NO SMALL SHAME BY CHRISTINE BELL


Mary is a 16-year-old girl who dreamt of a life in Australia with her best friend Liam. They were going to live the lives that they wanted; follow their dreams, not follow in the footsteps of their parents. Oh, how they were wrong.


Set in 1914 onwards, with The Great War impending, we follow Mary through her treacherous, and in my opinion, completely unfair life. From the blurb, we know Mary is met with an unexpected pregnancy and a loveless marriage out of obligation. Knowing this, I found the first 100 pages to be a little slow. However, as soon as I reached the climax, the story did not stop. With this in mind, upon reflection, I am really glad the first 100 pages eased us into the environment of the story. In these 100 pages, Bell sucks us into the dynamics of family, society, and religion of this time period that, despite the slow pace, I honestly forgot about the oncoming drama at times and was wholly curious as to the overarching importance of these dynamics. Bell writes relationships expertly which really drive the story and the severity of different events. Bell’s characterisation of Mary was so strong and I will forever remember her as a strong feminist protagonist. Mary’s endless determination was a pillar of hope for me as a reader. Representing everything I could have wanted out of a woman in this book. While Mary, in the novel's setting, seems out of place and contradictory, as we read in our 2020 era she acts as a pillar of rationality, questioning society and going against expectations.


We get a refreshing and underexplored take on the great war period. The war inevitably affects the lives of those in No Small Shame, however, for me it took a back seat, which I enjoyed and appreciated. As I’m sure we all remember, or at least any Aussie readers can, our school history classes being saturated with lessons on the war itself, with a brief dash of how those on the home front contributed to the war. So the reason I enjoyed the angle No Small Shame took is that it was a fairly new perspective to me. Honestly, I was quite surprised by the minor role the war played in this novel, but I hardly had time to think about it because I was so sucked into Mary’s tumultuous life.