Title: No Small Shame
Author: Christine Bell
Published: April 1st 2020
Publisher: Ventura Press
Genres: Fiction, Historical
Rating: 4 stars
Australia, 1914. The world is erupting in war. Jobs are scarce and immigrants unwelcome. For young Catholic Mary O’Donnell, this is not the new life she imagined.
When one foolish night of passion leads to an unexpected pregnancy and a loveless marriage, Mary’s reluctant husband Liam escapes to the trenches. With her overbearing mother attempting to control her every decision, Mary flees to Melbourne determined to build a life for herself and her child. There, she forms an unlikely friendship with Protestant army reject Tom Robbins.
But as a shattering betrayal is revealed, Mary must make an impossible choice. Does she embrace the path fate has set for her, or follow the one she longs to take?
From the harshness of a pit village in Scotland to the upheaval of wartime Australia, No Small Shame tells the moving story of love and duty, loyalty and betrayal, and confronting the past before you can seek a future.
‘Some things cannot be changed, must be endured, but more could be changed than you might think. If you dared.’
No Small Shame is a rich historical yarn that encompasses themes of morality, mistakes, duty, acceptance, choice, survival, loss and hope. Written by Australian short fiction specialist Christine Bell, No Small Shame represents Bell’s first foray in the adult historical fiction genre. A story told with passion, sensibility and intelligence, this one will be sure to strike a chord with historical fiction readers.
No Small Shame introduces Mary O’Donnell, a young woman who makes an error of judgement and pays the ultimate price for indulging in a romantic interlude. Trapped in a marriage and bound by moral duty, Mary toils on in her loveless marriage. When her husband goes off to fight in the Great War, Mary is left to wrangle her controlling mother. Unable to face the pressure of her life as it stands, Mary decides to make a new life for herself in Australia. In Australia, Mary finds support and friendship via Tom, a man who is unable to fight in the war. Mary has high hopes for her new life in Australia with her child, but this is threatened by an act of betrayal. Mary is faced with the impossible, she has to decide how best to precede with her life, given the hardships of war and societal expectation. Fate, duty, choice and circumstance all play a part in Mary’s future.
Australian historical fiction is really at its height at present. If you are a keen eyed reader of this genre, there have been many wonderful releases in this category in 2020, with many more to hit our shelves in the coming months. No Small Shame is one such example of a sensational new release in this genre. I have been excited about the prospect of reading Australian author Christine Bell’s first historical presentation and I wasn’t disappointed.
Christine Bell sets her scene well. The reader is transported with ease to the first of her strong historical settings in No Small Shame. Firstly, we are immersed in Scottish village life at the turn of the century. Here life is tough and survival is of the utmost importance. Bell brings to life the pure grit, despair, hardship and poverty level of these times. In particular, Bell’s sequences involving pit life reminded me so very much of my own grandmother’s tale of my great grandfather’s work in a coal pit in northern England during this time period. These historical aspects of No Small Shame were well informed and authentic.
When Mary, the principal character travels to Australia for a new life, Bell explores what life was like for our early emigrants during the time period of 1900 and onwards. This was another tough time, but there was still hope as Australia was seen as the lucky country and a place where dreams could be made. Mary was inspiring character and I personally enjoyed following her story, despite the setbacks. I admired Mary’s strength, ingenuity, her fighting spirit and her resilient attitude. I think we could all take a leaf out of Mary’s book!
Bell fills the rest of her book with a range of characters who inject plenty into the unfolding narrative. Bell also explores many resounding themes from love, duty, sacrifice, expectation, the war, loss, grief, family, parental responsibilities, class differences, economic difficulties, martial relations, friendship, faith, morality and above all, the constraints placed on women. There are definitely some bleak times in this book and you will wonder if these characters can rise above their despair. However, there are also small celebrations and achievements, which really make us thankful for what our ancestors toiled through to help set us up for life today.
No Small Shame is a book that covers it all if you are looking for a solid historical fiction title.
No Small Shame by Christine Bell was published on 1st April 2020 by Ventura Press. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of No Small Shame, Christine Bell, visit here.
*Thanks extended to Ventura Press and the author for providing a free copy of this book for review purposes.
No Small Shame is book #49 of the 2020 Australian Women Writers Challenge