After Eoghan (“Yo”) flees the grime and alcoholism of the slums with his seven-year-old sister, Agnes, he encounters Olivia by chance in the Royal Botanic Gardens. Although there’s an instantaneous mutual attraction, their relationship progresses at a realistically sedate pace. They remain separated for long periods, while Olivia attracts new clientele to her and her mother’s couturier business and Eoghan takes a dangerous job catching rivets 300 feet above water during the construction of the Sydney Harbour Bridge.
The stream-of-consciousness style takes getting used to, for Olivia in particular. Her unfiltered thoughts, full of energy and interjections, follow wherever her mind rambles. The couple’s viewpoints and vocabularies reflect their personalities, though. Both are caring people, and the narrative technique makes their sentiments toward one another feel startlingly real and honest.
The historical setting, presented clearly, plays a significant role. With Britain demanding repayment of Australia’s war debts, unemployment runs high, and there are growing pockets of civil unrest. The “blue mile” of the title refers to the overcrowded waterway dividing the city and the immense distances in faith and class separating Eoghan and Olivia. The Sydney Harbour Bridge’s massive arch, its two halves joining together at last in 1932, becomes a symbol of hope, but both the city and couple undergo significant strain before they can move forward. All of the details on the broader social context enhance the telling of a beautiful love story.
The Blue Mile was published by Macmillan Australia in 2014 (trade pb, A$29.99, 464pp). I had picked it up as a Kindle copy, which is currently for sale at US$9.99. This review first appeared in May's Historical Novels Review and is my third entry for the Australian Women Writers Challenge.