Friday, August 5, 2016

Worth Fighting For by Mary-Anne O'Connor

Rating: ★ ☆ ☆ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Netgalley
Read: August 2, 2016

From Darwin to Pearl Harbour, Sydney to Papua New Guinea, a compelling story of courage, honour and a great love set against the epic backdrop of the Second World War. Eighteen-year-old Junie Wallace is a smart girl and, with her two brothers away at war and her third brother just killed in action, she knows there is only one way to save the family farm for her grieving parents. Unfortunately, that solution involves marrying the unscrupulous Ernest, and breaking the heart of the young drover she loves, Michael. But the war is looming ever closer, and when Pearl Harbour brings the threat of Japanese aggression to Australian shores, the fates of many becomes inextricably interwoven. From the explosive battles of the Pacific campaign to the desperate fighting in the Papuan New Guinea rainforest; the dancehall gaiety of Sydney’s Trocadero to the terror of the Darwin bombings, this epic family saga brings home the importance of mateship and of fighting for what you believe in, even when impossible odds seem stacked against you, even when all seems lost... Worth Fighting For is a resounding testament to the enduring force of love: a reminder of what can be achieved if you draw on your reserves of courage and listen to the truth in your heart.

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Cropped screenshot of Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr
from the film From Here to Eternity
No, no, no and no again for good measure. Absolutely nothing about Mary-Anne O'Connor's Worth Fighting For worked for me and I can honestly say that I feel the time I spent with it wasted. The only good thing that came of those hours was a two title decrease in my TBR as my experience with this volume killed any and all interest I had in O'Connor's earlier novel, Gallipoli Street. Fair warning folks, there are spoilers ahead.

I hesitate to call the book romance, that is, unless you consider a lot of cheating/adulterous sex romantic, but that's beside the point. The love story...? Stories...? Story...? Whatever. It wasn't satisfying and in the end I wasn't sure who the heck Junie was supposed to be in love with. Was it Michael? Or was it Marlon? Or is she pulling a DJ Tanner and telling the world she doesn't need a man? I don't know and that in and of itself is a huge issue for a book marketed in a genre that is defined by love and relationships.

If you're wondering who the heck Marlon is, don't worry, you're not supposed to understand the reference as the character wasn't mentioned in the blurb. He's one of the narrators, but as far as I can tell he was mainly written in so the author could write a relatively irrelevant scene set against the attack on Pearl Harbor. Come to think of it, there were a handful of scenes in the novel that felt entirely out of place which likely explains why I found myself questioning whether or not the author had a clear vision for this story. Structurally, this piece was all over the map.

Moving on, I want to note that the scene where Michael and Junie get down and dirty in the sand of Burning Palms took me straight back to that iconic moment between Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr in From Here to Eternity. At first I told myself I was being too picky. I personally think it sounds uncomfortable, but any pair of fictional characters can have sex on the beach right? Right. I convinced myself it was a fluke and would have let it go if the scene hadn't been immediately followed by Marlon/Milton intimately entertaining lonely Mrs. Hamlin/Holmes in Hawaii just before the Japanese attack on Pearl. Hamlin/Holmes is a serial adulteress, married to Marlon/Milton's commanding officer... Call me crazy, but I felt that episode had too much in common with the film and that parallel simply doesn't sit well with me, especially on the heels of the Michael and Junie's sandy tryst.

Okay, we've touched on the ambiguous nature of the plot, the inclusion of seemingly random content, and a couple of scenes that reminded me of an iconic WWII flick. Let's move on to plausibility and research. Late in the narrative, Michael appears with his men in a plane over New Guinea. The engines are failing, the plane is losing altitude, and he's standing at the jump door refusing to leave because he 'needs' to deliver a grand speech about morality in times of war. Excuse me for questioning the narrative, but what the heck? These men are in a tin can that is nosediving it's way to earth. They don't care what their commander has to say, they want to live! Not only that, there is no way they'd be able to hear anyone speaking at the jump door as the wind and machinery would drown the speaker out. And seriously? What kind of commander puts his men at risk so he can engage them in a warm and fuzzy? Long story short, this was one of many moments where I felt the situational drama unbelievable and the research lacking.

I'd get into my feelings on Shangri-La, the heavy-handed foreshadowing in the author's use of Lost Horizons, Michael's long absences, random scenes dictated by his parents who never reenter the narrative, and the cliched characterization of Junie as a modern woman standing against injustice, but my keyboard is smoking as it is and I think I've made my point. When all is said and done, Worth Fighting For didn't suit my tastes and I'd have great difficulty recommending it to others.

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‘Margaret Hastings…and the plane was called the Gremlin Special. I’ve saved the newspaper clippings,’ Junie confessed with a self-conscious smile. ‘Lost Horizon is my favourite novel.’ ‘Really? I found it a bore,’ said Felicity. ‘Romantic, fairy-tale rubbish.’
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