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It Will Sweep You Off Your Feet: Review of The Unforgiving City by Maggie Joel

September 9, 2019

1899. It’s the turn of the century and the people of Australia are divided. They are striving for union and nationhood, but divisions run so deep that they not only threaten the Federation, but the colony itself. Sydney is especially rife with turmoil, with attempted shootings attempts, burning of the Premier’s likeness, and other violent acts.

However, the house of aspiring politician Alasdair Dunlevy and his wife Eleanor was, as far as the community was concerned, perfectly normal. Perfectly normal until Eleanor receives a single handwritten note which changes her entire world and throws her into one of secrets and lies. Soon, underneath their outward appearance of normality is a sordid collection of deceptions. Is the happy couple actually truly happy? And is the fact that Eleanor hasn’t been able to conceive a child always lingering in the backs of their minds? The secrets of the household also include the Dunlevy’s maid Alice, who is facing her own struggles with her sister, a wayward soul who can only cause trouble for Alice and her position in the household.

As is the very nature of secrets, Eleanor, Alice and Alasdair are all alone with their personal demons, despite living in such close quarters. Each shows a brave and stoic face to the community – especially Alasdair with his political aspirations. He would be ruined if people discovered his secret! Eleanor overthinks nearly every situation, panicking that people have already deduced her secret. Alice is only trying to do what is best for her sister and her sisters’ unborn child, but gets drawn into situations she doesn’t know how to get out of. All three try to find ways to take care of their problems, but what is the cost of keeping secrets and making deals in the dark? Who will pay the ultimate price for their secret?

Maggie Joel’s The Unforgiving City is a fantastic look back at the history of Sydney and the stories that are all too believable for that time. It is a grand, sweeping tale that grabs you the moment you open the first page. Each character’s story is completely gripping, interwoven from character to character with perfect ease. You are instantly involved in each character’s turmoil and find yourself questioning what you would do in their situation, how far you would be willing to go to keep a secret, and perhaps, most importantly – are you willing to forgive those who have kept secrets from you? Maggie Joel has created a stunning and evocative story that will sweep you off your feet and put you down right in the middle of the dirty streets of turn of the century Sydney.

Buy a copy of The Unforgiving City here

About the author:

Maggie Joel has had four novels published. The first, The Past and Other Lies, was published to critical acclaim in Australia in 2009 and in the United States in 2013. Her second novel, The Second-Last Woman in England, was published in Australia in 2010, in the United States in 2011 and in the United Kingdom in 2013. This book was awarded the 2011 Fellowship of Australian Writers’ Christina Stead Award for Fiction. Maggie’s third novel, Half the World in Winter, was published in 2014 and in the United Kingdom in 2015. Her fourth novel, The Safest Place in London, was published in 2016.
Maggie lives in Sydney and works as the operations manager at a federal government agency.


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