Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Book Review - 'The Potato Factory' by Bryce Courtenay

Well I literally felt like I was reading this book forever even though it really only took me about three weeks. I'm still not used to having such broken up time to read in between bub's sleeps and before I go to bed at night and taking longer than a week to read one book just seems like a lifetime to me.

The Potato Factory (The Potato Factory, #1)The Potato Factory by Bryce Courtenay
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Synopsis: The Potato Factory is the story of Ikey Solomon, the true character on whom Charles Dickens patterned his notorious villain Fagin. Though Fagin, it transpires, is in fiction a pale imitation of the Ikey Solomon of fact. Ikey, 'The Prince of Fences', is a nocturnal creature, brilliant, ruthless, unctuous and quick-witted. Hannah, his brothel mistress wife, is rapacious, sharp-tongued, amoral and filled with a burning hate for her husband and a fierce love for her children. Mary Abacus, Ikey's sometime mistress, born in St Giles, London's vilest rookery, survives a young life of distress and misadventure but is gifted with a knowledge of numbers and possessed of a spirit that somehow never loses the power to love and the determination that she will someday succeed. All three are transported as criminals to Van Dieman's Land where the two strong and determined women raise separate families, each with the surname Solomon, the one legitimate, the other not. The destinies of both family groups are irrevocably locked into Ikey's greed, Hannah's hate and Mary's soaring ambition - a potent combination that, when love is added, becomes a vengeful and explosive mixture as each woman sets out to destroy the other. The Potato Factory is the first book in a trilogy that spans the short and brilliant history of Australia and tells of our painful journey into freedom. No nation ever made a less propitious beginning, nor choose a more alien landscape on which to start its human journey. Yet few people have stumbled to nationhood as free, nor welcomed through its gates a greater mix of colour, creed and race. Bryce Courtenay digs beneath the myths in a cutting and powerful narrative that gets closer to the bone and sinew of truth than perhaps any other fictional account of our history. He tells us who we are and where we came from in a richly peopled and compelling story that touches the heart.

My Review: I really did enjoy this book for the most part. During some of it I felt like it did drag on a little but I guess all that detail added to the realness of the story and the building of the characters.

I could not believe how much character development there was in this book. It virtually ran over a period of almost 20 years and it was kind of exciting to see where the main characters ended up after all that time. You almost felt like you were part of the lives of Ikey and Mary by the end after experiencing every aspect of their trials and tribulations over the years and how their personalities changed.

The language used in this book is unbelievably descriptive and it made you almost feel as if you could smell and taste what was being described in the story. I kind of felt dirty sometimes after reading sections of this book because the language really made me feel like I could totally imagine the slum conditions they were living in. It truly amazes and disgusts me that this was how people were treated and managed to lived back then. The dirtiness and diseases that were commonplace really makes you appreciate how times have changed in our society.

I've never actually read any other books that tell the story of how Australia was settled and how the convicts were brought here and subsequently treated once they arrived. Reading about this was very thought provoking and made me realise just how lucky we are that we don't have to fight for our lives in our country like that anymore. The differences between classes and how men treated women was horrendous and it makes you really sad to think that human beings were once so savage and had such little regard for their fellow man.

One dislike I did have regarding this book was some of the language used when the characters were speaking. Most of it was abbreviated into trying to replicate the real old cockney English and sometimes that made it a bit difficult when there were long conversations going on and you had to follow the broken words. But that is obviously not something that would bother everyone.

I would definitely recommend this book to anyone who is interested in reading a fictional account of how our society started as it was apparently based loosely on real people and events.

Overall I would give this book 4 stars our of 5 as it definitely held my interest right to the end and I always felt disappointed whenever I had to put it down and knew I wasn't going to get to read it again for a while.
Has anyone else read this book? If so, what were your thoughts?

View all my reviews


  1. I just discovered Bryce Courtenay and his THE POTATO FACTORY which held me captivated over its 600 pages!!!
    I knew very little about the prisoners sent to Australia and their sad lives. I wish I had read the book earlier. I was disappointed with one segment where Mary on board her transport ship was able to destroy the opium cache of POTBOTTOM. Oddly enough he does not suffer from what we were led to believe was a fatal HABIT. He was taking a daily "FIX" and desperate for it, but seems to have suffered no ill effects for the remainder of the voyage. I wanted him to SUFFER after his nasty treatment of Mary and the others.!!!!! I must read his other novels. Thanks from Canada.

    1. I'm so glad you liked it. I've got a few more books from him too that I haven't had a chance to read yet but hope I get to one day.


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