A Man of Honour
Echo Publishing, $32.99 pb, 337 pp
In recent historical fiction, women authors have explored the Australian past from a female viewpoint, as in Kate Grenville’s A Room Made of Leaves (2020), focusing on Elizabeth Macarthur, and Anita Heiss’s Bila Yarrudhanggalangdhuray, River of Dreams (2022), about Wagadhaany, an Indigenous woman from the Murrumbidgee River. As if in response to such potent novels, now comes a trio expressing historical masculinity.
In A Man of Honour (Echo Publishing, $32.99 pb, 337 pp), his first book, Simon Smith explores the experience and context of a past and notorious relative, using historical data to present the thoughts and actions of Henry O’Farrell, who, in March 1868, at Clontarf in New South Wales, shot a pistol at Alfred, duke of Edinburgh, second son of Queen Victoria. The prince was badly wounded: O’Farrell was attacked and beaten by the monarchist crowd, rescued by arresting police, and executed within a month.
Smith turned from his respected career filming documentaries to research his relative, including recorded prison conversations with Henry Parkes, already Colonial Secretary, to go on to the premiership and – if not fully positive – fame. The book has notably cinematic qualities, with strong close-ups of O’Farrell’s thoughts; it cuts from scene to scene and across periods in O’Farrell’s life, especially between his sometimes difficult earlier days and the grim final sequences.