Purgatory was sold to me as a ‘cross between the Lovely Bones and Angela’s Ashes’. Having read both I decided to see what a New Zealand take on that would be. Purgatory is a first novel from a New Zealand author, Rosetta Allan.
The book follows the 1865 Otahuhu murders, speaking through John Finnegan – a young boy who was murdered who is now speaking from the site of his murder (the hint of Lovely Bones), and James Stack, an irish soldier travelling in search for his sister who was put on a convict ship to Australia (the hint of Angela’s Ashes).
Along the way are good segments of early New Zealand history – the early New Zealand wars, mentions of the gold rush, missionaries and early Auckland city. On that note, I think Rosetta Allan shows well the irony of the Irish oppressed coming to oppress the Maoris as a British soldier. I found those segments of New Zealand history interesting, knowing little about that time, and it made me want to know more than what she explained, particularly some of the context.
She also delves into different ideas of the afterlife – the Catholic purgatory with the Maori idea of remaining to watch over their mokopuna. The author was inspired by the John Paul II quote “heaven and hell are primarily eternal states of consciousness rather than geographical places of later reward or punishment.” I suppose being a Catholic I found this rather intriguing, to see what take she would have on it all.
I did find the book a bit annoying in the start – I enjoyed the chatter of ten year old John, and then didn’t place where James Stack suddenly fit in when we were transported to Ireland.
Once I’d got into the book more it got easier to read, figuring out the inevitable (knowing the Finnegans were obviously murdered) and wanting to know what led to it happening and James Stack’s connection.
A good read.