Review Blog

Jan 08 2009

A brief history of Montmaray by Michelle Cooper

cover image

Random House Australia, 2008.
(Ages 13+) Sophie Fitzgerald lives on the tiny island of Montmaray in a dilapidated castle. Hers is a small tight knit community. Her parents are dead, her uncle, King John is mad. Together with her 17 year old cousin, Veronica, who has been forced to take on the responsibility for the kingdom, and her sister Henry, who is a tomboy, she has to contend with a strange life. Contact with the outside world is restricted to letters from her aunt and brother in England, and occasional visits from Simon, the housekeeper's son. When Sophie receives a journal for her 16th birthday, she decides to keep a record of what is happening in her life. It is 1936 and things are changing in the world. When two strangers appear on the island, Sophie is forced to recognise that life is changing around her.

This is definitely a book that girls will enjoy. The romantic setting of a crumbling castle and decaying ideals of royalty will appeal as will the picture of an isolated family life, where the young girls have had to grow up with no real parental supervision. The characters are memorable, and the reader will become engrossed in the life that Sophie describes as well as the hints of danger and adventure.

The device of using the entertaining and descriptive journal entries of the fanciful Sophie gives the reader an easy and enjoyable entry into her eccentric family life. A picture of the decay of the castle, and the difficulties of receiving anything from the outside world because of the dangerous sea entry are all vividly brought to life. The book also contains literary references and quotes from such classics as Pride and Prejudice and The Tempest. These add an depth to the story and will appeal to those who love to read.

The historical background of the Nazi regime, Hitler and Mussolini also raise interesting issues. Reading group discussion questions at the end of the book look at truth and wisdom, the Spanish Civil War and the options for women.

The unusual blend of history and the romantic setting, combined with the coming of age of Sophie, will be sure to appeal to appeal to girls who want an imaginative and thoughtful read.
Pat Pledger

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