Book of the month: Ghost Gum Valley
Ghost Gum Valley
Author: Johanna Nicholls
Book of the month for: July, 2012
A sweeping saga. an unlikely love. a truly australian story. isabel de rolland, an english aristocrat, is sent to the penal colony of new South Wales in 1833 to honour an arranged
marriage. Wealthy ex-convict garnet gamble has paid her family’s debts in exchange for the respectability that her lineage will give his son Marmaduke, whose ‘convict stain’ excludes him from society. isabel and Marmaduke detest each other on sight. She sees him as a colonial barbarian. He has no intention of relinquishing his bachelor freedom and his mistresses. But in the gamble mansion the dark secrets of the past and the spectre of madness are destined to haunt them – forcing them into a strange
alliance. This powerful story brings to life a volatile era, filled with manipulation and revenge, a duel of honour, the birth of a theatre and a murder trial. above all, Ghost Gum Valley is a wonderful love story between two delightful characters who are struggling to break free from the past and embrace the future
1. Ghost Gum Valley is an evocative portrait of the class system in Colonial New South Wales, from convict classes to Emancipists, the nouveau riche, land-hungry settlers and the Exclusives who want to keep ‘the lower orders,’ in their place. How important to the story is Marmaduke’s inherited ‘convict stain’? Is convict ancestry a source of pride or shame in contemporary Australia?
2. The impoverished aristocrat Isabel de Rolland is sent to the Colony to face an arranged marriage. Some contemporary cultures and religions still arrange marriages between couples who’ve never met. What would be the pros and cons of such a marriage in the early 19th century, compared with one today?
3. Isabel and the self-proclaimed libertine Marmaduke are poles apart in temperament, class, character, and life experience – yet they form a strange pact in pursuit of their goals. Do you agree opposites attract? Would passion be enough to sustain this temperamental couple in a marriage? Or be a recipe for disaster?
4. If Ghost Gum Valley was to be made into a feature film, imagine you are invited to cast the actors from anywhere in the world. Who would you choose to play Isabel, Marmaduke and Garnet Gamble?
5. Isabel, Marmaduke and Garnet have all been scarred by traumatic childhood experiences. Each is in a sense haunted by the past. How much does emotional ‘baggage’ influence our lives? What is stronger, nature or nurture?
6. Does the bitter feud between Marmaduke and his father, entrenched in the power-play of inheritance and manipulation, have contemporary echoes in conflict between parents and their children?
7. Do Garnet Gamble’s unscrupulous tactics in building his personal empire suggest parallel careers in contemporary life here or on the world scene?
8. Do you feel that the central characters are changed by their impact on each other’s lives? Did you like, dislike or understand them better by the final chapter? Whose version of events – Isabel’s, Marmaduke’s or Garnet’s – did you identify with most? What were your expectations for the ending?