Review: Bridget Crack by Rachel Leary

My thanks to Beauty and Lace and Allen & Unwin for the opportunity to read and review Bridget Crack by Rachel Leary.

Bridget Crack is a fictional character created by Leary, deported from England for a minor infringement in 1826 and sent to the penal colony on Van Diemen’s Land (now Tasmania). Bridget Crack’s story is a well-researched indictment of how many of these petty criminals were treated once they arrived.

Placed with well to do families as unpaid servants, the girls were often disliked and treated badly by their mistress, while the master would often see them as there for his personal pleasure, unless they became pregnant in which case they were immediately returned to the jail. Other girls already established in the home would also see them as a threat to their own position and work to discredit them.

Each time a girl was returned to the jail and then re-placed the conditions in which they would find themselves would worsen. In Bridget’s case her final placement left her with no option but to take the risk and escape into the harsh Australian Bush.

At risk of dying from lack of food and water, Bridget is rescued by a group of men who she comes to realise are bushrangers. These characters are based on a real group of bushrangers from the time and Leary does nothing to soften the impact of their exploits over the period. As the story unfolds, we see Bridget’s dilemmas and the decisions she has to make to survive in a harsh and brutal land.

This was not an easy book to read, the realities of life in the penal colony are hard to stomach. The characters are in general poorly educated and exhibiting various forms of mental illness, their lives, lifestyles and habits are often less than pleasant and their general attitude towards women appalling. At times it seemed that Leary was spending too much time on description and the tale became heavy going.

While I am sure that this is a book that would receive accolades from the highbrow literary community, at the end of the day I would have to say I did not enjoy reading it. While the ending was evocative it left me wondering “what was the point” particularly after her first master Captain Marshall had offered her a helping hand, which she had refused.

I give it 2.5 stars.

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