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A Song Out of Time*

Naive Girl Comes of Age in 1930s New Zealand

We meet Margaret, the protagonist of the story, in 1935 when she is on a ship heading from England to New Zealand just after her brother died on the journey. Margaret’s relationship with her parents is difficult at times. She starts working in New Zealand and soon moves out on her own. What will happen to an inexperienced young woman living on her own at that time?

I think it is interesting that the author chose to fictionalize the story of one of her distant relatives. She only knew a little bit about her but developed a story that touches on the struggles that women faced in that era, especially women with an independent spirit. Margaret was definitely a green girl when she came to New Zealand, and the author explores that in vivid detail. Margaret eventually gets involved with men and discovers sex, which goes on to shape her life in a variety of ways. She also becomes a singer in a jazz club.

The story is written in the first-person past. There were a couple of problems with this. First, that point of view lends itself to an excess of narrative prose versus dialog; that did happen here. Second, the author chose to write it in a style as if the narrator was telling it looking back on her life rather than as she lived it. Using this technique, the author lends the narrator a degree of omniscience about herself; the narrator comments at critical junctures, stating that they are important turning points for her. I’m not accustomed to this use of the first person, so I found the effect to be distancing for me.

This book is very steamy. When the book starts, Margaret is truly naive and innocent, but that quickly changes, and we are there every step of the way as she learns about her body and how to interact sexually with men.

The author is Australian, and I will admit that I do not know the differences between American and Australian grammar and punctuation rules. That being said, the book seemed filled with those errors, mostly revolving around commas. They were missing at the end of long introductory phrases, at the separation point between independent clauses in a compound sentence, and before the direct address of a person (along with other issues). There are also a few places where punctuation around dialogue does not look correct.

That said, I think this is a fascinating piece of women’s literature that gives us a window on a time and place that is different to our own.