BOOK REVIEW: Bittersweet by Colleen McCollough
Genre: Literature, Historical Fiction
In early 1920s Australia, two sets of twins undertake a studying program at the local hospital to become the area’s first registered nurses for varying reasons, but mostly to escape from the domineering thumb of their stepmother. For Edda, the oldest of the twins, nursing is a compromise. She truly wants to be a doctor, but as a woman, undertaking that level of education is frowned upon. Without the funds to put herself through medical school in spite of the naysayers, Edda settles for nursing and finds herself consumed with the study of it. Grace, Edda’s twin, has no inclination to nursing at all, and despises the work, but she joined the program to escape her stepmother, and in that aspect at least she is successful. She wants to be married, and Tufts (the next sister) wishes to never be married. Tufts fell into the role of nursing and excelled at it. Along with Edda, she discovered her passion within the field. Kitty, the youngest of the girls, suffered the most at the hands of their mother, so that now all she truly wants from life is a relationship free of domineering ownership. Bittersweet follows these four girls through their tumultuous young adult lives and the trials they face on their paths to happiness and fulfillment, and their ultimate realization that life is rarely perfect, but just as rarely unbearable–it’s bittersweet.
Once again, I feel compelled to admit that I’ve been judging books by their covers. I had just finished the latest season of Downton Abbey when I saw Bittersweet at the library, and the cover exuded that 1920’s style period drama… and that’s really as far as I thought it through. I wasn’t disappointed. Bittersweet was definitely more of a literary drama style than I’ve been reading lately, and it was good to change it up.
There were several things I found particularly interesting about this book. First and foremost was the historical setting. Books set in small town Australia during the early part of the 20th century are a unique category unto themselves. The women’s suffragette movement was in it’s finest hour all across the world, and through the course of the book McCollough did a fantastic job of capturing the changing sentiments.
Secondly, the character development throughout this novel was really intriguing. Each of the characters developed and changed in ways that were completely unexpected to me.
Thirdly, I loved that the bond they all shared as sisters remained so strong throughout the book. It was the main element that made the book cohesive and not just a random smattering of life stories.
My only real complaint about this book is that some of the Australian lingo wasn’t immediately clear to me. Some of the slang terms really puzzled me, even in context. It did give the characters a unique sound, but at points I felt like it hampered the story, because I would spend so much time trying to figure out what exactly the slang meant.
Overall, if you enjoy the drama/literary genre, if you’ve watched Downton Abbey obsessively, or if you’ve enjoyed books by the likes of Kate Morton or Kristin Hannah, you’ll probably be pretty happy with this book.
I really liked it: 4 out of 5 stars.