Top critical review
Grenville writes Elizabeth Macarthur as a Mills & Boon heroine
Reviewed in Australia on 28 September 2020
First let me say that I have always enjoyed Kate Grenville's books and looked forward to reading this one.
I did enjoy the first few chapters, about Elizabeth's childhood. Grenville's prose style is beautiful. However, I think of all her books, this is the least successful although it's certainly an easy read and reasonably entertaining.
For me, Grenville's portrayal of the characters was a bit one-dimensional. None of them rang true. Mrs Macarthur and her husband were almost caricatures. Elizabeth was too good to be true - although history does portray her as a woman of intelligence, diligence, grace and VIRTUE. History shows her husband as argumentative, irascible and difficult to like. However, in this book he had no redeeming qualities at all. The secondary characters also came across as 'types' rather than believable human beings.
History shows that even though Macarthur was away for some time and Elizabeth was left in charge, he was an astute businessman and his letters to her show his considerable interest and control of the breeding and marketing of fine wool. There is no doubt that she also played an equally, if not more important part, but his role cannot be discounted. This book seems to want to do just that.
If you are going to write a fictional, historical biographical romance, and this book is total fiction - there were no letters - why would you choose a woman who is well known in Australian history and turn her into an 18th century Mills & Boon heroine.
History tells us that Elizabeth and Dawes were friends, but she was also a particular friend of Governor Philip. There is nothing to say that they were lovers. And in the tiny Colony that was Sydney in the 1790s, it would have been virtually impossible for someone as well known as Elizabeth Macarthur to have such a full-on affair - even a small flirtation would have been noticed I would imagine.
I think Grenville has done Mrs Macarthur a disservice. This to me was popular fiction and I think it would have worked well as just that, if it had been about a fictional heroine.