20 June 2023

Review: Becoming Mrs Mulberry by Jackie French

Becoming Mrs Mulberry by Jackie French book cover

* Copy courtesy of Harper Collins *

In Becoming Mrs Mulberry by Jackie French, the reader meets Agnes in 1924 at the Mulberry estate known as Wombat Hills, in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales. Agnes Glock is a medical student who gave up her chance to become a doctor to establish a haven for shellshocked soldiers and those left permanently injured or horribly disfigured by WWI. When Agnes meets her best friend's brother Douglas Mulberry, their lives are irrevocably changed.

Largely unfolding in a flashback or dual timeline, the first half of the book contained significant character makeovers and partial recoveries in the case of Agnes and Douglas. Agnes is a staunch believer in the restorative power of nature, and the ability of wildlife and the Australian bush to heal those still suffering the horrors of war, abuse, trauma and shell shock. As Mrs Mulberry, Agnes insists on hiring staff injured or incapacitated in the war and sets up a respite for returned and injured soldiers otherwise locked away in hospitals, insane asylums, back bedrooms or attics.

The second half of the narrative was the unexpected discovery of an ill little girl being displayed in a travelling circus freak show visiting the nearby town. Allegedly raised by dingoes, Agnes is drawn to the little girl who howls like a dingo, walks on all fours and laps up her water like a dog. Convinced she can treat the girl's illness and give her a better quality of life, Agnes insists the child accompanies her to Wombat Hills for treatment.

I love a character makeover and the first half of the book was a five star read for me, with several makeovers and recoveries unfolding in what seemed like quick succession given the length of the book. My favourite part of the novel - other than Trout's exit - was the overseas flashback to Agnes meeting Douglas and their immediate struggle to return to health, safety, sanity and eventually, the Australian bush.

Meanwhile, the second half of the book slowed down to a three star read for me, leaving my overall rating somewhere in between. The medical treatment of the girl and the mystery surrounding her birth and place of origin didn't engage me nearly as much as the early establishment of our main characters.

Becoming Mrs Mulberry by Jackie French is recommended for fans of Australian historical fiction, however don't read the blurb - or this review - prior to starting it. Almost all of the key points of the plot are revealed in the blurb and I think you'll enjoy it more if you know less going into this one.

My Rating:

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