Winner of the 2023 Finlay Lloyd 20/40 prize
'Their eyes met and Clarinda felt a seismic shift of understanding, one she could not name; she held Dotty’s gaze with the silent request: Please, don’t make any further fuss or they might call an ambulance, or the police, and that would be one humiliation far too far. For them both.
'But the wild, fiery anger in Dotty’s eyes seemed to have extinguished itself of its own accord; she only frowned again and asked: "Don’t I know you?"’
Christmas, 1922. Sydney is at last waking from the nightmare of the Great War, and rekindled hope brings a burst of new energy to the city.
Dotty Bluebrook does not share the shift in mood. Drifting through her rich-girl routine of shopping and social engagements, she is secretly mourning the loss of a forbidden lover who went off to fight and never returned. He’s been missing in action for four long years – and she’s losing her mind.
Clarinda Littlemore is grieving losses of a more concrete kind. Her beloved father and brothers are unquestionably dead – leaving her and her mother in poverty. Taking a job in the Ladies’ Rest and Writing Room of an elegant department store, Clarinda is craving a life beyond filling inkpots and replenishing stationery supplies.
One hot summer morning, when Dotty sweeps into the rose-pink haven of the writing room to pen a letter to her non-existent man, Clarinda watches her, and a recognition flares with resentment at her privilege. But soon she senses that Dotty’s in some desperate trouble of her own and, with recognition ever deepening, Clarinda takes a chance to rescue them both.
From the judging panel:
Why this book is different
Two young women, brought up to expect conventional lives, are thrown together in unexpected circumstances. Each has suffered a devastating loss that challenges their belief in life and themselves. It’s rare to come across a work of deep psychological insight conveyed with such verve and lightness of touch.
Why we liked it
Kelly sweeps the reader into the lives and passions of her two central characters and into the bustling city streets of Sydney in the 1920s. A powerfully moving book that sparkles with vitality.