An impassioned, charming, and hilarious debut novel about a young woman's coming-of-age, during one of the harshest whaling seasons in the history of New South Wales.
1908: It's the year that proves to be life-changing for our teenage narrator, Mary Davidson, tasked with providing support to her father's boisterous whaling crews while caring for five brothers and sisters in the wake of their mother's death. But when the handsome John Beck -- a former Methodist preacher turned novice whaler with a mysterious past -- arrives at the Davidson's door pleading to join her father's crews, suddenly Mary's world is upended.
As her family struggles to survive the scarcity of whales and the vagaries of weather, and as she navigates sibling rivalries and an all-consuming first love for the newcomer John, nineteen-year-old Mary will soon discover a darker side to these men who hunt the seas, and the truth of her place among them.
Swinging from Mary's own hopes and disappointments to the challenges that have beset her family's whaling operation, Rush Oh! is an enchanting blend of fact and fiction that's as much the story of its gutsy narrator's coming-of-age as it is the celebration of an extraordinary episode in history.
In this debut novel from Australian screenwriter and director Barrett, a fictional daughter of New South Wales historic whaler George "Fearless" Davidson recounts the tumultuous events of 1908. Nineteen-year-old Mary is in charge of caring for her five motherless siblings, but also cooking for the whalers. John Beck, a former Methodist minister, joins Davidson's crew and takes an interest in Mary. It turns out to be a disastrously poor whaling season until one late season catch when "the Killers" cooperative orcas the Aborigines greet as reincarnated ancestors help the men capture a 50-foot whale. Mary, writing 30 years later, pieces events together from what little she observes and the men's reports a device that gives her rip-roaring account a realistic touch. This same distance, however, sucks energy from the more climactic scenes. Digressive sections on rendering whale blubber into oil and Uncle Aleck taking a dip in a rotting carcass to cure rheumatism inevitably "invite comparisons with Mr. Melville that will not be flattering," as Mary herself recognizes; but Barrett isn't trying to be Melville. Instead, this unusual domestic look at whaling life is filled with evocative, briny descriptions, humorous set pieces, and newspaper extracts that come together nicely to create an intimate, wry story of one tumultuous year on the seas.