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The Commandant by Jessica Anderson

The Commandant (1975)

by Jessica Anderson

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I knew little of Jessica Anderson, except in passing as the author of the popular Tirra Lirra by the River. Then, in 2012, Text Publishing re-released The Commandant amongst a large batch of 'lost Australian classics'. Anderson's 1975 novel about an unfolding crisis in Brisbane's convict settlement was a worthy inclusion with this collection.

The commandant of the title, Captain Patrick Logan, is a shadowy and increasingly malevolent presence in the book. His traits and behavior are related by others, primarily his recently arrived sister-in-law Frances. Her natural compassion and naivety quickly begin to jar against the harsh realities of life in a penal colony, especially as it is run by Captain Logan. The tensions build slowly as the commandant's methods come into question and his grip on power is loosened.

The Commandant was apparently Anderson's only foray into historical fiction, which is a shame, since it is researched and written with great flair. Highly recommended. ( )
  whirled | Dec 9, 2012 |
This book is a novelistic account of certain events that took place in Moreton Bay, Australia in 1830. Moreton Bay, 600 miles north of Sydney, was the penal colony where convicts who were considered "more dangerous" were sent. Patrick Logan is the commandant at Moreton Bay, and this novel is told from the pov of his wife's sister Frances, newly arrived from England.

Certain prisoners from Moreton Bay who have returned to Sydney have made allegations of extremely harsh treatment of the convicts at the hands of Logan, and these allegations have been published in the Sydney press. Logan has sued the Sydney newspapers for libel.

Frances, Logan's sister-in-law, arrived in Australia with an idealistic outlook on what she would find. Before going to Moreton Bay, she befriends some of the more liberal members of Sydney society. When she arrives in Moreton Bay, and begins to experience the harsh life there, her viewpoint begins to change. I found this book to provide amazing insight into how those in charge of the convicts attempted to maintain a "civilized" society in circumstances where brutality was prevalent, both against the convicts and the aboriginal people. Frances's ideals are threatened when an event occurs that made me think of Adela in A Passage to India, a classic with similar themes. This is an outstanding novel.

Highly recommended. ( )
  arubabookwoman | Oct 13, 2011 |
Excellent historical novel about early convict settlement in Australia. Reviewed at whisperinggums.wordpress.com: http://whisperinggums.wordpress.com/2009/11/22/jessica-anderson-the-commandant/ ( )
  minerva2607 | Nov 9, 2010 |
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He jumped down to the wharf and walked alone out of the torchlight to stand behind Letty. Frances looked from his face to her sister's, and once again felt the weakening flush of fear. She was too much at the mercy of her company, and was about to discover which of her unpredictable selves would advance to meet these two strangers.… (more)

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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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