Book Review / The Passengers by Eleanor Limprecht


“Limprecht’s research shines through in the rich detail that brings Sarah’s journey to life. Her recreation of wartime Sydney is vibrant, perfectly capturing the blend of excitement and uncertainty in that era.”
Amanda McLeod reviews The Passengers by Eleanor Limprecht, an immersive novel about life in early Sydney.


Sarah is sailing from San Diego to Sydney, accompanied by her granddaughter Hannah. The two are on the reverse of the journey Sarah made as a war bride in 1945 on the USS Mariposa. On this journey, she travelled to the United States to rejoin her American serviceman husband, Roy. As they travel in the present, Sarah recounts her story to Hannah; the hardships of her childhood on the farm, the possibilities of life in Sydney, her family drama, and the trepidation she felt when she realised everything she was leaving behind. Hannah, in the grip of an eating disorder and struggling to find balance in her own life, begins to recognise parallels between her own path and her grandmother’s as she hears how Sarah found direction in the face of adversity.

Author Eleanor Limprecht presents a tale of love and sacrifice; of everything we give up in search of happiness. Sarah’s earliest memories are of loss, as her family leaves the farm they have struggled to survive on for years and she is forced to leave her beloved dog behind. After this, history continuously repeats itself as Sarah leaves the things she loves again and again. Initially this pattern seems confronting, but Sarah is a pragmatic and warm character, easy to like. The frank and honest reasoning behind her decisions shows the pain she feels as she makes them, yet also her strength as she makes difficult choices she believes are for the best.

In contrast, Hannah’s initial cool demeanour makes her difficult to engage with, as she describes her own life and her struggles with it. It is towards the end of the story, as she starts to see how her own life echoes Sarah’s, that Hannah starts to sparkle, with the realisation she can have more agency in her life beyond her illness. Also central to the story are the lies we tell to protect those we love, what those lies cost, and whether the price is ultimately too high.

Limprecht’s research shines through in the rich detail that brings Sarah’s journey to life. Her recreation of wartime Sydney is vibrant, perfectly capturing the blend of excitement and uncertainty in that era. Readers wishing to immerse themselves further in the story are ably supported by an extensive appendix of notes. Throughout, the voices are clear and Limprecht keeps each tight; changes in narrator are crisp and distinct. Voice also lends depth and contrast to the story. The American servicemen and their flashy disposition and manner of speaking are at odds with their more reticent Australian counterparts, and tension simmers between the two groups. Roy’s family voice their disapproval without ever directly saying so, and Sarah and Roy’s relationship strains beneath all the things that remain unsaid.

The Passengers is a delightful story about how we love and let go, told through dual historical and contemporary lenses. While the era may change, the message is the same: it’s never too late to try and create a path to happiness, and Limprecht’s characters attempt it admirably.

 

Amanda McLeod is a Canberra-based author and artist, with several short fiction works published in print and online. Find her on Twitter @AmandaMWrites


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