This was the place where the Darcys lived – Plymouth Street, Surry Hills, Sydney, in an unlucky house which the landlord had renumbered from thirteen to Twelve-and-a-Half.
It was the oldest in Plymouth Street, a cranky brown house, with a blistered green door, and a step worn into dimples and hollows that collected the rain in little pools in which Roie and Dolour, when little, had always expected to find frogs.
The Harp in the South is the story of the Irish Catholic Darcy family, living in the slums of inner Sydney in the post war era. Mumma and Hughie and their teenage daughters Dolour and Roie are poor and face a daily struggle to survive, yet they are a family, and, in their own way, able to find some happiness.
In the course of the novel Roie meets her first beau, Tommy, and learns lessons about love, and Dolour grows from a surly child to a blossoming teen. Mumma, meanwhile, lives with the sadness caused by the disappearance of her only son ten years before, and also nurses her mother through her final months. Hughie, the man of the family, is an alcoholic, and unreliable, but his love for his family shows through during tough moments. The Darcy’s neighbours also feature in the story – their lodgers, Patrick Diamond and Miss Sheily with a disabled son Johnnie, as well as Lick Jimmy, the fruiterer from next door, all have their own challenges and foibles.
Whilst there is a sequential plot, this is more of a snapshot of life (and love in its many forms) in the Sydney slums than it is a single story. Readers will connect with, and cheer for, the characters and emerge wanting to know more.
The Harp in the South was first published in 1948 and has been continuously in print ever since. In its newest incarnation, it forms part of the Popular penguins imprint.
The Harp in the South (Popular Penguins), by Ruth Park
This edition Penguin 2009
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