For everyone Book review: A Great Hope, Jessica Stanley (Picador)

This riveting debut is compulsive reading for anyone interested in politics, unions, families, Melbourne, whodunnits, and the multilayered lives of spectacularly complex people. It is 2007 – the backdrop the Gillard and Rudd years – and, while the novel is not based on a true story, the author has worked in politics and as a journalist, so it is easy to draw parallels. 

At its heart is the unsolved mystery of how much-loved union leader John Clare fell to his death at his home in Fitzroy. John, often tipped as a future PM, is a fascinating character – contradictory, sometimes difficult, yet hard not to like – but so too is his wife Grace, their two children, his colleague Tessa, and the abundant supporting cast members whose multiple perspectives add texture and detail.

The book throws back to the past, and as we piece together what happened, we see John and Grace’s earlier life when they met as university students, bearing witness to their evolution into middle age. The book asks questions about the things that fall away, and at what cost.

It is jampacked with contemporary issues from ethics to motherhood, work–life balance, the personal versus the political, identity, gender, feminism and societal expectations. Also central to the story are the fraught relationships that can develop between parents and children, and what to do if you find the love of your life when you are married to someone else. But perhaps the greatest joy is seeing the streets of our town rendered so faithfully on the page, especially when done through this unapologetically union lens.

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