Combined Reviews: The Widow and Her Hero by Tom Keneally

widow_her_hero.jpg Reviews of The Widow and Her Hero by Tom Keneally
Random House
May 2007

[This novel has been longlisted for the 2008 Miles Franklin Award.]

From the publisher's page

'I knew in general terms I was marrying a hero. The burden lay lightly on Leo, and to be a hero's wife in times supposedly suited to the heroic caused a woman to swallow doubt . The Japanese had barely been turned away. It was heresy and unlucky to undermine young men at such a supreme hour.'

When Grace married the genial and handsome Captain Leo Waterhouse in Australia in 1943, they were young, in love -- and at war. Like many other young men and women, they were ready, willing and able to put the war effort first. They never seriously doubted that they would come through unscathed.

But Leo never returned from a commando mission masterminded by his own hero figure, an eccentric and charismatic man who inspired total loyalty from those under his command. The world moved on to new alliances, leaving Grace, like so many widows, to bear the pain of losing the love of her life and wonder what it had all been for. Sixty years on, Grace is still haunted by the tragedy of her doomed hero when the real story of his ill-fated secret mission is at last unearthed. As new fragments of her hero's story emerge, Grace is forced to keep revising her picture of what happened to Leo and his fellow commandoes -- until she learns about the final piece in the jigsaw, and the ultimate betrayal.


Andrew Reimer in "The Sydney Morning Herald": "The Widow and Her Hero reveals a writer who has lost none of the skill and talent he has been demonstrating for decades in a seemingly unending stream of books. In some of
his more recent novels, however, Keneally has shown a tendency to rely on mechanical plots and stock characters - An Angel in Australia is a case in point, I think. In this book he has avoided most of those pitfalls. Even the conceit of a group of prisoners, Leo and his friends, who are facing the prospect of execution, rehearsing a play - a throwback to Bring Larks and Heroes - proves to be apt and successfully integrated into the novel's structure."

Barry Oakley in "The Australian" : "It's a compelling story but because Keneally
has assembled rather than unfolded the narrative, most of it takes place at one remove. Perhaps that's his intention: to present a study rather than a story, an exploration of character and heroism and how one interacts with the other...The Widow and Her Hero is a patchwork of a novel, often penetrating, sometimes powerful but never gaining the momentum to carry the story along. Keneally, however, is such a cunning artificer that he's very readable even when not firing on all cylinders."

James Ley in "The Age": "Keneally's freely fictionalised version is an attempt to marry this dramatic tale of military adventure to sober reflections on the meaning of honour and heroism. In particular, he is interested in exploring the
hold these concepts have on the male psyche...[the novel] is thus an account of bravery and sacrifice that attempts, through the duality of its narrative structure, both to acknowledge the genuine heroism of its male protagonists and to resist any simple glorification of their exploits."

Adair Jones in "The Courier-Mail": "Keneally's skill as one of Australia's most
versatile and interesting literary figures rests in such ambiguities. The author questions our need for heroes and the price we all pay for needing them...For the generation of Australians who lived through the terrible war and survived, men and women like Grace who are now past 80, this novel acknowledges the awful price they paid and gives us a glimpse into the cold shadow of a war that has never quite disappeared."

Ed Lake in "The Telegraph": "Keneally can be a bit of a hack, and his work here bears marks of haste. Gobbledygook abounds -- the Memerang men "knew how to paddle... like angels on pinheads" -- and Grace's voice is strangulated and writerly...Even so, the novel comes off. It evokes something of the magnificence of heroism, and more of its awfulness. For that, it deserves a salute."

David Robson in "The Telegraph": "In terms of its overall effectiveness, The Widow and Her Hero is probably a notch or two below Keneally's very best work. The narrative is neatly constructed, but the scenes in the Far East lack a certain immediacy: you should be shocked by the beheadings, so redolent of modern Iraq, but they do not reverberate through the story as much as perhaps
they should. But any new work by this master of moral complexity is a matter for rejoicing. He looks into the heart of the human condition with a piercing intelligence that few can match."

James Bradley in "Times Literary Supplement": "An unflinching clarity and moral purpose has long given shape and purpose to Keneally's fiction; it is what lifts it above the narrow territory of the historical novel. Without it, the considerable number of his books which follow history closely would be little more than the faction Schindler's Ark has sometimes been accused of being."

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This page contains a single entry by Perry Middlemiss published on March 31, 2008 9:13 AM.

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