This first novel by Tess Redgrave engaged me from the start.
Eva McAlester and Grace Coles are unlikely companions drawn together by circumstance and by their common interest in women’s suffrage.
The novel is set in Dunedin, in the late 19th century, and Victorian New Zealand springs to life in Redgrave’s compelling writing. The themes of love, relationships, mental illness and women’s rights are all interwoven into a really fascinating read.
Both women are in marriages which are less than satisfactory to differing degrees. Grace is an adventurer by nature, with an intriguing background. Eva is an accomplished pianist whose confidence in her abilities is, one could say, understated. They share a great love of music, and this results in a seriously good friendship.
Their respective husbands are largely absent, one through illness and the other through work, and their wives are looking at their own roles and how they can adapt to suit. Grace’s husband is a bully, although she does not let Eva know this.
The continuing presence of music in their lives permeates the novel. It’s cleverly done and clearly Tess Redgrave knows a thing or two about classical music, among other things. The interweaving of real people and events into the story is well done; I hate to give spoilers, and I also hate to outline the whole novel.
What I will say, though, is that the real formation of the Women’s Franchise League, which effectively separated temperance from the platform of women’s suffrage in New Zealand, is brought to life in this novel. Local politics of the time are also addressed, notably via Henry Fish, a former councillor and mayor of Dunedin, and an MP, who was notably antagonistic to votes for women, and failed to keep both his mayoralty and his electoral seat – quite likely because of women having the right to vote. Beautiful irony!
I think it’s deserving of being widely read, and I look forward to seeing further fiction from this writer.
Reviewed by Sue Esterman
Gone to Pegasus
by Tess Redgrave
Published by Mākaro Press