The other day I payed the public library a visit and picked up “Bittersweet” by Colleen McCullough. In the meantime I have nearly finished reading this novel about Australian country life in the 1920s and beginning of the 1930s. It was a hard time for Australian workers. This novel is mainly a family story. However, McCoullough describes with great insight the political situation during that time in Australia. A lot of it reminds me of present day politics. It is amazing how much present day politicians’ attitudes resemble what politicians were on about some eighty or ninety years ago!
- MATTHEW CONDON from
- THE COURIER-MAIL interviewed Colleen McCoullough at her house in Norfolk Island in
- OCTOBER 05, 2013
I copied some excerpts from that interview:
” . . . .
IT IS GETTING DARK IN THE FERNERY AND there is a fierce gale raging. It sounds like a jet aircraft roaring through the trees. A confined McCullough is relishing the drama. “Oh, I love the wind,” she says, looking to the ceiling. “I love it.”
In between preparing for the publication of Bittersweet, her first historical Australian saga with strong female characters – in this case two sets of twins, the indomitable Latimer sisters
– since The Thorn Birds, she has been rereading Antony and Cleopatra, the final book in her monumental seven-volume Masters of Rome series of novels.
“I’m reading my own,” she says flatly. (Laughter.)
“Boredom,” she says. “And I wanted to read a good book.” (Loud laughter.)
The novels have been lauded around the world, hailed by Roman scholars for their accuracy and applauded by the powerful, including former foreign minister Bob Carr
and US politician, consultant and author Newt Gingrich. It is the work she is most proud of.
“Nobody had ever written a big book about Caesar, ever,” she says. “Nobody had ever really written a big book about the Romans … I soon found out why, because the research was so fearsome. I thought, oh, good.”
The Rome books also delivered her something new – male readers. By the millions. In 2000 she was awarded the prestigious Scanno Prize for literature in Italy, largely on the back of her
Rome epic. Previous recipients included Nobel laureates Mario Vargas Llosa and Saul Bellow.
Then, last year, the Latimer twins arrived in her head and wouldn’t go away. Bittersweet – written, she says, to stave off boredom and amuse herself – is vintage McCullough. The tale of Edda, Grace, Tufts and Kitty, a suite of sisters who are at once attractive, intriguing, headstrong, outspoken, clever in different ways and vulnerable in others, is set in the imagined Australian country town of Corunda during the 1920s. The saga tracks their often hilarious interactions with each other, their romances, work and dreams in a country on the brink of depression.
The novel underlines several of McCullough’s enormous strengths as a writer – superbly deft characterisation, multiple plots that move apace, a warmth and generosity in the telling, and dialogue sharp and, in moments, uproariously funny. The book is also a meditation on love, and the decisions we make in life that riffle into our future. As McCullough’s London agent Georgina Capel reflects: “The reason for Colleen’s continuing success is that she understands what it is to love – to have loved greatly and to have received great love. She can express that better than any writer I can think of, and of course she has soul, which all enduring writers have to have.”
HarperCollins’ Sydney-based publishing director Shona Martyn says she “nearly fell out of bed” when she learned McCullough had penned a big, rambunctious historical Australian saga featuring four women. “I couldn’t believe it; then I read it and really loved it,” Martyn says. “She was a beacon for what Australian writers could do on the world stage, and she continues to refine her work.”
There is a sense of comfort in Bittersweet, too, as if McCullough the writer has, in some way, come home. “This new novel came out of nowhere,” she says. “Maybe when you’re 76, that’s where life is. It’s nowhere-ville because you could be dead tomorrow.”
She wanted to write about a country hospital, and nurses, and sisterly friendship. And, of course, men – the lovers and husbands who enter the Latimer sisters’ orbit. There are few novelists better on the humour inherent in the vanities and egos of pompous men.
. . . . . “