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Much more than Flappers and Flirtations: A Kiss from Mr. Fitzgerald.

Sarah Biggerstaff

The moving historical novel, A Kiss from Mr. Fitzgerald is the third book from Perth-based author, Natasha Lester, released earlier this year.

It follows the romantic, social, and professional struggles of Evie Lockhart, a small-town girl with a big mouth and a bigger heart, battling against the male-dominated world of 1920s medicine. Lester’s novel traces the development of her protagonist from a headstrong country girl into a driven medical student, battling chauvinism and medical brutality left, right and centre, to help forge a place for women in the medical profession during a time of both radical conservativism and progressive social change.

With her parents unwilling to fund her education expenses, Evie boldly breaks out into the world of fast living and loose morals which epitomises New York’s leading night-time entertainment – the Zeigfeld Follies – in order to make her dreams of becoming an obstetrician a reality. Incorruptible and compassionate almost to a fault, Evie must tread the fine line between financial security and social and professional ruin.

Lester portrays the experiences of her stalwart heroine vividly, depicting the prejudices and dangers women faced in the early part of last century, if they dared to dream of a life beyond the limits of their husband’s and father’s imaginations. Richly portraying an array of settings, from jazz clubs in Greenwich Village, to the women’s hospital where Evie undergoes her internship, Lester’s sterling prose brings Prohibition-Era New York to life, reflecting both the glamourous and gut-wrenching aspects of the flapper lifestyle.

The bright lights and sequins of nocturnal Manhattan form a stark contrast to the birthing suites and university lectures of Evie’s daily medical pursuits, evoking the many sides of life which exist in a bustling metropolis like New York.

Image via www.hachette.com

Image via www.hachette.com

The novel is extremely well-researched, referencing a vast number of popular jazz tunes from the period, which help to evoke the mood of the city in this time of musical and social revolution. The details of women’s gradual rise within the medical profession, and the obstacles and prejudices they had to overcome are true to life, and make this a novel with something important to say about women’s history and the medical profession.

Lester’s writing is thoroughly engaging – I got through the almost-four-hundred-pages of it in a single weekend – with a hard-to-put down narrative style that makes you genuinely want to know what happens next. The novel does tend to romanticise this easily romanticisable time in American history; moral dilemmas appear to lack some of the more subtle monochrome shades, and good and bad behaviour are clearly delineated to save you from too much mental heavy lifting. Yet, it is much more than a simple romance, and I confess I thoroughly enjoyed A Kiss From Mr. Fitzgerald; it has all the features I look for in a good weekend-read.

This is a punchy and moving novel about a woman ahead of her time, smashing gender divisions, armed with nothing but her wits and her self-belief. It definitely establishes Lester as a formidable Australian talent, worth watching (and reading), and from whom we can expect great things in the future.

A Kiss From Mr. Fitzgerald is published by Hachette and available from most book retailers.

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Sarah Biggerstaff

Sarah Biggerstaff is a literary enthusiast, from Canberra, with a Masters degree in English Literature from the University of York in the United Kingdom. She is currently in her first year of an English PhD, the focus of which is British women’s fiction from the inter-war period, with a particular interest in feminist readings of these novels. Sarah hopes to one day write books, as well as review them, and in the meantime, is happy sharing her passion for books with others. More about the Author

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