Title: The Quarantine Station
Author: Michelle Montebello
Published: February 19th 2019
Genres: Fiction, Historical, Romance
Rating: 5 stars
The rules were crystal clear. She broke them all…
1918 … When Rose Porter arrives on the shores of Sydney with little more than her suitcase, she must take a job as a parlourmaid at the mysterious North Head Quarantine Station. It’s a place of turmoil, segregated classes and strict rules concerning employee relationships.
But as Rose learns, some rules were made to be broken.
2019 … Over a century later, Emma Wilcott lives a secluded life in Sydney with her one-hundred-year-old grandmother. Gwendoline is suffering dementia and her long-term memories take her wandering at night. Emma realises she is searching for someone from her past.
Emma’s investigation leads her to the Quarantine Station where she meets Matt, the station carpenter, and together they unravel a mystery so compelling it has the power to change lives, the power to change everything Emma ever knew about herself.
The Quarantine Station, by Australian author Michelle Montebello, is an exquisitely told dual timeline narrative, traversing 2018 with the past, in 1918. It is a novel that knocked me for six, it left me breathless, heartbroken and filled with sorrow, but it also made me hopeful. A novel that continued to surprise with each page I turned, The Quarantine Station is a beautifully realised historical fiction and romance tale, complete with a strong contemporary narrative to carry it along. I loved it to bits!
What is the price to pay for indulging in forbidden love affair? This is the powerful question that encircles the latest novel from Australian author Michelle Montebello and the author’s first turn in the field of historical fiction. A book that cleverly intertwines the monarchy, with the pertinent history of Sydney’s famous Quarantine Station, a devastating secret holds the key to a family mystery. It can all be traced back to 1918, where a young woman, who originally hails from London, sets foot on Australia’s shores in desperate need of a job. The search for a place of employment leads Rose Porter to the North Head Quarantine Station, an isolated compound, where no one wants to work. When Rose takes up her new position as a parlourmaid, her eyes are opened to a new world of rules, regulations, protocol, separation and dismay. However, Rose soon connects with the only carpenter on the facility and their relationship blossoms, despite the restrictions stipulated by the station. Decades later, in the present day, Emma Wilcott tenderly watches over her one hundred year old grandmother Gwendoline. In recent times, Gwendoline has escaped her aged care facility and has been found some distance away, seeking something she has lost. As the night time excursions increase, Emma knows it is her priority to find out what her grandmother is continually looking for. To offer a sense of closure and understanding to her confused grandmother, Emma is led on a pathway to the Quarantine Station, a place her grandmother once lived. With the help of Matt, a present day employee of the station,the two work tirelessly to unlock a long held secret that may help Gwendoline lay her ghosts of the past to rest.
Opening a new book by a new author is a little like pot luck. You don’t know what to expect, or what your response will be to the story. The Quarantine Station by Michelle Montebello is my first experience of this author’s work. I did choose to read this non review book thanks to a number of recommendations from other seasoned readers like myself, through my role as a romance editor on The Australian Women Writers Challenge. I am glad I paid attention to these endorsements, as each and every one was correct in their estimations. The Quarantine Station is an outstanding read from start to finish, and I’m already marking it down as one of my top reads of the year.
It is no secret at all that I adore dual timeline narratives, but they have to be composed right in my eyes to succeed as a whole. The interchanges from the past to present have to be seamless. The past must also have a strong bearing on the present, and vice versa. I encountered no issues in this department with Michelle Montebello’s novel. I know Michelle is a seasoned romance writer, with three novels already released in this genre. But I do feel that she is well matched to historical fiction and dual timeline narratives, it was like she was born to write for this genre! I found a strong connection to the present day narrative, having a grandparent who recently passed away, who was very much like Gwendoline. I could easily connect with the ageing, memory loss and dementia themes prevalent in this novel. I also felt that Montebello tackled this narrative thread with the dignity and insight into caring with someone with these medical issues it deserved. It came across as both compelling and introspective.
The 1918 past timeline aspect of the novel absolutely blew me away. The minute I was introduced to Rose Porter, I felt like I was her loyal companion. I felt every emotion, experience, situation and feeling Rose encountered. I believe this is down to Montebello’s strong characterisation and her ability to ease the reader into the very soul of her characters. This high level of character understanding applies not only to Rose, but it extends to many of the past cast, from lovers, staff and friends, through to the present day figures. Each is brushed with such authenticity that it was impossible not to get caught up in lives of these characters.
The historical setting did absolute wonders for me personally. I have a special interest in the Great War years and it was a special treat to be able to read a novel that looks at the Australian experience of this time. Before this novel, I had no previous knowledge of the Quarantine Station in Sydney, but it sent me off on a little research trip, which I lapped up! It also had me thinking a little off on my own tangent about the West Australian quarantine issues during this time and I know when I have more time on my hands, I’ll definitely be investigating this area further. The Quarantine Station sequences are incredibly vivid and provide the reader with an accurate, as well as a detailed picture of life in this fixture during the historical period. I took in all this storyline had to offer, from the influx of the Spanish Flu, to the racial and class segregation issues and the strict rules imposed on the staff working tirelessly on the station. It was an eye opening, as well as an unforgettable read.
For those who appreciate an authentic and all encompassing romance, The Quarantine Station has it all. Love comes calling for both the present and past figures. Montebello shows a strong level of comfort in these scenes and it helped me to fully appreciate all these storylines have to offer. However, I do feel as though the mystery aspect of the novel is what took this book to great heights. I thoroughly enjoyed the opportunity to get swept up in the suspense, secrets, family links and the life altering choices that were made in times past. All these swirling issues clearly had a great bearing on the future.
It is with no doubt or hesitation that I highly recommend The Quarantine Station to readers of any inclination. Take a chance on this novel, it will surprise and perhaps even dazzle you, as it did for me!
The Quarantine Station was published on 19th February 2019. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of The Quarantine Station, Michelle Montebello, visit here.
The Quarantine Station is book #102 of the 2019 Australian Women Writers Challenge