bright”. Then she delivered on that in her powerfully compelling second novel That Devil’s Madness. So I dove into Orphan Rock already knowing it would dig deeper than many titles in the historical fiction genre. I always come away from Wilson’s novels feeling I have learned somethi I have had the great pleasure of reading all of Dominique Wilson’s novels to date. Of her moving debut offering The Yellow Papers, I said “there is an observant eye and clear talent with language just waiting to shine bright”. Then she delivered on that in her powerfully compelling second novel That Devil’s Madness. So I dove into Orphan Rock already knowing it would dig deeper than many titles in the historical fiction genre. I always come away from Wilson’s novels feeling I have learned something; with greater breadth and depth of knowledge of the society and time-period in focus. Her passion for research, eye for historical detail and skill at translating and depicting the impact of historical events on the lives of everyday people shines bright in Orphan Rock. Continue reading: https://www.bookloverbookreviews.com/...

  3. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    Orphan Rock is a multi-generational historical novel spanning the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and, as with Dominique Wilson's previous fiction, it explores Australia's social history, its multicultural identity and the roles of women. It is the story of Bessie, a child dumped in an orphanage by her mother, the ironically named Mercy, for reasons that become guessable later in the novel.  Bessie, however, is eventually rescued from this harsh existence and a likely future in domestic servi Orphan Rock is a multi-generational historical novel spanning the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and, as with Dominique Wilson's previous fiction, it explores Australia's social history, its multicultural identity and the roles of women. It is the story of Bessie, a child dumped in an orphanage by her mother, the ironically named Mercy, for reasons that become guessable later in the novel.  Bessie, however, is eventually rescued from this harsh existence and a likely future in domestic service by her mother's new husband Cornelius. So Bessie gets a middle-class life and an education, but Mercy is clearly a troubled woman.  She is impulsive, erratic, and consistent only in her failure to love her daughter and to reveal her reasons for abandoning her. So Bessie grows up knowing only the love of Lottie, a fellow orphan left behind at the Protestant Orphan School, and her stepfather.  But an attempt to make Cornelius aware of Mercy's cruelties tests his affection too far, and in a fatal breach of the relationship, Bessie leaves. She takes up employment as a lady's companion with the dowager Abigail Washington, and this gives her the opportunity for cultural education through her friendship with Josette, a companion to the visiting Frenchwoman Veronique Petillier. The Dawn (1st issue) 1888 (Wikipedia*) However, the bad luck which is destined to follow Bessie throughout her life is the catalyst for her to make an imprudent marriage, a choice made by so many women of the era, when faced with destitution as the only alternative.  And Bertram Griggs, who starts out with good intentions, soon succumbs to the kind of masculinity which was common.  The tragedy which befalls Bessie is bleak but historically authentic. Though the novel wears its research lightly, details of the plot and characterisation bring in aspects of the historical record: the diseases common but not confined to poverty; the White Australia policy as it impacts on Bessie's Chinese friends Bao and Quong Tart (based on a real person); and the campaign for female suffrage and the role of Louisa Lawson, Bessie's eventual employer at a journal for women called 'The Dawn' and also the real-life mother of Henry Lawson. Wilson also makes reference to newspaper reports about emerging policies which gave rise to the Stolen Generations, and the novel is enlivened by all sorts of details of cultural events and technological innovations as the years pass. Through the help of a re-established friendship with Lottie, Bessie gets back on her feet... To read the rest of my review please visit https://anzlitlovers.com/2022/02/20/o...

  4. 5 out of 5

    Lyn

    This was a wonderful historical novel. It follows two women from their beginnings in a orphanage through their adulthood and a daughters story. It shows how hard life was for people in Sydney from the mid 1880s to World War Two and how easily it was to go from being comfortable to very poor. Well researched and populated with realistic and believable characters, this book also confronts some big issues like gender politics, same sex love, marriage and divorce and poverty. This is the first book This was a wonderful historical novel. It follows two women from their beginnings in a orphanage through their adulthood and a daughters story. It shows how hard life was for people in Sydney from the mid 1880s to World War Two and how easily it was to go from being comfortable to very poor. Well researched and populated with realistic and believable characters, this book also confronts some big issues like gender politics, same sex love, marriage and divorce and poverty. This is the first book I have read by Dominique Wilson and I hope to read more.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Frank

    Really, really enjoyed this book. There's so much to it - Sydney and Paris in the late 1800s early 1900s, what life was like for women then and how they coped, and how the laws affected the average population. The characters are really well developed - you almost feel like they're real people that you know personally, and you really feel for them. It's a big book, but I finished it quickly because it was so interesting. Really, really enjoyed this book. There's so much to it - Sydney and Paris in the late 1800s early 1900s, what life was like for women then and how they coped, and how the laws affected the average population. The characters are really well developed - you almost feel like they're real people that you know personally, and you really feel for them. It's a big book, but I finished it quickly because it was so interesting.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Sue Rawlins

    I love this book!! If I could give it more stars I would! It's set in Sydney Australia, about Bessie and her daughter Kathleen. It's about how women had to fight for their rights, and how they coped during the depression and during wars. It's so beautifully written, and full of information about the history of those times but you never feel like you're reading history. My favourite book so far! I love this book!! If I could give it more stars I would! It's set in Sydney Australia, about Bessie and her daughter Kathleen. It's about how women had to fight for their rights, and how they coped during the depression and during wars. It's so beautifully written, and full of information about the history of those times but you never feel like you're reading history. My favourite book so far!

  7. 5 out of 5

    Karen

    Got halfway through this but couldnt read anymore. Chunks of historical research thrown in which threw the storyline off.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Margaret

    I love this type of historical fiction, when the author weaves historical facts into an interesting story, so that you not only get to enjoy a great story, but end up learning something as well. This is what Dominique Wilson has done with this book, very lightly and giving just enough historical facts so that the reader understands what's happening around the characters and why they act the way they do, but never so much as for it to feel like a history lesson. This is a long book, but it doesn' I love this type of historical fiction, when the author weaves historical facts into an interesting story, so that you not only get to enjoy a great story, but end up learning something as well. This is what Dominique Wilson has done with this book, very lightly and giving just enough historical facts so that the reader understands what's happening around the characters and why they act the way they do, but never so much as for it to feel like a history lesson. This is a long book, but it doesn't feel that way because the story is so interesting and different from a lot of that genre. It'll break your heart in places, and you'll get to love the characters - even minor characters are full of personality. I would love to see this book made into a movie, or a series!

  9. 4 out of 5

    Sophie

    I got a bit fed up with this book. It seemed the author wanted to show she’d done some historical research, so threw in random events or characters which didn’t contribute to the storyline. Plus it was pretty predictable, to the point of being annoying.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Tien

    Orphan Rock is an epic story of women over 2 generations. While readers follow their journeys through life, we also follow on a tumultuous time of history (of Australia & the world). These women lived through women suffrage, wars, the Great Depression,  influenza pandemic (this sort of hit rather close to home!), the Razor gang and many other significant historical events. They are ordinary women from the outlook and yet, at the end, you will see that even so, they are extraordinary for they cam Orphan Rock is an epic story of women over 2 generations. While readers follow their journeys through life, we also follow on a tumultuous time of history (of Australia & the world). These women lived through women suffrage, wars, the Great Depression,  influenza pandemic (this sort of hit rather close to home!), the Razor gang and many other significant historical events. They are ordinary women from the outlook and yet, at the end, you will see that even so, they are extraordinary for they came out the other end of sufferings, stronger and brighter. I really wasn't expecting the book to be quite so big (almost 500 pages) and it took me quite a long time to read because I can only read a little bit of suffering at time before I need something lighter to lift my mood. I totally agree with Brian Castro (see his blurb in above book description) especially in the phrase, 'the realism unforgiving'. Gosh, yes, things just kept happening to these women and felt like they almost never caught a break! I think they did have a break but those chapters in their lives just didn't make it into this book because it'll be somewhat boring reading someone else cruising through life. I'd recommend this book if you enjoy your Australian history; being immersed in last century's Sydney and it really felt like a historical tour via the eyes of ordinary people who lived it then. My thanks to Transit Lounge Publishing for this paperback copy of book in exchange of my honest thoughts

  11. 5 out of 5

    Sandra

    This was a really great book! I got so involved with the characters. I am so glad I stumbled on it on my library's homepage. Right from the start of the book I was hooked and read the first 32 pages in one sitting. I felt a real affinity with the characters and the historical events were so interesting. I learned things about my country (Australia) that I didn't know. My only issue is the ending.....I hope Ms Wilson is planning a sequel! **an update on this review. I contacted Dominique Wilson an This was a really great book! I got so involved with the characters. I am so glad I stumbled on it on my library's homepage. Right from the start of the book I was hooked and read the first 32 pages in one sitting. I felt a real affinity with the characters and the historical events were so interesting. I learned things about my country (Australia) that I didn't know. My only issue is the ending.....I hope Ms Wilson is planning a sequel! **an update on this review. I contacted Dominique Wilson and she told me she is not planning a sequel. I can't say much more without spoiling the book.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Karen

    I loved this book! I did not want it to end…

  13. 4 out of 5

    Sue Ebeling

  14. 5 out of 5

    Amanda

  15. 4 out of 5

    Denise Dunn

  16. 5 out of 5

    Barbara Currey

  17. 5 out of 5

    Kaz

  18. 4 out of 5

    Carole Wark

  19. 4 out of 5

    Bree T

  20. 5 out of 5

    Kasey

  21. 5 out of 5

    Win

  22. 4 out of 5

    Marika Harvey

  23. 4 out of 5

    christena hayes

  24. 5 out of 5

    Vicki Court

  25. 4 out of 5

    Linda Freemantle Boorman

  26. 4 out of 5

    Simone Newman

  27. 5 out of 5

    mike perry

  28. 5 out of 5

    Margaret Fullarton

  29. 4 out of 5

    Tracey Lee Cooper

  30. 4 out of 5

    Kylie Owen

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