Jenny Ackland, in her fine début novel, re-imagines Australia's historical landscape, exploring a fictional world in which Ned Kelly fathered a son. Delving into relationships that span generations and continents, Ackland merges the stories of James Kelly, a young man who fights at Gallipoli in 1915 but 'won't kill any man' and Cem, a lost young man looking to connect with his roots in the Turkish village of Hayat in the 1990s.
While the novel's protagonists are all men, The Secret Son repeatedly examines women's place in society; it shines a light on the domestic and professional spheres they inhabit. Ackland depicts the conflicting roles of men as perpetrators of violence against women and as protectors of women, as shown in Australia and Turkey at different times. The power and strength of women is a recurring theme. Seen through the lens of Cem, however, it feels as though Ackland is undecided as to whether Australia or Turkey is the safer space for women. This risks reducing a complex feminist and cultural discourse to an irrelevant comparison.