Quintette of Questions: Alison Booth

Today I’m asking Alison Booth 5 questions about her latest book!

1. What’s the name of your latest book – and how hard was it to pick a title?

My latest book is The Philosopher’s Daughters. It was hard to pick the title but once we’d settled on it, it seemed exactly right for the story.

The Philosopher’s Daughters begins in 1890s London. It is written from the perspective of two sisters, strong young women who were brought up by their widowed father, an eminent moral philosopher (the philosopher of the book’s title). I imagined him as a younger version of John Stuart Mill, who was a great advocate for the emancipation of women. The girls thus had a relatively modern upbringing. Then I altered the sisters’ circumstances so that they separately choose to journey into remote and wild Australia. What might happen to them?  How would they view the world and life at the frontier? And how would this affect their own personal development and happiness once they moved away from their father’s influence?

The second half of the novel mostly takes place in the Northern Territory of South Australia. Together with the top of Western Australia, this was one of the last areas of the continent to be appropriated by white colonisers.  At that time and in that part of Australia, the ‘frontier wars’ were still being fought, largely over the establishment of the cattle industry, although they weren’t recognised as frontier wars back then. I wanted to see how The Philosopher’s Daughters would cope with being thrust into this challenging environment.

2. If you could choose anyone from any time period, who would you cast as the leads in your latest book?

I would like Rose Byrne to play the part of Harriet. A natural for Harriet’s younger sister Sarah would be Mia Wasikowska and especially so if Mia can play the piano.

Henry Vincent, whom Sarah marries, could be played by someone like Simon Baker. Mick Spencer is an important character in the second half of the book. If Aaron Pederson’s years could be wound back a bit, I’d like him to play this role. If not, Rob Collins would be great in this part. So too would Mark Coles-Smith.

There are several malevolent figures who feature in the story and I would like David Wenham to play the role of one of them – either the man Carruthers or his friend Brady.

3. What five words best describe your story?

Evocative, insightful, thought-provoking, lyrical, delicately-handled. (Here I’m picking from words that others have used to describe the novel.)

4. Who is your favourite fictional team/couple ?

There are many. But at the moment I especially love the tenderness of the main and nameless female character in Milkman (the novel by Anna Burns that won the 2018 Booker Prize) towards her ‘wee sisters’ and her mother. I think they could be described as a team.

5. What song reflects a theme, character, relationship or scene in your book?

I particularly like Geoffrey Gurrumul Yunupingu singing Wiyathul. That piece is so haunting, so beautiful, so expressive of what might have been. It reflects the relationship between Harriet and the Aboriginal stockman Mick, and would be especially right for one of their evening conversations at the boundary fence of the home paddock of Dimbulah Downs.

About The Philosopher’s Daughters

The Philosopher’s Daughters is a tale of two very different sisters whose 1890s voyage from London into remote outback Australia becomes a journey of self-discovery, set against a landscape of wild beauty and savage dispossession. 

Buy The Philosopher’s Daughters

About Alison Booth

Novelist and academic Alison Booth was born in Melbourne, brought up in Sydney, lived for many years in the UK, and now calls Canberra home. Her new novel, The Philosopher’s Daughters, is set in the 1890s in London and Australia. Her previous books include A Perfect Marriage, a work of contemporary fiction, while her first three novels (Stillwater Creek, The Indigo Sky, and A Distant Land) are historical fiction spanning the decades 1950s through to the early 1970s.

Alison’s work has been translated into French and has also been published by Reader’s Digest Select Editions in both Asia and Europe. Stillwater Creek was Highly Commended in the ACT Book of the Year Award in 2011 and A Perfect Marriage was Highly Commended in the 2019 ACT Writing and Publishing Awards. 

So many book launches and author talks have had to be cancelled, I’ve decided to run as many Quintettes as I can to share some great upcoming work – and let you stock up on things to read while we’re all self-isolating.