Firstly, this book is beautiful. It’s full of line drawn illustrations, and I loved them. It’s also beautifully written, to the point that I didn’t want to put it down, and spent my first Saturday of the year snuggled in bed, devouring it. It’s fantastic. The characters are so well written that they felt completely, utterly real.
Rush Oh!, by Shirley Barrett, is based on the true story of the orca pod who helped a group of Australian whalers catch whales during the hunting season. So far, so gory, right? Wrong. The story focuses far more on the young women of the Davidson family and how the whaling season affects them; specifically, nineteen year old Mary, who narrates the book, and her younger sister, Louisa. Between them, they bring up their younger siblings, and feed, clean for, and look after the team of whalers who live with them.
Set over the course of a season on the coast of New South Wales in the early 20th Century, Rush Oh! combines historical fiction, and a love story (or two, really, but no spoilers!!), told from the point of view of a narrator who tells the story with wit and honesty. Considering that this is Shirley Barrett’s debut novel, it’s unbelievably good. The scenes between the men and the “Killers” were superb, and especially one where some of the characters encounter a humpback whale up close for the first time was amazing.
I loved Louisa’s story, and if I had any criticism, it’d be that there wasn’t more of it – obviously, as Mary narrates, we only see Louisa as she tells her, but I would have loved to have seen more of her. Rush Oh! (shouted by the whalers when they see the Killers, “Rush, Oh!” means there are whales to be caught) will be out in early February from Virago.
Disclaimer** I was sent a copy of Rush Oh! to review, but all words and opinions are (as always) my own