Having been heart-broken by reading The Woolgrower’s Companion by Joy Rhoades, I’m absolutely thrilled to be part of the book’s launch celebrations and would like to thank Sian Divine for inviting me to participate and for sending me a copy of The Woolgrower’s Companion in return for an honest review. Even better for me is the fact that Joy is staying in with me to chat about the book today.
Staying in with Joy Rhoades
Welcome to Linda’s Book Bag Joy. It’s such a treat to have you here. Thank you for agreeing to stay in with me.
Tell me, which of your books have you brought along to share this evening and why have you chosen it?
I’ve brought along my debut novel The Woolgrower’s Companion, to celebrate its release in paperback from Viking Books, Penguin in the UK on 28/6.
(Huge congratulations Joy!)
What can we expect from an evening in with The Woolgrower’s Companion?
An evening in with The Woolgrower’s Companion is a bit hard to categorize. A lot of different groups claimed it in Australia, where, I’m thrilled to say, it was one of the best-selling debuts of 2017. It’s historical fiction, literary fiction and it also appealed to what booksellers call the mass market. And book clubs and libraries liked it too.
(I’m not surprised. I loved, loved, loved The Woolgrower’s Companion and will be sharing my review in a moment or two!)
I’m proudest of the wonderful writer Elizabeth Buchan, who said, ‘a novel about endurance and a stubborn will to survive, it is written with passion and intensity that is hugely attractive.”
(And she’s absolutely right!)
What else have you brought along and why?
I’ve also brought some of Mavis’s sponge cake! In The Woolgrower’s Companion, many of the themes emerge through the homestead kitchen, the people coming and going, and food prepared and eaten there. So for example, Daisy, the Aboriginal Australian girl, secretly prepares food. It’s 1945 and she (and Kate, her boss) can’t let visitors know that an Aboriginal Australian has touched the food. Kate rejects that and subverts the rule. Kate eats here too, with her father, and later with another character, who I won’t name here, as he’s central to the story.
The recipe for Mavis’s sponge cake is in the back of the book, along with a number of family recipes. Mavis was a wonderfully kind bush woman, the mother of a family of girls, all friends of our family of girls. And Mavis was-the-best-cook. This is her remarkable sponge.
I love the recipes in the back of the book Joy. Thanks so much for staying in with me to chat all about your wonderful The Woolgrower’s Companion. I’ll put the kettle on, make a pot of tea, turn it three times, and we’ll have a slice of cake whilst you read my review of your book!
My Review of The Woolgrower’s Companion
With WW2 raging abroad, life is tough for those eking out a living on Australian homesteads.
Oh heavens. If anyone were to ask me for an example of a perfect read, The Woolgrower’s Companion would be it. I truly adored it. Joy Rhoades seems to have looked inside my heart, found what touches it completely and used every element in her writing so that I am emotionally bereft at having finished the book. I read the last page, burst into tears and took quite a while to stop sobbing! The Woolgrower’s Companion broke me completely and I loved it as a result.
The plotting is flawless. This may be billed as a love story, which it is – and an absolutely wonderful one at that, but it is so much more besides. Alongside love there is family, authority, feminism, mystery, violence, grief and pure unadulterated joy. There’s prejudice, history and geography too so that reading The Woolgrower’s Companion is like being conveyed straight to the 1940s and experiencing every nuance of life at the time. Sometimes Joy Rhoades shocks her reader, sometimes she thrills them, but always she entertains, captivates and enthralls them. All life is experienced between these pages. The attention to detail in the descriptions of nature surrounding Amiens sheep station gives a cinematic piquancy that is astounding.
Part of the complete entrancement of this book is that it is impossible not to be involved with the characters. I worried about them all the time, especially Kate and Daisy, when I wasn’t actually reading about them. I thought Harry was a magnificent creation. He provides such an effective light relief as well as some of the most poignant aspects and his speech is so natural that I could hear him as if he were by my side. Daisy too has such presence and I was outraged at the prejudice against the Aboriginal people of the time.
It illustrates the fabulous quality of Joy Rhoades’ writing that the ‘quotations’ at the start of each chapter reflect perfectly what is happening without once undermining her glorious storytelling. The inclusion of recipes at the end of the book also helps convince the reader that this isn’t a work of fiction, but an account of real people’s lives – people whom we care about.
The Woolgrower’s Companion is a sublime book. It thrums with emotion and drama and held me completely spell-bound. I didn’t want it to end and feel adrift without it. It is amazing and I want everyone to have the joy (and pain) of reading it.
The Woolgrower’s Companion
Australia 1945. Until now Kate Dowd has led a sheltered life on her family’s sprawling sheep station but, with her father’s health in decline, the management of the farm is increasingly falling to her.
Kate is rising to the challenge when the arrival of two Italian POW labourers disrupts everything – especially when Kate finds herself drawn to the enigmatic Luca Canali.
Then she receives devastating news. The farm is near bankrupt and the bank is set to repossess. Given just eight weeks to pay the debt, Kate is now in a race to save everything she holds dear.
The Woolgrower’s Companion is available for purchase through these links.
About Joy Rhoades
Joy Rhoades was born in a small town in the bush in Queensland, Australia, with an early memory of flat country and a broad sky. Growing up, she loved two things best: reading and the bush, often climbing a tree to sit with a book. Her family would visit her grandmother, a fifth-generation grazier and a gentle teller of stories of her life on her family’s sheep farm.
At 13, Joy left for Brisbane, first for school and then to study law at university. After graduating, she worked all over the world as a lawyer. It was in New York that she completed a master’s degree in Creative Writing at the New School University, and the people, the history, and the landscape of her childhood led her to start writing The Woolgrower’s Companion.
She now lives in London with her French husband and their two young children, but she misses the Australian sky.
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