The Desert Nurse

Written by Pamela Hart
Review by Elizabeth Jane Corbett

Although Evelyn Northey desperately wants to be a doctor, her father will not allow it, holding back her inheritance―which would enable her to attend university―until she is thirty years of age. In defiance, Evelyn trains to be a nurse and, when World War One breaks out, she enlists as an army nurse headed for Egypt. In the dust, heat and horror of nursing men injured at Gallipoli, she begins to develop feelings for Dr William Brent: feelings that threaten her eventual plans to study medicine. She vows never to let a man have power over her decisions again.

The Desert Nurse is a compelling read that has all the elements of a satisfying romance. Evelyn Northey is a sympathetic character, and William Brent, the tortured hero, is equally appealing, the growing connection between them tender and well-realised. At times, I wanted to slap them both, as they simultaneously resisted their growing attraction. This was no doubt the writer’s intention.

The historical detail in The Desert Nurse is tactile and realistic. Pamela Hart clearly knows her stuff. The reader is given a sense of the challenges faced by medical staff working in these conditions without the story becoming too grim. Hart ticks all the boxes of ANZAC legend, too – the larrikinism, the humour, the disrespect for authority and the eschewing of the class system. This could have been cliché, if she had not also given us an intelligent women’s perspective of those events—a sense of the challenges faced by women who wanted to pursue a career in this era. This lifted the book above a typical Aussie World War One romance and gave it an unexpected depth.

I look forward to reading more from this author.