The Boy with Blue Trousers
The Boy with Blue Trousers is set in 1856/57 in the Pearl River Delta, China and Robetown, Australia. The narrative alternates between the life of 17-year-old Little Cat, slaving in the silk industry, and Violet, a young governess, who by way of her own misfortunes has left England to escape her past. Little Cat is forced by circumstances beyond her control to disguise herself as a boy and leave China in a ship full of her countrymen seeking their fortune on Australia’s New Gold Mountain. The young women’s fortunes intertwine when Violet loses her job and follows the gold-seeking Chinese men and a handsome young bullocky to the gold fields, in search of new employment and a husband.
The story begins well as we learn much about the silk industry and the culture of the Chinese people. Violet’s tale isn’t particularly remarkable, and she quickly becomes an unlikeable character, selfish and petty-minded. There is a lot of telling, not showing, which puts the reader at arm’s length from the story, and there is exposition which could have been edited out in favour of more substance. Once the stories intertwined, I expected more adventure, but it lacks the tension needed to propel the story forward, and Violet’s character growth is weak. She doesn’t learn from her mistakes and is more interested in nurturing her jealousy than helping in what would have been a very difficult time for all. Readers interested in the Chinese migration to New Gold Mountain in the mid-1800s will enjoy this book, but sadly it wasn’t for me. The main topics are women’s vulnerability and oppression by men, which are laudable themes.