The Lost Blackbird by Liza Perrat

I’ll willingly admit to an interest here: Liza Perrat is an Australian writer married to a Frenchman and living in France, and I’m a fan. What you get with Liza is an Australian straightforwardness that draws you into her books and says: ‘This is real life as lived by real people.’ And it is. Real people aren’t always nice people, and Liza does not shy away from that. She shows you what people do and why they do it and she leaves the judging to you.

The Lost Blackbird is the story of two young English sisters, Lucy and Charlotte known as Charly, who lose their home and their mother after their father’s death. You see him die and you think you know the whole story. You may be in for a surprise, but there are no spoilers in my reviews. They are taken into a Catholic orphanage in London and from there they sail to Australia to start a new life. The new life is not what they were led to believe it would be.

It would be easy at this distance to see The Lost Blackbird as an indictment of the Australian authorities – but that would be only part of the story. What it really is is an indictment of relationships between adults and children. At the time the story is set ( the early 1960s, so we’re not talking about the distant past) children still had the same rights in practice as children in the days of Charles Dickens. No-one listens to Lucy and Charly – the people who should be making sure their lives are okay are too busy taking note of the views of adults who, if we’re frank, don’t give a toss about the girls; they are happy to pay lip service to any set of decent values you might choose, but lip service is all it is. Have things improved today? I’m really not sure that we can claim that.

In the hands of a less than stellar writer, this book could be very heavy going. The fact that it isn’t is the product of Liza Perrat’s great skill as a writer. It will make you angry that adults could treat the vulnerable as they do here, but you won’t want to stop reading. Recommended without reservation.

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