Mary-Rose MacColl – The True Story of Maddie Bright

Allen & Unwin Australia 2019

This is an achingly beautiful and sad story, a work of historical fiction, a tale that, as so often happens in this genre, weaves the past and present through family connections, secrets and lies. Told in two voices, one that of Maddie herself and the other of the omniscient author, the story held me instantly in thrall. The time frames are 1920s and 1990s, the places mainly London, Sydney and Brisbane. 

Barbie speaks with Mary-Rose MacColl

The historic context is framed by the royal visit to Australia of a young Edward VIII (before his brief ascension to the throne), accompanied by his cousin, the then Dickie Mountbatten. A story hangs over form MacColl’s previous novel, In Falling Snow in the central characters of Helen Burns and Rupert Waters, both members of the royal staff, and Royaumont, the war time hospital in France, run entirely by women doctors and nurses.

I was overwhelmed and appalled by this account of the wielding of wealth and influence over the poor and lowly, by the ruthless exercise of power – yes, I know it’s fiction, but it’s utterly believable and true to life. However, we are saved from despair by the brilliant positivity and strength of our leading character, Maddie, who as narrator inserts a wry and witty humour into her observations of life. This doesn’t stop us feeling for her and her life of loss and sadness, mind you.

In the modern era, we join journalist Victoria, somewhat tormented and conflicted by her cutthroat world, in another royal story, that of Princess Diana of Wales and her tragic death. This is one of the ties, a plot device binding past and present – but this is just one tie and it would spoil the story to reveal more.

I first met Mary-Rose MacColl’s work with In Falling Snow, (2012). Her rich, fluid writing and story-telling finesse captivated me then and have done so again with Maddie Bright.