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Posted on 14 Jun 2018 in Fiction |

ELEANOR LIMPRECHT The Passengers. Reviewed by Suzanne Marks

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Eleanor Limprecht’s new novel explores themes of love, resilience, and courage – the courage to make critical life changes and to endure the loss of what must be left behind.

In The Passengers, Limprecht cleverly mixes fictitious elements with real events and the mores and attitudes of the times. The passengers are grandmother Sarah and granddaughter Hannah, who are on a cruise from San Diego to Sydney. Hannah is about the same age as Sarah was when she left Sydney on the USS Mariposa in 1945 as a war bride. It is her first trip back to her homeland in 45 years. As their voyage progresses, Sarah reminisces about her past, and Hannah gains a new perspective on how her grandmother’s life parallels her own in her yearning for love, fulfilment and a sense of self-worth. Both women also struggle with concealed pain caused by their own deception, which has cost them dearly. Through this shared experience Hannah discovers her grandmother’s courage and determination to end unsatisfactory circumstances and reset the direction of her life despite the risks. The key thread in the weft of this story is the interplay of rewards and the price of decisions made; and their impact on those around them

Limprecht skilfully imagines the lives and loves of young women in Sydney during World War II. There are echoes of Dymphna Cusack and Florence James’s iconic novel Come In Spinner: for young, single women wartime work brought the enjoyment of economic independence alongside the uncertainty of what would happen after the war and the gut-wrenching fear that their menfolk might not return from the fighting. There is also the glamour and affluence of the visiting Yanks, which proves irresistible to thousands of Australian women emerging from the deprivation of the Depression years.

The novel shows how war can cause people to act in uncharacteristic ways, against their values and the accepted social norms. Sarah reflects:

I thought of him on the floor of my room, his body in a trench, the vulnerability of his freckled skin. I could not say no. Not for the chance to make him happy-for him to go over there with my photograph growing soft in his pocket and the hope of more life between us. And maybe I didn’t trust myself either: I could (I knew this) fall for someone else. There were so many others. And they were all eager, needy, desperate for love.

‘OK,’ I said, running my finger along his cheek, as surprised by the word as he was.

For Sarah, marrying an American answers a powerful call to escape from the limiting effects of family problems, as well as promising the adventure of overseas travel.

Faced with critical crossroads, Sarah eschews her traditional upbringing and chooses to travel to where life offers chances for fulfilling love and companionship.

But her life journey does not stop there. Sarah’s need to grow and develop continues with pursuits that take her beyond the traditional norms of women’s roles, to the bewilderment of, and at a cost to, her loved ones.

The novel invites readers to speculate about the bonds that link Sarah’s daughter, Connie – Hannah’s mother – and grandmother and granddaughter, her impact on Hannah’s character traits and choices and how Hannah’s life will pan out. More exploration of these matters would have added depth to the characters and their possible fates. Fortunately, however, this does not detract from Limprecht’s compelling and deeply compassionate perspective on what it is to be human.

This novel captures how, through living truthfully, we can reach a place of self-understanding where things done, left undone and and not understood at the time, can at last be reconciled.

For no other reason, this story is well worth reading.

Eleanor Limprecht The Passengers Allen & Unwin 2018 PB 250pp $29.99

Suzanne Marks is a member of the Board of the Jessie Street National Women’s Library and the Sydney University Chancellor’s Committee. Her professional life has been in equity, human rights and conflict resolution.

You can buy this book from Abbey’s at a 10% discount by quoting the promotion code NEWTOWNREVIEW here or you can buy it from Booktopia here.

To see if it is available from Newtown Library, click here.