A Few Right-Thinking Men: Sulari Gentill
I was given this book as a gift; I have no working knowledge of Australian history, so I felt a little intimidated, but that disappeared as soon as I read, “Rowland wiped his hands on his waistcoat. Not so many months ago, it had been a quality item of gentleman’s attire. Now, it was stained with paint and smelled of turpentine. Rowland preferred it that way. He looked again at the painting with which he had battled all day and which, in the end, had defeated him.”
This is Rowland Sinclair, a young, compelling man possessing eyes of intense blue, incredibly generous and friendly, open-minded, casual, a committed artist, who yearns for the love of the bohemian sculptress, Edna, but keeps his mouth shut about it. He’s thrown open his house to Edna and other artists who have fallen on hard times during the 30s Depression, for his family comes from wealth and status. Rowland, the embarrassment of his right-thinking brother, lives life as he wants to live it, rather than obeying the rules attached to the higher classes. He doesn’t realize until he’s fallen deep into the pit how history will affect him personally, will drag him into the thick of things, although his only desire is to live life in peace and acceptance of others, whatever their beliefs.
It all begins when his friend, Milton, drags him to a Communist meeting. From there the reader is pulled into history with Rowland; we delve into the New Guard, a fascist group run by the historical figure, Eric Campbell, who, along with his compatriots, want to turn Australia into a fascist state. Then there’s the Old Guard, the original group from which Campbell split, the group loyal to King and Country, Traditionalists all.
Against the backdrop of this history, (impeccably researched) we flow along with Rowland and his friends as they try to get to the bottom of a brutal murder, and end up discovering more than they ever dreamed of. Their very lives fall into jeopardy as the politics of the times overtakes and surrounds them.
One of the highlights for me was the wit, the humor, and the dialogue between these characters. This is all masterful, and I was guffawing even in the midst of a grim reality that could have ultimately changed Australia from the lovable place we know (albeit filled with the world’s most poisonous snakes and spiders, not to mention crocs and jellyfish) to a place of dictatorship. Thank God that didn’t happen!
Quotes: “You don’t need to worry about my discretion, Wil,” Rowland said angrily. “I’m not about to tell anyone that my brother is raising some clandestine, tweed-jacketed army because he thinks Stalin is heading south!”
“Ernest nodded solemnly. “Are you going to see the King?”
“Shall I give him your regards?”
“Don’t be silly, Uncle Rowly, King George has his own guards…with big furry black hats.”
“Civil war! Who would…” Milton clapped his hand on his forehead in realisation. “Bloody Catholics! I knew the Tykes were planning something…all that bloody Hail Marying!”
Clyde, who was a Catholic of sorts, clipped the side of Milton’s head as he got up to refill his glass.
As far as the romance between Rowland and Edna…well, I’ll let the reader discover that for him or herself. A Few Right Thinking Men could have been a dark account, almost a documentary, one event leading into the next. But the addition of Rowly, Wilfred, Ernest, Kate, Edna, Clyde and especially Milt (I love him) and their enduring friendship, the barely contained romance (which is masterfully done,) draws one in and makes this a story where the reader is completely invested in the lives, emotions, and outcomes of these people. From the first page to the last, everything flows, woven perfectly, so that we see the big picture of Australian politics in the 30s along with the microcosm of Rowland’s life, friendships and family.
A Few Right Thinking Men merely introduces Rowland and his friends. Rowland’s adventures, I’m happy to report, will continue on in future books.
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