Notorious Australian Women by Kay Saunders

I should have paid more attention to the title. You know, the “notorious” bit. I went looking for a history book by an Australian woman writer that I could read on my kindle. I don’t know quite what I expected from “Notorious Australian Women”.

The book is very readable.

The opening chapters, dealing with Indigenous and convict women from the early years of European settlement, were strong. They were fantastic in the wealth of period detail and history woven into their biographies.

The style of the later chapters would suit inclusion in a magazine as feature articles. I was fascinated by the varied achievements and daring of the women described. But…it wasn’t my cup of tea and I’ve spent a few days thinking about why not.

A major element of the Australian Women Writers Reading and Reviewing Challenge is to read outside your normal reading. Well, now I realise why I read a few autobiographies but seldom touch a biography (like this collection). The biographies feel voyeuristic. This is purely my perception. “Notorious Australian Women” isn’t a nasty or lip-licking book. But I didn’t like the sense of the narrator coming through the story and telling me how the woman thought, loved and hated.

12 Replies to “Notorious Australian Women by Kay Saunders”

  1. Interesting review, Jenny. I know Kay's work from my previous life + have always enjoyed her (academic) writing. May well give this one a go, even though non-fiction isn't something I'd normally read for fun. Have had too many years of reading articles/books for work, I think! 😉

    1. Yeah, having to read stuff certainly dents to reading it for fun aspect. I liked Kay Saunders' writing (and referencing, if that doesn't sound too weird) though, so may have to follow up and read some of her more academic stuff – stuff, I'm so elegantly expressive this morning. Freakin' hot summer mornings fry my brain

    1. I hope you do! Many of the women I hadn't heard of (or only fleetingly) yet they led these amazing lives where they created their own identities regardless of social expectations.

  2. I was so tempted to buy this book when it was on special over xmas. I have a similar book called Bad Girls & Wicked Women, that sounded similar but is more international in its selection.

    Would you still recommend it as a snapshot of women who have been overlooked by history?

    1. I'd definitely recommend Notorious Australian Women. I never knew we had Indigenous female bushrangers, for instance. It's a solidly researched book with a good range of Australian women who created their own reputations internationally. Don't let my sudden self-knowledge that I prefer autobiographies put you off 🙂

  3. I never thought of biographies in that manner – I actually often prefer the distance because autobiographies can sometimes be so raw. Thanks for sharing the book!

    Shelleyrae @ Book'd Out

    1. Yeah, that rawness can be tough … but I always feel with an autobio the person had a chance to filter/choose how they presented their life – of course, sometimes that's annoying 🙂 Lordy me, this AWW12 challenge is showing me how weird some of reading habits are.

  4. I do like biographies as well but I'm with you – the author shouldn't try to tell me what the person was thinking or feeling unless they have letters, diaries, interviews, to back that up. Interesting discussion!

    1. That's it exactly! I kept wanting to shake the book (although it was on my precious kindle, so I couldn't!) and shout, "show me the evidence"! Although to be fair to Kay Saunders, the book was well referenced and footnoted. I just think she interpreted the women a bit too much for my taste.