Jul 12

Review: The Ghost at the Wedding by Shirley Walker

I received this book for free from ARC received from publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Review: The Ghost at the Wedding by Shirley WalkerThe Ghost at the Wedding by Shirley Walker
Published by Penguin on 2009
Genres: fiction, historical
Pages: 246
Source: ARC received from publisher
Buy on Amazon

Three generations, two world wars, one family In the year of 1914, in the canefields of northern New South Wales, the young men couldn't wait to set off for the adventure of war. The women coped as best they could, raised the children, lived in fear of being next to receive an official telegram. They grieved their dead, and came to learn that for returned men there are worse things than death in combat. They bore more children to replace those lost in the First World War, and the sons were just the right age to go off to the second. The Ghost at the Wedding is like no other account of war, chronicling events from both sides - the horror of the battlefields and the women who were left at home. Shirley Walker's depictions of those battles - Gallipoli, the Western Front, the Kokoda Track - are grittily accurate, their reverberations haunting. Written with the emotional power of a novel, here is a true story whose sorrow is redeemed by astonishing beauty and strength of spirit. 'In describing the extraordinary horrors along with the tenderness of life, this story is almost painful as well as compelling. In language that is always beautiful, it captures a lost lifestyle and makes it alive.' DEBRA ADELAIDE

I frequently forgot that I was reading a real life account as I read The Ghost at the Wedding. The story flowed so easily that it was only when the author referred to her own role in the family drama (daughter-in-law to the central character, Jessie Walker) that I remembered that this wasn’t merely a fictional tale.

I found the descriptions of Jessie Walker’s family heritage, life on the Clarence River in northern New South Wales, and glimpses of everyday family life fascinating.

I have a casual interest in Australian military history and have read several books, both fiction and non-fiction, on this subject in recent years. Through the story of Jessie Walker, her parents, brothers, husband and sons, The Ghost at the Wedding conveys the wrenching emotional impact of the World Wars on both the soldiers and their families.

What particularly impacted me was the ongoing emotional damage caused by the war, especially for the families at home. The years of anxiety, uncertainty, fear, loss and struggle left scars on those at home almost as significant as those carved on the battlefields. While physical injuries are mentioned, the story focuses more on those wounds that could not be seen – the feelings of guilt, fear, resentment and bitterness.

The novel was surprisingly easy to read despite the heavy themes and content. Jessie was an engaging character as I followed her from her youth through to her old age. I was particularly fascinated with her love of painting and the way that she was finally able to release the emotions suppressed for decades through art.

It is unfortunate that few of her paintings have survived and I was disappointed that there were no images of the remaining paintings offered in the book. I would also have liked to have some family photos and a family tree included, although this would perhaps have affected the narrative flow of the story.

I found myself thinking of my grandmother often as I read and wondering about her experiences during the difficult years of the war.

I enjoyed this novel and would definitely recommend it to anyone who generally enjoys modern historical fiction or who has an interest in Australian families and their experiences during the years of the First and Second World Wars.

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1 comment

  1. Jacqueline Dinan

    Hello. Yesterday, while speaking to a group about my work of Australian historical fiction, ‘A Woman’s War’, I was told about ‘The Ghost at the Wedding’. Could you please provide me with your contact details, so I can post you a copy of the novel, which was launched by the Governor’s Wife & is being purchased by schools.It wodl make for a fitting review pre Remembrance Day. Kind regards

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