Rush Oh! by Shirley Barrett
Rush Oh! is Shirley Barrett’s début novel and is on the longlist of nominees for the 2016 Baileys prize.
Set in Australia during 1908, a particularly bad year for whaling, the daughter of a well-known whaler documents a season that changes their families lives forever.
Mary has been brought up around whaling and as her mother has passed on, being the oldest of the daughters, it is left to her to tend to the needs of the whaling crew her father leads. Cooking, cleaning and looking after five siblings has fallen into her remit without anyone ever asking her.
The 1908 season also saw the arrival of John Beck, a handsome man looking for a new career after his religious path didn’t quite run to plan. Mary is instantly smitten and with the whaling season in full swing and her attention elsewhere she misses another romance going on right beneath her nose.
I enjoyed Rush Oh! but for none of the above-mentioned storyline. I’m sorry to say the romance left me cold but what did completely capture my interest was the whaling itself. The descriptions of the military manoeuvres the men have to endure to bring a whale down, the day’s events after the initial killing and the relationships the men have with the killer whales is captivating. The stalking and killing are horrific, the whalers lives are erratic and governed by the sea and the troop financially struggles from catch to catch. It is easy to see that a huge amount of research went into Rush Oh! and the passion Shirley Barrett obviously has for her subject whisks you up and carries you through the pages with ease. The symbiotic relationships between the hunters and the local killer whales make for fascinating reading and Mary’s sketches, that are spread through the book, only assist you in understanding the whales’ differences.
The intriguing world of whaling outshines the romance but overall Rush Oh! makes for a unique and engaging read.
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