Review Blog

Jan 30 2012

The ghost at the wedding; a true story by Shirley Walker

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Penguin, 2010. ISBN 9780143203292. Louis Braille Audio Book read by Kate Hood.
With an intriguing title, The Ghost at the wedding, sets out to tell a personal story of love and family, during the tumultuous period from 1914 to 1945. It considers both the men who went to war and the women who coped with everything life threw at them. The narrative joins a current flock of fictionalised accounts of real people's lives, attributing to actions and emotions which can be surmised rather than known. This new tradition of biography allows authors to blend historical detail, anecdote and personal memories into a narrative which is not only accessible to a wide readership but also creates a deep understanding of personal experiences of a specific time in history.
This fascinating story illuminates pioneer life in the cane fields of northern New South Wales, the battlefields of Gallipoli, the trenches of France and the struggles of the Kokoda Track. She poignantly describes a series of lives torn apart and melded through the struggles of war. At times, the narrator slips into historian during the narrative, which does jar with the reader but it also lends an unique authenticity to the historical claims of the text. Shirley Walker is telling her family story, but the vast amount of research she has done and the documents she has been able to unearth will leave other genealogists green with envy. She has been able to paint an authentic picture of all the periods and places she describes.
While the title, The ghost at the wedding, describes a particular period in the family's life, in a sense it could also be seen as the proverbial 'elephant in the room' which underpins the whole story - namely, war and its effects on individuals and family. Such difficult topics could be harrowing and while Shirley Walker does not shy from them, neither does she revel in gory details. Each person's story and situation is treated remarkably sensitively, as one might expect from a personal history rather than a racy blockbuster. Shirley Walker is able to bring many skills from her long career in Australian literature to bear in this important piece of social history.
In the tradition of the excellence for which Louis Braille books have come to be known, Kate Hood reads this narrative with clarity and sensitivity. She brings warmth and honesty to this remarkable story.
Diana Warwick

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