Colleen McCullough is probably best known for her novel The Thorn Birds about a family living in a sprawling sheep farm in the Australian Outback. I remembered enjoying it many years ago so I thought I would give Bittersweet, her latest, a try.
This novel which is set in the 1920's in a mid-size Australian city, follows the lives of the four Latimer sisters, two sets of twins, daughters of a minister and his late wife and current wife. The four sisters grow up very dedicated to each other.
They are intelligent, very capable, and lovely (Kitty, one of the sisters is extremely beautiful, and the obvious favorite of the mother, which leaves her somewhat emotionally scarred). All four share an extreme dislike for their gossipy, loud, and obnoxious mother/stepmother, and as the novel begins, they are excited to finally be able to escape their mother to train in a nearby hospital to learn to become medically educated nurses, something new at the time.
The very strict hospital environment they find themselves in is a shock, but they are good natured and very determined and resolved to overcome every hardship. They possess a really tight bond as sisters and all have exceptional insights into the situations and people that surround them and with the help of each other, they are able to get through their tough training.
I almost quit reading after the first third of the book because nothing much was happening but fortunately I persisted and things began to get more interesting as a short, very wealthy, and over-confident Englishman takes over the running the hospital and immediately makes marriage overtures to Kitty, the very beautiful and most vulnerable sister.
Also at this point in the novel, the world wide Great Depression starts to squeeze the Australian economy with devastating results. These two events effect the lives of the four sisters and force them to cope with the new situations and rejuvenates the storyline. So after some early doubts, I did finish the book and enjoyed it.
Bittersweet is basically a novel about feminism and the struggle of women to independently live the lives that they dream of. I enjoyed learning about that and how the Depression effected Australia.
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