Loving Daughters takes place in a small village in New South Wales and is a brilliant, unsentimental portrait of two sisters: one artistic and restless, the other houseproud and her father's favorite. The entry of an eligible young man into their lives creates a disturbing triangle of desire and rivalry.
Although Masters ( Amy's Children ; The Rose Fancier ) is a keen observer of domestic life, her work has been rather overshadowed in this country by that of fellow Australian Elizabeth Jolley, despite the fact that they share little more than their homeland. The present novel, which dates from 1984, and was her first published fiction--she was already in her 50s at the time--is like an odd blend of Thomas Hardy and early D. H. Lawrence, but with a style quirkier and more homespun than either. It tells of an extended family in a tiny provincial hamlet in New South Wales in the early 1920s, just after WW I: elderly, cossetted Jack, his eminently marriageable daughters Enid and Una, their brothers George, Alex and Henry, their aunt Violet, her shell-shocked husband Edgar (Ned)--and Colin Edwards, a young minister freshly arrived from England. As the girls cast covetous eyes on Edwards, and he on them, as Violet yearns to open her own little maternity home and be rid of Ned, and as all their lives are affected by the arrival of Henry's baby, Small Henry, Masters eavesdrops wryly on their longings and spites, painting their fearfully circumscribed world with such precision that even the horses are deftly characterized. There is almost no resolution: Edwards marries what turns out to be probably the wrong sister for him, Small Henry vanishes from their lives, more frustration and regret loom. It is a curiously old-fashioned novel, with a peculiar sensibility that will be familiar to Masters's devoted fans.