THE MOON BELOW by Barbara Bickmore


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A pleasant but not especially captivating second novel from Bickmore (East of the Sun, 1988), this one about tangled emotions and a woman's dynasty-building in 19th-century Australia. Naive-but-brave Hallie Thomas escapes a bleak future in coal-mining Newcastle by sailing to New South Wales (1809) and marrying ambitious homesteader Chad-wick Morgan. Aboard ship, she falls for seductive Tristan Faulkner, a doctor who saves her life with an appendectomy, but she still marries Chad--mooning constantly about Tristan--and settles into a life of cooking, laundry, and pregnancy. Hallie's charmed by Australia's landscape, exotic wildlife, and adventuresome inhabitants--most of whom arrived as prisoners. But after Chad sails on an extended business trip, leaving Hallie with two toddlers, again pregnant, and in charge of the estate, Tristan resurfaces, and their romance--though it's not passionate--sustains her. Meanwhile, she thrives as a decision-maker, businesswoman, and nurturer of women. Hallie's whirlwind success involves starting a community, a vineyard, aggressively adding acreage, expanding the sheep flock, and overseeing a growing bevy of servants. Soon she's rich and a society doyenne, but Hallie's so busy tackling challenges that she hardly notices. Then, with soap-opera verve, platonic glances explode to lust--right before Chad's return--and she gives birth to the doctor's twins, on his wedding day to another. It'll take two more children and two decades of marriage before she's convinced that she loves her husband. Hallie's ultimate commitment is to women's rights, and her missions include building a Sydney shelter to protect women from sexual slavery; in a silly ending that drags mercilessly on, she leads a band of over 200 women cross-country, dropping them off willy-nilly with new husbands. A loving portrait of Australia, a comfortable read, but no-surprise plotting and insufficient sizzle.

Pub Date: Aug. 27th, 1990
Publisher: Ballantine