Well, given the title, I couldn't exactly pass up this book, could I?. Who knows, perhaps I have some relatives in Australia? My dad, who did some genealogical research, never said so.
Whatever, we have the makings of a very engaging story. It seems that the Cavendish family, who have always lived under rather straightened circumstances, much to the chagrin of Mr. Cavendish, are on their way to live off Mrs. Cavendish's brother, Tom Piper. Mr. Cavendish thinks of himself being a well bred gentleman. He's not so well bred, however, that he can support his family. Actual work is beneath his station or something. The Cavendishes have two daughters, Margaret who is comely, but has a few flaws, like a too pointed chin, but is very generous and good hearted and Sara, who is the essence of womanly beauty and has the most marvelous eyes ever, and who is about the most vain woman who ever lived. She takes after her father.
Their Uncle Tom went off to Australia 20 or 30 years previously. He worked as a common butcher, which Sara and her father find to be odious, but he was shrewd in business dealings and is now quite wealthy. Uncle Tom has been twice widowed. His son from his first marriage, George is a typical idler of a wealthy father, wasting his father's money on race horses and the like. Uncle Tom's second marriage resulted in his "inheriting" an adolescent step daughter, Laura Lydiat. He also had a daughter with his second wife, Louisa (or Louie, or Poppett or Squirrel or Hester). Louisa's mother died shortly after she was born. Louie is a love.
Unknown to Mr. Piper, apparently, his second wife had left a son behind in England when she emigrated to Australia. He is now a clergy person, Rev. Francis Lydiat. It turns out Rev. Mr. Lydiat is also emigrating to Australia and is on the boat with the Cavendishes. He is unaware of their shared relationship with Uncle Piper.
So, we have all the typical tangled relationships one might wish. George is in love with his step sister, Laura, but his father loathes Laura, because she's a bit plain spoken and espouses unorthodox views. He will disinherit George if he acts on his urges. Rather, he fancies one of his nieces for George, even though he's never seen either of them. Rev. Mr. Lydiat has become bewitched by Sara's eyes and pines for her. Margaret, for her part, has placed Rev. Mr. Lydiat on a pedestal and worships him from afar, but being the saintly person she is, will cede him to her sister, Sara. As for her part, Sara is only interested in someone with oodles of money. Then, there's Louie who just loves everyone and wants them all to get along.
So, as I said, we have the makings of a rather engaging story. The only problem is the writing style. It takes forever to get used to it (well, the first quarter of the book). Tasma (or Jessie Couvreur) goes off on endless tangents, discussing points of human nature and behavior, sometimes only vaguely related to the story line. So these tangents take some getting used to and also really slow down the action, such as it is. I know Dickens liked to do similarly, but he managed always to make his tangents amusing and to the point. Not so Tasma. She can be rather pedantic.
By the time we're done, however, we have had a rather engaging story. It may well take overly long to accomplish it, but the story is, none-the-less worth the effort. When I described the book to my spouse, she likened it to Jane Austen's Persuasion
, one of her favorite books of all time. Well, Tasma is no Austen, but even Austen-lite has its charms.