Title: Hello, Goodbye
Author: Emily Brewin
Published: June 28th 2017
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Genres: Fiction, Australian, Historical
Rating: 5 stars
It’s 1968 and free-thinking country girl May Callaghan’s world is turned upside down when she finds out she’s pregnant to her boyfriend Sam, who is awaiting draft orders. A profoundly moving story of love during a time of great social change, with an ending that will leave you cheering.May Callaghan is seventeen years old and on her own. At least that’s how it feels.
Her devoutly religious mother and her gentle but damaged father are fighting, and May’s boyfriend, Sam, has left their rural hometown for Melbourne without so much as a backward glance.
When May lies to her parents and takes the train to visit Sam at his shared house in Carlton, her world opens wide in glorious complexity. She is introduced to his housemates, Clancy, an indigenous university student, and Ruby, a wild bohemian. With their liberal thinking and opposition to the war in Vietnam, they are everything that May’s strict Catholic upbringing should warn her against.
May knows too well the toll that war has taken on her father, and the peace movement in the city has a profound effect on her. For a while, May’s future burns bright. But then it begins to unravel, and something happens to her that will change her life forever.
Hello, Goodbye is a stirring debut historical fiction title, set in Australia in the late 1960’s. It is protagonist, seventeen year old May Callaghan’s heartbreaking story, drawn from the threads of so many true life experiences of this age. Hello, Goodbye looks at how war, social convention, religious influence and policy in Australia failed to support young unmarried mothers. It is a book that I found achieved the balance between a historically informative narrative and a profoundly sincere fictional tale.
In the year 1968, May Callaghan, the daughter of a devoutly religious mother and a father who suffers from wartime PTSD, is in the final stretch of her high school education. All May cares about is Sam, her slightly older boyfriend. When Sam moves to Melbourne and is soon after conscripted to fight in the Vietnam War, May is beside herself. Without her parent’s permission, May takes the train from her small town to the big smoke of Melbourne to be with Sam. In the bright lights of the big city, May finds her eyes are opened to many different experiences. She meets Clancy, an indigenous student and Ruby, a free spirit. May discovers there is a wave of new radicalised thinking happening in Melbourne, a growing movement that is in opposition to the war in Vietnam. May finds it hard to grapple with her parent’s strict religious focussed mode of thinking, to the revolutionary movement occurring in the city. As May begins to see the merit in this peace movement away from the glare of her parents, a significant event occurs in May’s life that has far reaching implications.
Since reading the deeply moving inaugural novel from Australian author Emily Brewin, I felt compelled to read up on what events and experiences inspired this stellar novel. After reading a number of interviews with the author, I did my own spot of research. I was utterly dismayed to discover a chapter in Australia’s recent past that young unmarried mothers from the years 1950, through to the mid 1970’s, found their babies forcibly removed from their care, to be adopted. It was a cruel policy perpetuated by social conventions of the community, churches, medical workers and head policy makers. What Emily Brewin brings us is a tale that is carefully woven around these facts and experiences. May, the main protagonist of Hello, Goodbye is partially inspired by Brewin’s aunt’s experiences. It definitely gives further weight to this compelling novel.
Brewin’s depiction of the time period in which her novel is set, late 1960’s Australia, is highly credible and obviously well researched. I was reminded of just how significant the changes our nation was going through at this point in time. These changes extended to social attitudes, morality and political choices. There was a rise in movements opposed to Australia’s involvement in the Vietnam War and the peace movement was gaining momentum. Brewin transports her reader to this turning point in Australia’s recent history with ease. What was just as vivid to read was the shocking treatment unwed young mother’s such as May, experienced at the hands of those who were in charge of their medical care. These poor young girls, who made a mistake, were punished by those of medical authority and this also extended to the wider community. The stigma these girls were subjected to was simply unjustifiable. I was also appalled by the lack of care, compassion and barbarity the girls suffered when they were in labour. Being denied pain relief and shackled to a bed while giving birth was terrifying. Brewin delves into this horrifying experience in her novel, offering a scathing narrative account of her young protagonist May’s experiences. It is all consuming and utterly heartbreaking but readers need to stick with the story as a small glimmer of hope is issued near the conclusion of Hello, Goodbye.
In examining the characters featured in Hello, Goodbye, May is a good starting point. I quickly developed an attachment to May Callaghan. Her naivety, as well as her passion for Sam and her steadfast attitude in risking it all earned my early sympathies. May is a character that easily reflects in the era in which she lives, a small town country girl with devoutly religious parents, who finds her eyes opened to a whole new and rapidly moving world in the big smoke. May’s journey is definitely a coming of age story, as we witness her growth from a sheltered young girl, to woman who finds there is a place for her views. May’s quick descent into motherhood is pitiful at times but later becomes bittersweet. Brewin handles the rest of her cast with a deft hand. May’s parents are excellent examples of the era. The war damaged and stoic father, matched to damaged mother who seeks solace in the confines of religion. Sam, May’s boyfriend, is the image of a typical young man of this era. Brewin captures the inner turmoil men of this time faced in balancing their duty to their country through being conscripted to join the war, to leaving their love, family, friends and comforts at home. Sam expresses the sheer terror of war and the how the threat of being killed in action was looming over him. A vividly realistic portrayal. This also extends to the smaller role characters in Hello, Goodbye. Clancy, an indigenous university student who May encounters when she is in Melbourne, is a wonderfully represented. Along with Clancy comes Ruby, a wild and spirited character that Brewin also paints with a deft hand.
Overwhelmingly, what I loved and what ultimately resonated deeply from my reading of Hello, Goodbye was May’s voice, along with her resulting heart-rending experiences in the novel. Brewin’s move to tell this imperative story to us from May’s perspective serves to extend May’s binding predicament and how this wide-eyed young girl really was not adequately equipped, nor supported to bring a precious baby into the world. Sorrow, regret and a profound sense of understanding marks my reading of Hello, Goodbye. This is a brilliantly realised historical fiction novel from a new author I feel fortunate to have discovered.
Hello, Goodbye by Emily Brewin was published on June 28th 2017 by Allen & Unwin. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of Hello, Goodbye Emily Brewin visit here.