Ruth Park’s book The Harp in the South has never been out of print. Yep, that is 68 years of being in bookstores.
The Harp in the South is the second book, or the first book, in Park’s trilogy. She wrote it first but 40 years later she wrote a prequel, Missus. She was a prolific writer who according to her autobiography wanted to make a living from her writing. The publication of the prequel coincided with the 1986 release of a mini-series of both The Harp in South and the following book, A Poor Man’s Orange. A good money making decision.
Ann chose this book for the Pocket Book Club and many of the members read all three books and Park’s autobiographies. The key question was, in what order to read her trilogy? The order in which they were written or the order in which the story proceeds? I think the general consensus was to start with Missus.
There was also agreement that Park’s writing gets better over the three books. Harp in the South was her debut novel. To me, the writing seemed a little dated – especially when I compare it to Christina Stead’s The Man Who Loved Children which was written eight years earlier. Both books follow the lives of a family and the challenges of poverty but the complexity of Stead’s characters and the beauty of her writing seems fresher. There are many in the Pocket Book Club who would disagree!
Meanwhile, the Pocket Book Club enjoyed the Ruth Park journey – but while Dee thought the books were depressing, Sue was left feeling thankful. The poverty and deprivation of the slums in Surry Hills was not all that long ago. We live a life of plenty in comparison and we ought to be thankful. The characters in The Harp in the South have so little control of their lives. They are buffeted about and the least amount of ambition seems pointless. However, they get by, and they are thankful for the little that they have.
The other interesting aspect of The Harp in the South is the diversity of cultures. The Darcy family are Irish Catholics, but they live next door to Lick Jimmy a Chinese storekeeper, Rowena has a love affair with a Jewish boy, and finally, marries what I think is an Aboriginal man who has been separated from his family as a boy – maybe I am reading too much into that. There is a sense of a seething masses of people mingling and fighting and loving and hating and living in a city still throwing off its colonial beginnings.
This is an Australian book. Australia and its social history lives and breathes in this book. It has the Pocket Book Club seal of approval.
Trivia – Irish people were known as harps – hence The Harp in the South. The coat of arms of Ireland is a gold harp on a blue background.
What we ate – Eagle Boys Pizza (thanks, Fernvale Eagle Boys) A little shameless plug.