The mid-1960s saw a string of changes for countries around the world, and many had their eyes on the United States. By 1965, however, the antiwar efforts against the Vietnam War had made their way across the world to Australia. In this novel by Kristina Olsson, hard-headed journalist Pearl Keough puts everything at risk when she joins the antiwar movement. As the military draft comes into fruition in Australia, she searches for her young brothers before their number is called, in hopes of quelling the lifetime of guilt she has experienced by leaving them after their mother died. At the same time, Axel Lindquist, a Swede, is in Australia to assist in the sculpture of the Sydney Opera House which, when complete, will have a shell-like structure, hence the title. Their lives, not surprisingly, become intertwined.
War, architecture, guilt, salvation, politics – this book has a little bit of it all. Each of the characters has a past they are trying to reconcile, their lives and emotions in as much upheaval as what is going on around them as the war draws closer than they ever expected.
This is an interesting novel with an unusual technique of writing dialogue, with italics and no quotation marks. The style made it difficult for me to fully connect with the characters as I felt emotionally removed from their experiences. Still, it’s a fascinating look at Australia during the Vietnam War, the creation of the Sydney Opera House, and the ever-present battle between the violence of war and the beauty of art. Recommended.