Review: ‘While the Moon Burns’

‘While the Moon Burns’ by Peter Watt

Historical Fiction

Copy received from Pan Macmillan in return for review

while-the-moon-burns

Synopsis

After fighting in two world wars, Tom Duffy’s purchase of his ancestral property Glen View means a home for the next generation of Duffys. But the Macintosh family won’t easily surrender this land, and when they challenge his ownership, he knows he’s in for one hell of a fight.

Meanwhile in Sydney, Sarah has taken over from her father as the head of the Macintosh firm. She has big plans for herself and the family business, and she isn’t afraid to play dirty.

Sergeant Jessica Duffy, Captain James Duffy, and Major David Macintosh have survived countless battles the world over, but will all they are fighting for still be waiting for them when they return home?

Thoughts

I must admit to being a newcomer to Peter Watt’s books. Professionally, I’ve been thinking about at least flipping through them for a while (I have customers who are devoted fans). I’ve always thought of him as the Australian Wilbur Smith: historical settings and family dynasties and drama, which I am keen on as a general rule. So my thanks to Pan Mac for bumping this up my TBR list.

‘While the Moon Burns’ is the eleventh in Watt’s Frontier series. The novel plays out across the closing chapters of WWII. The Duffys and Macintoshes are all doing their part, in Borneo, in New Guinea, and Japan. At home, though, other battles are underway.

I did feel a little lost at the beginning, which I expected, arriving so late in the series. It took me some time to separate my Duffys from my Macintoshes. There are after all a great number of them, some of whom initially seemed quite similar.

Tom Duffy, war veteran and owner of Glen View, is probably the closest the book has to a main character. The battle for his land, even as war rages overseas, forms the core of the novel – certainly it was the story I invested most in. I connected with other characters as well: young (virtually) orphaned Patrick, and also Donald Macintosh, at odds with his own family. I wasn’t quite clear on the reason for this, however…

Which brings me to my  only  significant trouble. I was introduced to so many interesting characters, but got to spend only a brief time with each; the book swaps so quickly between their perspectives that I sometimes struggled to engage with them. Sarah Macintosh sets a vicious scheme in motion; now we’re off to visit James Duffy in America; now Tom at Glen View; now David Macintosh in Wewak, or Israel, or Korea. Their backstories, obviously covered in the preceding novel/s, are only hinted at (I’m desperate, for example, to know what Jessica did during her army service). Sometimes I wished that I had half the number of characters and so double the time with them.

That aside, I enjoyed Watt’s storytelling. The juxtaposition of the war and the conflicts at home was compelling. I think some of Watt’s best writing is in his battles – these informed by his interviews with veterans (the author has also been a soldier). Furthermore, he succeeds in capturing the moods of Australia during this iconic historical period, from the euphoria of VE Day to the public’s gradual disavowal of its servicemen.

It’s been a while since I’ve read something so proudly and unmistakably Australian. I am now thinking that I should read more in this vein (perhaps with a more feminine perspective). Suggestions, anyone?

Recommendation

This is a series where it’s DEFINITELY worth starting from the beginning. Although this is not an endeavour that I can commit to right now (my TBR pile has grown significantly in recent weeks), I’m happy to file While the Moon Burns under ‘Books I’m  Glad I’ve Read’. Absolutely worth a look for people interested in this period of Australian history.

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