Author: Mary-Rose MacColl
ISBN: 978 1 76029 524 0
Publication Date: April 2019
Publisher: Allen and Unwin
Copy: Courtesy of the Publisher
Initially I was unsure whether I liked this novel, because some elements of the plot veer close to cliché; however, in the end I was won over by the complexities and complications of the characters. The strength of “The True Story of Maddie Bright” lies in vividly drawn, interesting and empathetic characters. The plot, while interesting, is largely familiar; but the characters will keep you reading.
In 1920s Australia the teenage Maddie is desperate for a job – any job – to help feed her family. To her astonishment, she finds herself helping Prince Edward with his correspondence while he tours Australia. Soon, however, the romantic and wide-eyed Maddie is involved with people far more worldly than she, and she is quickly in over her head.
Another strand of the novel takes us to meet Maddie again, now in her 70s and living in Australia. There’s a lot of interest in finding out how her life got from there to here, and what the connections are between these two strands and the third: set largely in England, Victoria is a mature and experienced journalist who’s been asked to travel to Australia to interview Maddie.
Young Maddie and old Maddie are recognisably the same person; intelligent, caring, straight forward, and sometimes blisteringly honest. She’s a character readers will care about, and I genuinely wanted to know what happened to her. It becomes clear very early on that something notable is going to happen to her in the 1920s, although it’s not initially clear what the impact will be and how it influences the person she becomes and the life she leads between the two time periods we’re following.
MacColl does a great job of conveying the historical elements of the novel – notably the tour of Australia by the real Prince Edward VIII. These are vividly depicted, and although as far as I know all specific incidents in the book are fiction, she captures the flavour of real events and emotions.
To some extent the novel is an exploration of what you owe other people: your family, your friends, your lovers, the people you meet casually. It’s subtle about it, but it will make you stop and think. How do you treat the people you come across? Would you make the same decisions as the characters?
The novel also touches lightly on a very current issue: who decides what’s true and what’s “fake news”? Where views conflict, who has the power to determine what becomes the “genuine” narrative? I suspect that MacColl started writing this novel before these issues became central to the daily news, but it certainly adds currency to the narrative. There’s an echo of MeToo as well – again, probably not deliberately, but it’s hard to read the novel without reflecting on current events.
In the end I really enjoyed “The True Story of Maddie Bright”, mostly due to the characters. I enjoyed spending time with them, and wanted to know what was going to happen to almost all of them. Only two or three are (deliberately) less appealing. Most are people you’d be happy to know. I particularly recommend this novel to people who enjoy strong characters.
This guest review was submitted by Lorraine Cormack, one of our long-time Beauty and Lace Club members. Thank you for sharing your thoughts with us Lorraine.
The True Story of Maddie Bright is available now through Allen & Unwin and where all good books are sold.