Tuesday, May 15, 2007


Title: Fire
Author: Deborah Challinor
Publisher: HarperCollins New Zealand, 13 April 2007

Deborah Challinor has cemented her place as one of New Zealand’s premier historical fiction authors with her latest novel, “Fire.” Set in 1953 but loosely based on the devastating fire of 1947 that destroyed the Ballantyne’s department store in central Christchurch and killed 41, it is the story of four friends, and a flaming inferno that will change their lives forever.

It is Christmas 1953 and the entire country is gripped in coronation fever with the impending tour of New Zealand by the newly crowned Queen Elizabeth II. At Dunbar and Jones, a large and prestigious department store in the heart of Auckland’s Queen Street, four friends, Allie, Louise, Daisy and Irene are besieged both by customers wanting new outfits befitting parties held in royal company and with the delights and dramas of being young and alive in a big city.

But in amongst the burgeoning new love for Allie, the strain of being a working mother for Louise, the parental disapproval for a pregnant before wed Daisy and a dissatisfied, wayward Irene - true disaster is looming. For in the slowly decaying old building where they work, long neglected repair work on an outdated electrical system will start a catastrophic fire that will threaten the lives of every shopper and staff member within, and more than one friend will die.

Deborah Challinor writes to vividly and clearly that she transports her readers to the world she wants them to inhabit with her characters. Her flowing writing manner makes it easy to picture life in early 1950s New Zealand; the clothing, hair and make up fashions, the family gathering around the table each night for tea and the rising excitement as the impending royal tour draws closer.

My one (small) reservation with this book would be that for a story named “Fire” it does take a long time for any pyromatic action to take place – 200 odd pages in of a novel only 319 pages in length. On the upside, this does allow for plenty of character development and really allows you as a reader to form a bond with the charming characters peppered throughout the story.

“Fire”, Deborah Challinor’s sixth historical fiction novel is a delicious, easy to devour kind of book that, even with its large doses of heartache that will have you reaching for the tissues, is a delightful read of love and despair, tragedy and triumph – the themes of which will resonate with you even after you have turned the last page.

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