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The Radio Hour by Victoria Purman

Whenever I pick up a Victoria Purman book, I know I’m in good hands. Great story (tick), engaging, relatable characters (tick) and a plot that keeps me glued to the page (tick, tick). This slice of Australian history is no exception as it takes readers back to Sydney 1956 and the hallowed halls of the ABC at a time when TV was on the horizon and radio was a family’s (and thus a culture’s) primary source of domestic entertainment – as well as providing a window on the world.

Enter the reliable and experienced Martha Berry, fifty years old, single, and who has haunted the corridors of the ABC for all her working life. “Haunting” is an appropriate word to use here because in so many ways, Martha, like the other women who work there, is invisible. When Martha is transferred to work on a new radio serial, As The Sun Sets, which is earmarked to ride the wave of popularity Blue Hills has enjoyed for so long, she finds herself with an autocratic, narcissistic young male boss who’s more concerned about flaunting his authority and long lunches than actually doing any work.

Left with little choice if she wants to save not only her job but those of the actors employed to voice the new serial, Martha takes matters into her own capable hands and begins to write the scripts herself, the actors becoming complicit in what she’s doing. But how long can she hide her involvement from the powers that be? And what will they do to her, a woman, who has well and truly overstepped her role when they find out?

While this era is before my time, it’s brought to life in such a way you are there with all the characters: Martha’s mother and her friends nattering on the verandah, the young women Martha mentors at the ABC, or beside the cast in the studio, feeling the excitement of creating something new. You burn with indignation at what Martha and the other women endure – how they’re treated and often diminished, despite their evident capabilities. Victoria always deals so beautifully with contemporary social issues – sexual harassment, the gender disparities in pay, expectations, and even the wilful ignorance exhibited towards women with talent.

If you’re looking for a delightful, immersive read, that’s hard to put down once you start, The Radio Hour is a great choice – and, with Mother’s Day looming, I reckon it would make a fabulous gift too!

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