• Title: Captain Starlight’s Apprentice 
  • Author: Kathryn Heyman
  • Category: Adult Fiction
  • Publisher: Headline Review 2007 

    Review by Angela Long for Welcome to my Library

Summary: In 1952 Rose Dobell joins the post-war migration from Britain to Australia, lured by her husband’s promises of oranges and sunshine, of a wonderful new life for them and for the baby growing inside her. New motherhood, though, is less glorious than she had hoped and the loss of home harder to bear than she imagined. Rose soon finds herself estranged from those she loves, incarcerated and terrified. In the midst of her fear, she has a thrilling vision: a woman, wild and joyous, riding on horseback, firing a pistol gleefully into the air. The woman is Jessie Ariel. Rodeo-rider. Film star. Outlaw. Her story will save Rose’s life. Inspired by the life of one of the last Australian bushrangers, Kathryn Heyman’s tale celebrates the magnificent imaginative power of the human spirit. 

Review: Inspired by her mother’s post-natal depression, Kathryn Heyman gently crafts a beautifully woven story of two women separated by four decades and very different lives. Jess, wild country girl sold off by her father as a circus stunt rider, ‘part woman, part horse’ and Rose the English immigrant and new mother struggling to make a home in a harsh post-war Australia.

Rose is estranged to the heat of the Australian summer and the immigrant tin camps. ‘It was an alien language, this new country, though the words were the same.’  Her new baby Sammy and the realities of their existence as ‘ten pound poms’ overwhelms Rose, and in the grip of post-natal depression she gets through her day on a mixture of pain killing ‘Bex’ powders and prescribed pills. As she slips into the grasp of her demons she is taken to the St. John of Cross Rest Home for Women and subjected to a series of electric shocks to ‘help bring her back’. During these treatments, Rose dreams Jess into life.

The raw beauty of Jess’s tale, her resilience and strength of character, is slowly unravelled through a series of dreams, dreams that often feel like memories trapped inside Rose. As Jess’ voice rises from the grave it is her story that lights up the pages, not only for the reader but also for Rose. Slowly a complex tale of displacement and healing rises as their stories intersect, each searching for survival and love.

Bringing two very different stories together is an act worthy in itself of a three-ring-circus, but under Heyman’s skilful hands it is successfully accomplished. The two twine together as each life becomes more relevant to the other.

As Jess loses her fight she inspires Rose to win hers; Rose finds healing and Jess finds peace; each becomes the saviour of the other.

Peppered with a strong Australian vernacular and poetic descriptions, Captain Starlight’s Apprentice paints a rich portrait of Australia in the early part of the last century. Touching on women’s rights, motherhood, multiculturalism and racism, there are slight moments that feel contrived but these are done with artistic elegance and are forgiven in the larger scheme of the novel.

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Author BioKathryn Heyman is a novelist, essayist and scriptwriter. Her fifth novel, Floodline, was published in September 2013. Her first novel, The Breaking, was shortlisted for the Stakis Award for the Scottish Writer of the Year and longlisted for the Orange Prize. Other awards include an Arts Council of England Writers Award, the Wingate and the Southern Arts Awards, and nominations for the Edinburgh Fringe Critics’ Awards, the Kibble Prize, and the West Australian Premier’s Book Awards. Her work has been compared to that of Cormac McCarthy, Kate Grenville, Angela Carter, Peter Carey, William Golding and Joseph Conrad.

Kathryn Heyman’s several plays for BBC radio include Far Country and Moonlite’s Boy, inspired by the life of bushranger Captain Moonlite. Two of her novels have been adapted for BBC radio: Keep Your Hands on the Wheel as a play and Captain Starlight’s Apprentice as a five-part dramatic serial.

Kathryn Heyman speaks at conferences and festivals internationally; previous events include the Cheltenham Writers Festival, Sunday Times Oxford Literary Festival, Edinburgh Book Festival, Worlds Writing Festival, Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, British Council/Australian Embassy Readings in Singapore and most Australian festivals. She continues to mentor writers in the UK, under the auspices of Gold Dust, is the director of the Australian Writers Mentoring Program and is the fiction program director for Faber Academy Australia.

For more information about Kathryn Heyman please click HERE


aww-badge-2015This book has been read and reviewed for the 2015 Australian Women Writers challenge. To read more about the challenge see their website www.australianwomenwriters.com To read about why I joined click HERE.

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