The problem with Hannah Kent’s debut, Burial Rites, is that it set the bar for historical fiction very high. Really, so high you can barely imagine. Look up into the sky, as far as your eye goes, and then look a little a further – Burial Rites is somewhere a bit further than that again.
And so I sat down with Eleanor Limprecht’s Long Bay, a fictionalised account of the life of Rebecca Sinclair, a woman who was sent to Long Bay Women’s Reformatory in 1909 after she was convicted of manslaughter for a botched abortion. Rebecca was sentenced to three years hard labour, but less than six months into her prison term she gave birth to a child, who she kept with her in prison.
I chose Long Bay for a few reasons – the Hannah Kent testimonial on the cover, an interest in women’s history and as a companion read to Kate Manning’s My Notorious Life. But it failed to capture me. I didn’t become adsorbed in the time, or the place (Sydney at the turn of the twentieth century). I didn’t feel as if I was seeing life through Rebecca’s eyes – I didn’t feel her hunger, her despair, her lust. I’m quite sure Rebecca has/had an interesting story but how different was it from many others? I don’t know, because Limprecht didn’t take me as far as I was anticipating.
I feel like I haven’t said anything to sell Long Bay… My husband noted that I didn’t put it down for two days. True, I tore through the book, keen to see how Rebecca’s story unfolded (even though you know the ending from the outset). It’s easy reading and for those keen on Australian history, is interesting. And I’m sure I will think of Rebecca Sinclair from time to time, if only because of the story behind the book.