BY PHIL FITZPATRICK
In those days there was a good market for writers and I managed to crack a range of magazines. Despite trying my hardest, the only genre where I failed miserably was in that curious mix of squeaky clean blandness required by the Readers Digest.
Apart from that august journal, my next least successful foray was into the emotion-centric world of women’s magazines.
To psych myself up for that exercise, I surreptitiously picked up a couple of dog-eared Mills and Boon novels from the local book exchange in Badili. Curiously, and in a strangely unsettling way, I enjoyed both of them thoroughly - but just to be safe had a stiff beer afterwards.
Do you think I could emulate the style? No way. As someone less sensitive reminded me, “you have to have bumps in your jumper to write like that mate”.
Which brings me to Rosemary Esmonde Peterswald’s Bird of Paradise, which the cover explains is a vivid portrait of Papua New Guinea in the 1960s and a compelling story of a betrayed young woman’s courageous search for love and forgiveness.
That isn’t the half of it; the convolutions intrigue, and the hardly believable coincidences surrounding our young heroine are mind boggling.
Funnily enough the book is highly entertaining. Rosemary Peterswald is migratory Irish and so is her heroine. There is a touch of Maeve Binchy mixed with the Mills and Boon. At 359 pages, it’s also longer than most Mills and Boons.
The goings-on mostly occur in Port Moresby. There are references to the politics of the time, feminism, the Vietnam War and the culture in the Pacific Islands Regiment. But it could be anywhere in the world, because place takes a firm back step in this yarn which is centred round the emotional torment of Merryn, the pilot heroine.
There is a dastardly but redeemable white soldier, promiscuous Moresbyites, a grizzled old bipo, pompous officers, and a tall, dark local who hails from up near Vanimo. Another throw-away reference to the Sepik has us believe that Michael Somare might be a passable prime minister come independence.
The book is well presented and is nicely edited until about halfway through when the typos start to appear.
I found the image of a highland woman sitting in the terminal at Jacksons with a baby on one breast and a piglet on the other a bit much, as were the PIR soldiers dressed in penis gourds for their annual singsing. The point about the deliberate diversity in the PIR ranks was well made however.
The other bits tossed in for local colour are a tad more believable. Some of the spelling is a bit strange; Telafomin in one line and then the correct spelling a few lines later; Alotau consistently appears as Alatau; while bilum gets an extra ‘l’.
Besides all that, I must admit I enjoyed the story and was hanging out for all the myriad strings to be pulled together at the end.
Highly recommended for the ladies and those blokes interested in exploring their feminine side – in a completely non-sexist way of course.
Bird of Paradise by Rosemary Esmonde Peterswald was published by Ballynastragh Books this year and is available from [email protected] for $29.95 plus postage and handling.