Rush Oh! by Shirley Barrett
The Last Word Review
Brutal but incredibly witty. A quirky and entertaining read. Memorable debut
Shirley Barrett’s debut novel Rush Oh! Is the surprise hit so far of 2016 in my opinion, and now longlisted for the Bailey’s Prize 2016.
Without doubt this is a fabulous seaborne tale of a whaling community set in Twofold Bay, Eden, New South Wales in the year 1908. For Shirley Barrett’s novel Mary Davidson is the narrator the daughter of George Davidson the fearless whaler of Eden. It is important to note that Mary is the fictional character that brings the story to life in the form of a memoir now in her 60’s and she recalls the time in what she describes as the ‘brutal days’ in what was the hardest whaling season the scarcity of whales heralding the decline in the industry.
As the reader can imagine when faced with the decline of whales goes hand in hand with the decline of her father’s business and mounting pressure that brings to the family, but Mary manages to add humour into the narration through the pages of her memoir in what is a pure delight of a book that will engage readers for years to come.
The narrative is brought to life by cuttings from the Eden Observer and line drawings of whales the capture the story brilliantly.
If you ever ever ever ever
If you ever ever ever see a whale
You must never never never never never
You must never never never touch its tail
For if you ever ever ever ever ever
If you ever ever ever touch its tail
You will never never never never never
You will never never see another whale.
Barrett in creating Mary becomes a pure delight of a fictional character, at 19 she was the elder of six children in the family she comes across as feisty as she looks after the children and then has to cook meals for the whalers which makes for interesting reading, as we see the brutal world of a whaling community through Mary’s eyes. Despite this there is even romance added into the storyline.
The cry ‘Rush Oh!’ brings the call for the men to their boats in all weathers and in the pursuit of whale men are lost not just to the elements but in the capture of the Humpbacks and Sperm whales. Leviathans chasing their leviathans in a desperate attempt to keep their lively hoods afloat the men use Orcas to locate the whales and they gave them names identifying them by their dorsal fins, we are introduced to names such as Tom, Hooky, and Humpy, the orcas get their reward at the end of the slaughter.
Despite the need to keep the whaling business going we read through Mary as she talks about the slaughter of the innocence the cries of the whales that echo around the bay. Then as a desperate attempt to catch a whale she goes out in a boat to try and kill a whale but end up shooting at an orca to save a calf.
As times get desperate and with no whale in sight Mary recalls ‘Please God, bring our father a whale Make it a big one, with plenty of whalebone.’
Rush Oh! is an incredible debut novel that will have many wanting to rush through the book wanting to know what is to become of Mary and the whaling community. My advice race off to your local bookshop and cry ‘Rush Oh!’ and treasure every page of a book that deserves to be a classic alongside the greats such as Moby Dick. Barrett is a wonderful writer and has written a stunning debut.
Thank you to Poppy Stimpson for a review copy.
Rush Oh! written by Shirley Barrett was released on 4 February 2016 by Virago. Available through all Waterstones and good bookshops