Orphan Rock is a complex and richly detailed story of secrets and heartbreak that takes you from the back streets of Sydney’s slums to the wide avenues of Paris, 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.
Dominique Wilson firmly establishes her talent for writing sweeping historical fiction with Orphan Rock. It follows her first two novels, The Yellow Papers and That Devil’s Madness, set in late 1800s China and North Africa respectively. Wilson, an editor and writer of short stories and fiction, was born to French parents in Algeria – a country then torn apart by civil war – before her family fled to Australia. Her understanding of the calamitous events that marked the late 19th and early 20th century is evident in Orphan Rock. Beginning in an orphanage in the late 1800s, young Bessie is reunited with her family, yet as she learns more about her family’s history, she discovers that not everything is as it seems.
Orphan Rock is told in two parts, first following Bessie, and then her daughter Kathleen who lives in France before returning to her hometown of Sydney, forever changed by war and the Great Depression. Recognisable historical figures including Tilly Devine and her inner-Sydney razor gangs make an appearance. The precarious place of Chinese immigrants is explored, as is the growing women’s suffrage movement. Orphan Rock covers a long time period, moving across the globe. Yet, at its core, it is driven by the story of mother and daughter Bessie and Kathleen, their relationships and the global events which shaped both their lives.
Orphan Rock provides fascinating insight into many historic Sydney locales, making for an interesting read for anyone who knows Sydney. Lovers of historical fiction and readers who are drawn to stories about strong women in history are bound to enjoy Orphan Rock