Image Credit: FantasticFiction
I SO want Harriet Purcell's life! and I am guessing most girls I know would want the same too!!! Harriet Purcell is the protagonist of yet another Colleen McCullough's (CM) skillful penmanship titled "Angel". Not that I have read any of CM before but have heard loads about her great "Thorn Birds".
On to Story - Yummm! - Harriet is your average 21 year old living with her parents (and this is important) in Australia in the 1960s. She is brilliant, smart, sort of cockily witty and also apparently attractive in the looks department going by how many men she attracts and what they say to and about her.
At the start of the story, she has just graduated as a qualified X-Ray technician and is about to join one of the more posh hospitals in Sidney.
She wants to go out and live on her own and find a "proper" boyfriend for herself not the spineless dope "David Bloody Murchinson" she is stuck with at the moment. More about him later :)
She gets her wish in a normal sort of way - at work she meets Papeya Sutama, Pappy for short, who one day invites her to dinner at her place. Pappy lives in a-large-house-converted-into-several -smaller-houses-with-shared-bathrooms-and-toilets – in short a “rooming house” (if any of you are a Kannadiga then you would instantly understand this system which goes by the name"Vatara"). So Harriet visits Pappy and Pappy's landlady offers Harriet accommodation for a mere three quid (whatever that means). But the only problem being Pappy's flat/building is right at the corner of a very famous "red light area" in Sidney!!!
The Scene where she breaks the news to her family and her boyfriend that she is going to live on her own and that it is right on the fringes of a well known "area" - that in itself is worth every penny (or rupee) you paid for this book, LOL I can still roll with laughter just imagining that scene!
So she moves.
It is then the real story begins. She comes to live at "The House" at Kings cross, Sidney's famous red light area of the 60s. It is amazing to see Harriet a normal 21 year who has never met the ‘queer’ gang to open up and expand her knowledge of the world. Through her we get to sample every variety of queer - the gays, the lesbos, the transvestites, the crossdressers, the mesdames who run the brothels and proper prostitutes. But they are not shown in some sort of a dark out of this world sex scene, instead they are shown as just people ordinary people who eat and drink and sleep just like the rest of us. So Surprise suprise! there is NOTHING queer about these people... like she says they are "just people". (This is the reality part)
Variety is the spice of this book! Throughout this story we not only meet the above sampling of people but are also introduced to a variety boyfriend-material as well. There is the David-Bloody-Murchinson type right at the start who opposes Harriet’s moving out to her own place. And his opposition stems from the fact that the Murchinson-type catch their girlfriends quite young (say 16/17 which is what happened to Harriet) so that they can mould them into whatever they want and ultimately into their implicit submission. Thankfully our Harriet has enough verve to break out of the Murchinson-mould.
Then there is the Harold-type who has been a mamma's boy throughout his life and when the mother dies goes on to have an affair with a mother-type figure - the landlady of "The House". And any friendship the landlady has - be it with another male or even a female is seen as an intrusion into the bubble he has created for himself and his mother-lady. Harold another resident of The House, then looks upon Harriet with pure evil in his eyes - which gives the creepy bit to the tale. (This and the above are I-Said-so-About-guys part)
Then there is the Toby-type another resident of the The House. An artist but not a dreamy type. He is a diligent artist who likes to keep his work area spotless just like his dishes - no prizes for guessing the he suffers - Obssesive Compulsive Disorder. In the Women's department, he likes his women short because he himself is short. And tall people of either sex make him uncomfortable. And for all that he falls in love with Harriet who is clearly several inches taller than him!
Then there is Dr.Duncan Forsythe NOT a resident of The House but would gladly become one for Harriet's sake. Dr.D is a lot older than Harriet with two sons who are 13 and 11. However, his problem is he is married to a cold-fish who does not give him his "nooky-in-bed" even once in a while. But, he being a good man, has never visited a Prostitute, never had any affair with any of the ever-willing nurses or any other women staff at the hospital - that is until Harriet comes along... this good doctor does a total rebound and falls for Harriet hook line and sinker! (This and the above is the fairy tale part).
And now that you have met all the Principal characters, there is only one person left to introduce - the Angel. Angel is Flo the daughter of Mrs. Delvecchio Schwartz (D H), the landlady of "The House". The one person who "Harriet" falls hopelessly in love with is Flo!
Angel/Flo is not your average 4-5 year old girl. To understand her, I recommend you read Soulmusers review of "The Art of Running in the Rain" especially the bit about talking as a way of communication. This is because Flo never talks! She communicates with her crayon-scribbling and "thoughts". She is as Harriet puts it "god's experiment" who has been put on this earth way before her time. Our world is just not ready for her type as yet. Did I mention that Mrs. D H is also a fortune teller? a fortune teller with cards and "The Glass"? and that she has rich but loyal clientele, thanks to the accuracy of her predictions? But the most reliable medium through which she gets almost all of her prophecies is Flo! yes I hear gasps.. surprising, eh? (And this is the fancy/magical suspension-of-disbelief part)
This very unique set of motley characters are there. The stage is set - so what happens when Evil-eye-Harold stabs Mrs D H to death after a New year's party? What family secrets come tumbling out? Among her two lovers who will Harriet choose? Will she become a "house-breaker" by choosing the Dr. D? or will she sell herself way too short by choosing the short-Toby? (And this is the mystery/thriller part)
Read this exciting book to find out :)
On a serious note - C M's use of abbreviations - actual abbreviations used by docs/nurses/hospital community throughout the book lends an amazing credibility to the story.
Angel is a definite page turner and an amazing story about love, instinct and feeling things at several levels – even psychical! And of course the characterizations are awesome, especially Harriet - totally love her! She is obviously good at her work, has unending energy, certain vitality and most importantly spunk, I'll give her that... Like I said... I want her life!
Verdict: A brilliant piece of work! Must read!