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The Floating Garden, by Emma Ashmere.

April 15, 2015

The Floating Garden, by Emma Ashmere.

Australian Women Writers

4 stars

A wide-ranging historical novel about Sydney and its people in the 1920s: those who were displaced with the building of the harbor bridge, those unhappy and wealthy, and those attracted to spiritualism.

Sydney itself lies at the heart of this book, with Emma Ashmere providing fine descriptions of various parts of the city and nearby country.  Much of the action takes place on Milson’s Point, a rundown part of Sydney about to be destroyed to make way for the building of the iconic bridge across the harbor. Ellis is a middle-aged lesbian who has run a boarding house there for almost thirty years. She belongs to its closely knit neighborhood. The coming upheaval has brought back her memories and guilt over a young woman she had loved when both were part of a spiritualist household. Another major character is Rennie, an English woman who wants to be an artist. She is married to a wealthy, but abusive husband. Their lives intersect when Rennie runs away from her husband and Ellis is forced to seek a new place to live.

Ashmere tells Ellis’s story well. The book is organized with a mix of non-chronological chapters focusing on different times and different characters. Her structure works because of her writing skills and the way in which the chapters link well with each other, eventually blending into a larger narrative.  Her characters are unique and interesting, if not always realistic. At times the plot hinges on coincidences, but somehow that doesn’t detract from the enjoyment of the book. Details are sharp and realistic, while a sense of unreality and transition prevails.

Emma Ashmere is an interesting Australian woman. This is her first novel although she has previously published a number of short stories. She has also worked as a researcher on books about Australian gardening history and women and empire.  Her Masters in Creative Writing is from the University of Adelaide and her  Ph.D. is from La Troube University.  Her biography says that her graduate work at La Troube University focused on “the use of marginalised histories in fiction.”   As an historian sometimes frustrated by the lack of information about those “marginalised” in the past, I am very aware of the potential for doing just this.  The Floating Garden is a fine example how fiction can be useful in expanding our understanding of the past.  It is also simply an engaging narrative.  I would love to know more about her thoughts and her process for creating this.

I enthusiastically recommend this book to other readers, especially those who care about Sydney, and those interested in a new type of historical fiction.

Thanks to Spinifex Press for publishing another fine novel and for sending me a copy to read and review.  Keep up the good work.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. April 15, 2015 10:26 pm

    LOL Fancy me, an Aussie, finding out about this book from you in the US! I’ve just ordered it, thanks for an enticing review:)

  2. May 18, 2015 8:08 pm

    Hello MD Brady, Thank you for such a heartening review of my book. I really appreciate it.
    Kind regards, Emma

    • May 18, 2015 9:15 pm

      Thank you for writing a fine book—and for understanding what it means to write about those left out of the historical records. I meant it about being interested in your Ph.D. work. Anyway I could learn about that?

Trackbacks

  1. April 2015 Roundup: Historical Fiction | New Australian Women Writers Challenge Blog
  2. March-April 2015 Roundup: Diversity | New Australian Women Writers Challenge Blog
  3. Juno & Hannah, by Beryl Fletcher | ANZ LitLovers LitBlog
  4. The Floating Garden, by Emma Ashmere | ANZ LitLovers LitBlog

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