Moira McAlister – Izzy

An Indiemosh book, MoshPit Publishing, Australia, 2021
Cover design and layout by Ally Mosher
Cover images used under licence from Adobe Stock

This book is historical fiction, inspired by the author’s slight secondary glimpse of her great, great grandmother, Inez Seville Fitzgerald along with a couple of original letters. Inez was married to Dr Barry Cotter, Melbourne’s first doctor, the subject of the author’s family history study, the results of which are published as

In all historical fiction there is an instructional element and the skill of the historical novelist lies to some extent in seamlessly distracting the reader with the fiction whilst holding true to the historically factual. Moira McAlister does this very well indeed. She creates a rich cast of characters from both the real and the imagined worlds she builds for us.

This is a story of abandonment. Izzy, our heroine, is conceived out of wedlock in Cadiz and her early years are marked by a series of forced moves. Whist final decisions about her life are made by men who should be considering her welfare, there are negative influences in this regard by women whose judgement is impaired by certain family ties or a regard for reputation over kindness.

However, finally in Launceston Izzy finds herself with a nurturing family and develops a mutually loving relationship with Edith, the mother of the household. Izzy’s subsequent marriage to Dr Bryn Carrick comes as no surprise once he enters the story, but alas it leads to much unhappiness and further periods of abandonment, but Izzzy is maturing and demonstrating a remarkable  strength of character and purpose.

This tale, of course, is intricately woven into the tapestry the author makes for us of the world in the first half of the 19th century – covering Cadiz in Spain, Ireland, Australian colonies that will come to be known as NSW, Victoria and Tasmania, as well as England.

There’s even a French connection through fashion design diva Madame Foveaux (a figment of the author’s imagination, but entirely credible given the fashionable society that Launceston and Hobart boasted).

Real events such as The Great Exhibition which took place in London in 1851 play a significant part in the fiction. So too does the thorny matter of European-Indigenous relations, more by oblique reference than deliberate study.

The inequality between genders is the prime motif, born out again and again in Izzy’s life as it no doubt was in the lives of the women of the day. The inequalities of the class system are also very apparent, particularly as Izzy moves up and down the scale with life’s vicissitudes.

The importance of a woman’s independence, both financially and emotionally, is a strongly developed theme, one that plays out very satisfyingly in the end.

Betrayals by men and women who hold power of different sorts over Izzy’s life are balanced by the smattering of well-intentioned men and women who help her financially, through education or with acts of human kindness.

There is no doubt we become very partial in this story. It is impossible not to feel admiration for the tenacity and resilience of our heroine and to recognise the ways in which she represents ‘everywoman’. The novel does Inez proud. The author is to be congratulated upon her meticulous research and her capacity to as a storyteller engage her readers.

Thank you to Moira McAlister for my review copy and for taking time to discuss history, family history and the art of writing with me in the context of Izzy.