McArthur writes with such warmth and generosity about the outback that reading this rural romance is like being enveloped in a great big hug.
It takes two hands for me to count the number of midnight mercy dashes I have made to the emergency department in the past 6 years with a croup-ridden child in the back seat, struggling to breathe.
Thank goodness the hospital is only a 10 minute drive.
But what happens when you live in outback Australia, and the closest hospital is a five hour drive away?
You call the Flying Doctors – a remarkable service which has been saving lives in the bush for nearly 90 years.
What they do, and how they do it, is quite extraordinary, and provides a fabulous backdrop for The Homestead Girls.
While the novel itself is entirely fictional, Fiona McArthur has clearly done her research and writes about the Flying Doctor Service with a level of detail and authority that lends a great deal of credibility to the prose.
The writing around the medical emergencies is very touching – and made me feel immensely proud of what these committed folk do.
That said, this is an unashamedly romantic book and McArthur keeps a clear focus on the emotional narrative arc with not one, but two love-story plot-lines.
It’s virtually impossible not to like these characters, and reading their story is an joyful and highly entertaining experience.
What is most striking about McArthur’s writing is the generosity and warmth with which she writes – and that love extends from her characters, to the Australian landscape itself.
The track led between two hills and across a wide, dry creek bed that was achingly beautiful, even in its waterless state… Stately white gums, some of their trunks arched back like dancers exposing their bellies to the leafy canopy above, while others reached up with long white fingers to the sky. The deep orange soil of the parched creek was cracked into diamonds and squares of dried mud that had split apart and curled at the edges to look like panes in old-fashioned window frames. The grey-green leaves shimmered above and the occasional leaf and twig drifted down in eddies onto the diamonds as the noisy cockatoos settled into the branches for the late afternoon.’
This is the outback of our dreams, with its dramatic and rugged landscape matched by equally resilient, salt-of-the-earth characters.
Perhaps there were a few too many ‘darns’, and a few sub-plots that remained under-developed, but I can forgive that, because this is a book with love at its heart – and not just of the romantic kind.
I finished this book feeling a little envious. Yes, I have a hospital at my doorstep. For that, I am grateful. But I don’t have Fiona McArthur’s outback – and that sounds like a truly wonderful place to live.
Fiona McArthur has worked as a rural midwife for many years. She is a clinical midwifery educator, mentors midwifery students, and is involved with obstetric emergency education for midwives and doctors from all over Australia.
Fiona’s love of writing has seen her sell over two million books in twelve languages. She’s been a midwifery expert for Mother&Baby magazine and is the author of the nonfiction works The Don’t Panic Guide to Birth and Breech Baby: A Guide for Parents.
For more information on The Homestead Girls, visit Penguin Books Australia