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This is one of my all time favourite books and I can read it as many times as you like and still find it funny and uplifting. It's not 'literature' and it's only a slim, little volume, but I've read it over twenty times in the past 10-odd years and I will no doubt read it many more times in the future.
Colleen McCullough is an Australian writer famous for her magnum opus, The Thorn Birds. I read Thorn Birds years ago and though I enjoyed it, I wouldn't read it again. In fact I wouldn't have read Ladies of Missalonghi had my friend not pressed it upon me all those years ago. Thank goodness she did!
The novel is about - surprise, surprise - the ladies of a small town in Australia called Missalonghi. The town is dominated by the Rutherford family, especially the male, wealthier ones, who take advantage of their impoverished womenfolk, cheating them out of what little money they have. Three of these indigent ladies are Missy, her mother and her aunt who eke out a living on the fringes of Missalonghi society. Missy is a plain woman on the wrong side of thirty and consigned to the shelf by in her own eyes. Her only luxury is novels from the lending library which transport her to a world of romance and fantasy that has nothing in common with her hard reality.
Into this mix comes John Smith, a mysterious stranger who buys a large valley in Missalonghi much to the chagrin of the wealthy members of the Rutherford family. Missy falls in love with him and with the help of a mysterious Rutherford cousin, Una, hatches a plan to make him fall in love with her.
Does Missy succeed? Who is John Smith anyway? And why are the wealthy Rutherfords worried about their business concerns?
Now like I said, this is not high literature. In fact I would describe it as chick lit written before chick lit was invented. But it's a lovely little story that gets you to root for the heroine and has enough plot twists to keep in interesting. It is really almost a fairy story but one with enough bite to make it modern and interesting. I defy you not to read it in one sitting!