Mrs M: An imagined history
Fourth Estate, $29.99 hb, 314 pp, 9780732271817
'Mrs M’ is the second wife of Lachlan Macquarie, governor of New South Wales from 1810 to 1821. Luke Slattery explains in his Author’s Note the impulse behind his novel – Elizabeth Macquarie’s voice coming to him, romantically, in a dream. It was not quite unprompted. He had been visiting her home territory in the Hebrides, having already written a short book about the Macquaries’ last years in New South Wales (The First Dismissal ). But this book is different; and it is Slattery’s first novel.
Mrs M is an ‘imagined history’, but a skeleton of historical fact is fleshed out in it, with a few inconvenient ribs missing, and some joints slightly realigned. The Dromedary, the ship on which the Macquaries travelled to New South Wales, was not a convict ship, with or without a certain convict architect aboard. Slattery’s Elizabeth suffers from unfruitful pregnancies, as the historical woman did, but Slattery dispenses with the son she actually did bear, along with the real-life architect Francis Greenway’s wife. His Elizabeth is a woman of decided opinions and strong feelings who has grown up solitary and proud as a member of the Campbell clan. She is ruled not so much by social constraints and mores as by her own system of alliances: loyalties she has formed based on deliberate choices she has made.