Review: Bittersweet by Colleen McCullough

This is the first novel I’ve read by Colleen McCullough, and I am quite impressed with the breadth of information she is able to weave into Bittersweet. It’s a family drama, but it’s also social and political commentary… It’s where romance and feminism meet, and where the power of money makes a difference (for once) in local and regional healthcare.

The history McCullough wrote in — not just dates and places, but people and culture and anthropology – was wonderful. I gleaned as much about Australian politics, economics and society as I did about people’s need for love and acceptance. And McCullough didn’t just stick in facts where she could; she made them part and parcel of the dramatic story.

And dramatic it was. Four sisters, each with wants and needs and quirks… grating on, supporting, loving, misunderstanding, and even betraying one another.

The women rise to meet their fates, and two sisters face life with acceptance… after a few tweaks. The other sisters slap fate in the face, turn around and walk the other direction until they find something better, something real, something they are proud to own.

I really loved the family part of this story. Though no one was perfect, they did love each other immensely, and the author was able to make me feel it and believe it. I liked the Latimer family – flaws and all – because their flaws made them real to me.

The men in the story were less relatable to me, but they had a purpose. Each character, male or female, was more than just him or herself; they represented “Everyman” in their realm. Think of a stereotype, and McCullough represented it via a flawed but likeable character. A widow, a clergyman, a politician, a salesman, a smart (oooooh!) woman, a shrew, a rich man… and so many more. Though it took a bit for me to get through the political descriptions, the cleverly written characters sold me on this solid 4-star read.