Daily Archives: May 11, 2018

‘Long Bay’ by Eleanor Limprecht

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2015, 309 p.

I’m such a hypocrite. “Never let the facts get in the way of a good story!” I say, when I’m spinning up some dross into narrative gold. But “Fidelity!” I demand when I’m reading an imagined biography – not necessarily fidelity to the facts, mind you,  but faithfulness to the time, dialogue and worldview of the characters.

In this case, Eleanor Limprecht has allowed the facts to get in the way of a damned good story by very conscientiously citing verbatim a letter from the Long Bay Women’s Reformatory as the frontispiece to her book.  I didn’t realize it at the time, but once I reached that point in the narrative, the suspense that she had sustained so well about her character’s fate broke down and I wished that I hadn’t read the frontispiece.  But other than this, I think that Limprecht has pulled off the feat of combining research into a real character with a fictionalized narrative that is true to the evidence.

Rebecca Sinclair, as you can tell from the title and front cover, ended up an inmate of the Long Bay Women’s prison. She had a hard childhood and adolescence, working as an outworker seamstress alongside her mother in the inner suburbs of Sydney in the 1880s. Largely to escape this straitened life, she married Don, who is largely under the control of his mother, and is a liar and wastrel.  In Limprecht’s telling, it is largely because of Don’s influence that Rebecca ended up in jail. I’ll leave her to explain how and why.

The story is told in the present tense, a tense which (as I have said often before) I find uncomfortable to read (and even though I’m using it myself as I write this!) There are some infelicities in the dialogue which at times sounds too late 20th century, but by tethering her book in authentic legal documents, she doesn’t stray too far.  Her depiction of Rebecca Sinclair is fleshed-out and human, and if at times the research bones become apparent, Limprecht’s character is convincing enough to stay in your mind after you’ve finished the book.

Sourced from: Yarra Plenty Regional Library

My rating: 8/10

I have included this for the Australian Women Writers Challenge 2018.

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