Colleen McCullough’s BITTERSWEET is the story of four sisters, two sets of twins, who are bound by ties stronger than simply those of familial blood. It seems like a lot of main characters but McCullough does justice to each of the sisters. Even considering that they are twins, none of them are exactly alike. They all have vastly different personalities and the personalities complement each other perfectly.
Edda is the steady strength of the group. She picks her sisters up when they stumble and she expects that they carry on as best they can afterward.
Her twin, Grace, is the dreamer of the group. She meets the love of her life watching trains and she leaps into the unknown just because it feels right in the moment.
Tufts is the worker bee of the group. She sets her mind to something and she works hard at it, accepting her lot in life and making the best of it.
Kitty is the little sister everyone dotes on, and she hates all who do expect for her sisters. She considers it a curse to be beautiful and just wants to be perfectly ordinary.
They are the daughters of a Church of England rector in a small but wealthy town in Australia just as the Great Depression hits around the world. Trained as nurses, they keep working through all that life throws at them and they strive to be more than the wives and mothers women in the pre-Depression years were told to be. Even Grace, who marries in the blink of an eye and for love, ends up going far beyond what society says she should.
It is a novel of strength and family, of sisterhood, and it is very interesting to follow the Latimer girls as they find their way in the changing world.
The only weakness is the pace of the story.
Grace meets a man and marries him a few days later, knowing deep in her soul he’s right for her. Edda meets a man and marries him a few weeks later because he can give her what she wants, which is not sex and children. It seems a little fast to be truly believable.
On the other hand, Tufts clearly loves a man but he’s going through a divorce so she distances herself from him and then, with a painful sort of slowness, never lets herself get close to him. And Kitty is proposed to at first sight by the man she marries after a long, painful courtship – a marriage that ends in tatters.
Neither of these things might mean as much if it weren’t for the reminders that only a few years pass over the course of the story. Three or four, really. It seems like it should have taken so much longer. Maybe that’s a symptom of so many main characters…
(I received a copy of BITTERSWEET through Net Galley in exchange for an honest review. Opinions are my own and will be cross-posted on my blog, Goodreads, and Net Galley.)