Waratah House, by Ann Whitehead

‘It’s an omen,’ Marina said earnestly, and blushed when Sarah made a disgusted ‘tch tch’ sound. ‘My mumma believed in omens,’ she added apologetically. ‘She would have said this golden tunnel is leading us to a bright future.

When Marina arrives at Waratah House, a mansion in southern New South Wales, she hopes it will be the start of a new, better life. It is the first real home she’s ever lived in, having travelled with her parents for most of her young ife. Now, though, she is an orphan, with her parents dying on the trip to Australia, and the man who adopted her also dead. Here at Waratah House she finds a new family amongst the fellow servants. Everyone loves Marina – except her guardian, Sarah, who blames Marina for anything bad that befalls her.

Years later, Marina’s daughter, Emily, finds that she, too, is the victim of Sarah’s wrath. Sarah will stop at nothing to ensure Emily can’t find happiness. Will history repeat itself, or will Emily find a way to follow her dreams?

Set in colonial NSW, Waratah House is an absorbing historical novel exploring the lives of the servants at a country mansion, a fact which is bound to draw comparisons with Downton Abbey, though in this offering the lives of the family ‘upstairs’ is largely incidental to that of the servants, who are very much the focus.

There is a lot going on here, and possibly enough material for two separate books – one focussing on Marina, and the other on her daughter. This would also allow more exploration of other characters – whose lives are interesting, but sometimes touched on only long enough to arouse interest. That quibble aside, Waratah House is on the whole a satisfying read.

Waratah House

Waratah House, by Ann Whitehead
Penguin, 2012
ISBN 9781921518744

This book is available online from Fishpond.