Friday, July 03, 2020

The House on Boundary Street by Tea Cooper

Dolly Bowman arrives in Sydney from country New South Wales, with a promise of a cleaning job in a boarding house. Her father has died recently, never having recovered from the disappearance of her brother during World War I. She is surprised to find her brother's best friend Jack at the house, and almost equally surprised to find that the boarding house was actually a high class brothel. Jack is determined that naive Dolly won't become one of the girls. Luckily, it turns out that Dolly is a talented jazz singer and soon she is caught up in the glamorous world using her singing talent to make her way.

One of the other girls, Cynthia Burton, has her own reasons for working at the house on Boundary Street. She wants to get out but the secrets that she keeps, and the money that she owes to the madam are what keeps her there. If she loses her job then she will have to go out on the streets, so while there is danger, it will be even more dangerous if she has to start working the streets. She is looking for an out and before Dolly appears and catches Jack's eye she is hoping that Jack might be it.

It's not easy to get out of that world once you are in, especially given the kind of people that run it. In 1920s Sydney, the streets are flooded with "snow", cocaine to you and me, and while it's not illegal to possess snow, it is illegal to distribute it, so for those who have access, there is big money to be made.

And then there's Ted,who has been trying to get into that world for reasons of his own. He is a man who is used to living in the shadows, to being inconspicuous, hiding the truth of who he really is from everyone who loves him.

When I mentioned that I was reading this a couple of weeks ago it was in the context of the fact that this is actually a reworking of an earlier novel.  Having not read the earlier version, I can't tell what has changed or hasn't but I think you can tell. I do wonder what prompts an author to revisit a previous book. What gets changed, what stays the same? How do you decide what needs to be added in? Do you change the fundamental underlying story? Is it an opportunity to put back some things that you left out the first time around, or is it something that you have thought of later?

For me, this book didn't quite work. I think it suffered from a lack of clarity about what it was trying to be, and it wasn't cohesive. When the book opens with Dolly's story, I assumed that she would be the main character, but if I have to be honest I think that this was the less interesting of the two stories. It was really Dolly and Ted's story. Dolly gives us an entry into the brothel, but it wasn't her story, not really.

And yet, it was still interesting, particularly the parts talking about how Sydney was changing in the 1920's. World War I was over, the Spanish Flu had decimated the population, especially in the poorer areas like The Rocks. Now, The Rocks is a tourist hotspot, but at the time it was home to the poorest, ,some of whom were having their buildings destroyed to make way for the famous bridge.

I ended up giving this book a rating of 3/5. It wasn't perfect but there were interesting glimpses into the underbelly of Sydney in the 1920s. I have previously read another book by this author, which I enjoyed, so I will definitely read more by her. It's just unfortunate that this one didn't work particularly well for me.

Thanks to the publisher for this review copy via Netgalley

Rating 3/5

Goodreads summary

The House on Boundary Street is a revised and expanded edition of the novel originally published as Jazz Baby
From a bestselling Australian author comes a tale of double-dealing, adventure and the dark underbelly of 1920s Sydney...
In the aftermath of World War I, Sydney is no place for the fainthearted. Sly grog shops thrive, the cocaine trade flourishes and brothels abound. Into this big dark city comes fresh-faced country girl, Dolly Bowman, ready to risk everything in pursuit of her dreams. After all it's the 1920s - time to turn her back on her terrible childhood and search for her future.
Cynthia Burton's life changes irrevocably the day she steps over the threshold of the house on Boundary Street. Determined to survive the only way she can, she breaks into the world of money and matinee idols in order to fulfil a promise she made and now there's no going back.
As Dolly and Cynthia lives entangle they find themselves drawn into a far-reaching web of lies, intrigue and double dealing. Could it be that the house on Boundary Street, once their safe haven, offers nothing more than a dangerous facade?


  1. 1920s Sydney - oh looking forward to this reading after watching Miss. Fisher in 1920s Melbourne!

  2. I do enjoy books that give me insight into different times and places. This sounds interesting. I recently read a book that had little to offer except terms for clothing in Georian England. I looked up the terms and enjoyed looking and museum clothing from the period.

    1. I always like it when a book sends your down the research rabbit hole.

  3. I have not read that many historical books set in Australia so definitely interested in finding some good authors to try. Although this may not have been a great read sounds like it has some potential.

    1. There's some great Australian hist fic out there Iliana.



Related Posts with Thumbnails

  © Blogger template Simple n' Sweet by 2009

Back to TOP