REVIEW: The Philosopher's Daughters, Alison Booth #BLOGTOUR

Monday, 30 March 2020

London in 1891: Harriet Cameron is a talented young artist whose mother died when she was barely five. She and her beloved sister Sarah were brought up by their father, radical thinker James Cameron. After adventurer Henry Vincent arrives on the scene, the sisters' lives are changed forever. Sarah, the beauty of the family, marries Henry and embarks on a voyage to Australia. Harriet, intensely missing Sarah, must decide whether to help her father with his life's work or devote herself to painting.
When James Cameron dies unexpectedly, Harriet is overwhelmed by grief. Seeking distraction, she follows Sarah to Australia, and afterwards into the Northern Territory outback, where she is alienated by the casual violence and great injustices of outback life.
Her rejuvenation begins with her friendship with an Aboriginal stockman and her growing love for the landscape. But this fragile happiness is soon threatened by murders at a nearby cattle station and by a menacing station hand seeking revenge.

Alison Booth’s The Philosopher’s Daughters is a novel of antitheses: urban and rural, logic and creativity and, perhaps most importantly, the titular two protagonists at its centre. Sharply crafted, the two sisters represent the diverging paths available to white, middle-class women during the period: how one is tied to convention, whilst the other does all she can to disavow it. For most of the novel, the two women remain in these rigidly defined boxes until mayhem and character development step in to show that no one can be so easily defined. 
And believe me, mayhem is there aplenty. Adventure is always tied to it and The Philosopher’s Daughters charts a grand and unexpected course: London, Sydney and all the way to the very edge of the colonial frontier. Because of this, it presents a timely rumination on the racial politics still present in the area: the uneven application of the law and despite the obvious discrimination faced by aboriginal communities, how complacency (and downright racism and aims towards brutality) reigns through much of the growing white population. 
Frankly, at its heart, it’s a condemnation on inaction: how you can’t just sit idly by and watch as something terrible and unjust happens to someone else. And how, in times as strange as those, it is often the most unexpected of people who are the ones who answer the call of action. 

Thanks to Red Door Press and Anne Cater for sending me a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

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