Book review: Midnight Burial, by Pauline Deeves
Posted by Lisa Hill on May 28, 2014
Midnight Burial, by Pauline Deeves, is a most interesting short historical novel for readers aged eight to twelve.
It’s a mystery story, set on a remote sheep station in the 19th century. It’s cleverly crafted in the form of letters and diary entries from various protagonists in the novel, so that events are gradually revealed from multiple points of view.
The central character, the one that the kids will identify with, is Miss Florence Williamson, who, in 1868 is aged ten. She’s a smart kid, rather rebellious, and very determined. The novel begins with her declaration that she will never write in her diary again because she doesn’t ever want to remember this day, the day that her sister Lizzie, suddenly died. Her father is outside hastily burying the body – no doctor, no clergyman and no witnesses – and the rest of the family is in shock. Clearly there is something odd about this death, and Florence’s curious questions at a dinner in town bring others to the same conclusion.
Deeves uses the historical period to explore gender issues and social conditions. Florence’s father James is an irascible man, sacking servants at whim, and laying down the law about the role that women should play. He has strong objections to his neighbour’s efforts to extend education to the labouring class; and he is horrified by his sister Hetty turning up in a riding habit. Nothing his family can say will reconcile him to Henry Parkes’ plans to bring some of Florence Nightingale’s nurses to the colony, and he is adamant that none of his daughters will be tainted by marrying a former convict.
Events conspire to make him reassess his ideas. The tension rises when James goes missing just as it’s shearing time, and he has sacked his overseer so his ‘bossy’ daughter Jane has to deal with recalcitrant shearers and a heavy workload.
The novel is only 72 pages long, supplemented by the author’s ‘historical notes’ at the back, so it’s very suitable for reading aloud or reciprocal reading. Its structure lends itself to plotting the course of the story and of course predicting what might happen next, and perhaps writing alternative endings in the same diary/letters format.
Recommended, especially as a supplementary text for units of work on Australian settlement.
Author: Pauline Deeves
Title: Midnight Burial
Publisher: National Library of Australian, 2014
Source: Review copy courtesy of the NLA.
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