Bryce Courtenay is probably one of the best writers of historical fiction and there is never a dull moment. He writes with one of the widest and most useful vocabularies I have heard in my 7o years!
I listened too many of his books and he has never disappointed me as my visual imagery allows be to be right there in the thick of his pen and paper.
This story evolves over the early 1800's and immerses you in the underbelly of London's poor and criminal classes with the notorious Ikey Solomon who was known as the Prince of Fences. It is great historical fiction based on this real life man who became the inspiration for Charles Dickens Fagin in Oliver Twist. Although this man was despicable, he was a product of the times and I actually grew a bit fond of him as he mellowed in the last years of his life in Van Diemen's Land (Tasmania).
Some great fictional characters are sprinkled into this well researched book and I will let you discover them for yourself. There are some tough scenes you need to survive (I've seen some reviewers here gave up in reaction to gritty situations). It is worth it to follow the book to its uplifting end. The expression "Always leave a little salt on the bread" will forever resonate with me from this moment on.
I would never have bought a book entitled "The Potato Factory" if a few thousand people hadn't recommended it. Even then I was reluctant. But, after reading the book, it is a perfect title. It is funny you only get and like the title after reading the book. It is something that doesn't grab you when scanning for your next audible purchase.
Fortunately I am primed for the second title in this trilogy, "Tommo and Hawk". It makes perfect sense as a heading and I immediately bought the second book after finishing "The Potato Factory".
This is an amazing view of the 19th Century London poor and criminal class, and their migration to Van Deimon's Land. It is also a facinating introduction to Jewish life in London at that time.
Of the series of three books, The Potato Factory is a solid 4-star while the two sequels are average 3-star books. The first book reads much like a Dickens novel especially the first half plus set in London. It is a nice story with villains you love to hate but enjoy following. The second and third installments are more formulaic and too politically correct in some ways. They are worth listening to if you want to continue the story into the next generations. The narrator is fantastic in this series.
What an amazing tale. Together with "Tommo and Hawk" and "Solomon's Song," Bryce Courtenay's Australian Trilogy is a treasure of historical fiction. Courtenay, who was an ad man for most his life, came to writing late in life. But thank God he did.
Courtenay considered these books his love song to Australia. He immigrated there from South Africa as a boy and said Australia gave him a chance at a life he could never have hoped for in Africa.
While the whole of the trilogy is breathtaking in it's breadth and scope, this first installment is the best of them. Ikey Solomon, a real life rogue of the London underworld, and his mistress and business partner Mary Abacus are both sentenced to the prison colony of Van Diemen's Land. From there, through many trials and tribulations, they forge a life for themselves in the newfound British colony.
Both heartbreaking and uplifting, Courtenay's trilogy brings life to the too often neglected history of Australia. If you are a lover of history and literature, I urge you to purchase this book. The story and characters will stay with you forever.
Two great passions - dogs and books! Sci-fi/fantasy novels are my go-to favorites, but I love good writing across all genres.
There has been much debate about this book since it is fiction, but uses some characters who were real people. I didn't have much trouble with that, but I think there are some flaws in the narrative. Although it's called "The Australian Trilogy" much of this first book takes place in London and truly covers no new ground. Both the London and Australian sections of the book reflect little but the stark brutality of both settings and you get the sense that the only people on the planet in the early 19th century were criminals, prostitutes, and hypocritical aristocracy all lacking any compassion or decency. The story is gripping and I acknowledge that it is a well-told tale, but although much of the detail may be accurate, I don't think there is much of a real historical perspective to the story. In addition, although many of the characters are low class people and vulgarity in their language is in keeping with their character, it seemed to me that the vulgarity in the narrative sections (the book is written in 3rd person) was unnecessary and rather unpleasant to listen to. The book certainly held my attention but it paints such a black picture of humanity especially of the 1/2 of people who are male, that it is kind of depressing. That said, Humphrey Bower is a fabulous narrator. His style is perfect for the form of narration the book takes and he does wonderful characterizations and accents. I would recommend the book but with some caution - it is fairly dark and has several scenes of graphic violence.
Actor/director/teacher. Split my time between Beijing and Seattle now. Listen to Audible on the subway and while driving. Love the reviews.
For me this read like exactly what it is--a first book by a very talented writer. It seemed to me that Courtenay loved his material--the historical character at the center of his novel and the extraordinary age of Dickens, so colorful that only a florid and artfully circumlocuted literary style could manage to describe it. On the other hand, he never really took control of his story the way Dickens would have. The plot wanders, held hostage perhaps by the historical record which inspired it, and we wait overlong for story lines to converge and come to a head. As a result, I became impatient at times, not because the book was long but because it was diffuse.
Along the way, however, the author delivers several wonderful, tightly constructed episodes which could hardly be improved upon for building tension and powerful effect. Mary's sea voyage as a convict, her one woman mission to find her lost son in the wilderness, and Ikey's escape from the authorities were all riveting and a joy to listen to. And Courtenay's evocation of the period and its own particular glories and cruelties is, by turns, delightful, chilling and enraging. It would be difficult to read this book without having a strong emotional response.
Humphrey Bower's voice is simply gorgeous, (as an actor I am jealous) and he creates marvelous characters with it. He does clearly miss the occasional inflection, delivering a meaning contrary to the text in some minor way, and his unaccountable pronunciation of "boatswain" with all the letters present and accounted for was jarring, but seeing him listed as narrator for another book would make it more likely that I would buy it.
I found this book by mistake! I typed into Audible "New Zealand" and saw that the second book in this series had the highest ratings under my NZ search... so I took a chance and listened to all 3 books. I loved them all. I loved the history, the fictional characters, and most of all I was astounded by Humphrey Bower's AMAZING versatility in terms of accents and voices. This is a brilliant AUDIObook thanks to him. Don't get me wrong, I still would have enjoyed all three books if I had read them, but Bower's voices and accents are like nothing I have ever heard come out of one person in one audiobook.
I LOVED the 1st & 2nd books in their own right. I liked the 3rd book, and needed to read it just to know the end of the story, and I have no regrets. Courtenay doesn't mind dragging his characters through hell and back in order to tell this historical amazing story of England, Australia, and New Zealand. Being an American who has spent significant time in all three countries I found it exciting, educational, and, do to his strong character development, I was also emotionally invested. I was devastated when characters were hurt and jubilant when something good happened to them. And this emotion was heightened due to Humphrey Bower's amazing characterizations through accent and intonations.
Bravo, and thanks to both Courtenay and Bower for making these three books a great experience for me, and I can only say that I am sad that the saga is over.
At first I wasn't sure if I should try this novel because I've just never been that interested in Australia. I'm so glad I did! I loved the experience of listening to this book. It's a wonderful story and the voices and accents are really well done by the narrator. Mary Abacus is now one of my very favorite literary characters. I downloaded the next book, Tommo and Hawk, before I even finished this one so I wouldn't have to wait to see what happens next!