Culture Street

By Sophia Whitfield

Half the World in Winter is a captivating drama steeped in historical references. Set in 1880, Joel looks at how a family dealt with the tragic death of a loved one.

Maggie Joel found inspiration for this book while watching the SBS family history program Who Do you Think You Are? The episode in question focused on two horrific deaths in Victorian England, one was that of a housemaid who died after an accident with a kerosene lamp and the other an engine driver, killed in a train crash.

Lucas Jarmyn is struggling to come to terms with the horrific death of his nine- year-old daughter, Sofia. After a terrible accident Sofia suffers third degree burns and lives for a harrowing ten days until death finally comes. Lucas’s wife Aurora suffered minor burns in the accident but takes to her bed in mourning. After six long months the household has still not returned to its usual monotony. The eldest daughter Dinah continually blames herself for the discord in the house, only Mrs Logan, the housekeeper, seems to be able to set things right.

Head of a railway company inherited from his father, Lucas Jarmyn finds himself called to the scene of another accident. The accident has claimed the life of nine-year-old Alice Brinklow and her father Thomas is determined to seek revenge for the loss of his daughter. Still reeling from the death of their own daughter the Jarmyn family find themselves under siege from those who have suffered at the hands of the railway. Jarmyn tries to protect his family by hiding the truth but soon cracks begin to appear in the family stoicism.

Vividly described with all its Victorian detail, Joel’s historical novel is a compelling portrait of grief and redemption.

Maggie Joel will be touring as part of Allen & Unwin’s Wordy Women Tour in October.

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