Monday 25 January 2016

Rush Oh! by Shirley Barrett

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 whaleman 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 alliance with a pod of frisky killer whales - and in particular, a killer whale named Tom.

Rush Oh! by Shirley Barrett is published in hardback by Virago Press on 4 February 2016.

After a glut of crime, psychological thrillers and contemporary fiction over the past few months, I found it a little difficult at first to settle into this story of the life of a whaling family in 1908 New South Wales, Australia. However, Shirley Barrett's writing is marvellously engaging, and it really wasn't that long at all before I found myself firmly immersed in Mary Davidson's story.

George 'Fearless' Davidson is famous in Australia, but I have to admit that his story, and the whole whaling industry is something that I had never come across before. However, Shirley Barrett has created such a wonderful voice in young Mary that I found myself totally entralled and caught up in the life of this unusual family.

Mary is funny and bright, she's taken on a lot of responsibilities during her short life. Things are not easy for her and her family, yet her humour and capacity to see the best in things shines through. Mary's clumsy and naive attempts to attract the attention of new crew man John Beck are endearing, and the reader can't help but cheer her along.

I don't want to mislead anyone though and it is to be remembered that Rush Oh! is so much more than just a coming of age story. Whaling is not a gentle occupation, it involves violence and can be brutal at times, and Shirley Barrett perfectly incorporates this into her carefully researched and elegantly written story.

Along with her superbly created human characters, the author also expertly brings to life Tom, the leader of the pack of Killer Whales. The almost magical connection and co-operation between Tom and the other whales, seemingly working in partnership with the men of the whaling crew is quite stunning.

Rush Oh! is a striking story which captures the era and the history so well, from the food, to the language to the landscape.

My thanks to Ursula from Virago, the publisher who sent my copy for review.

Photo from
Shirley Barrett is best known for her work as a screenwriter and director. Shirley's first film, Love Serenade, won the Camera D'Or (Best First Feature) at Cannes Film Festival in 1996. The script for her most recent film, South Solitary, won the Queensland Premier's Prize (script) 2010, the West Australian Premier's Literary Prize 2010.
Rush Oh! is Shirley's first novel.
She lives in Sydney, Australia

For more information about Shirley Barrett and her work, visit her website


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