'Jean Batten should be one of our national heroes with the same status as Sir Edmund Hillary - that was my conclusion from Fiona Kidman's new novel.' - Herald on Sunday
A superbly written novel offering an intriguing interpretation of one of the world’s greatest aviators, the glamorous and mysterious Jean Batten.
Jean Batten became an international icon in the 1930s. A brave, beautiful woman, she made a number of heroic solo flights across the world. The newspapers couldn’t get enough of her; and yet she suddenly slipped out of view, disappearing to the Caribbean with her mother and dying in obscurity in Majorca, buried in a pauper’s grave.
Fiona Kidman’s enthralling novel delves into the life of this enigmatic woman, probing mysteries and crafting a fascinating exploration of early flying, of mothers and daughters, and of fame and secrecy.
“Kidman’s beautiful prose and textured characterisation help us experience the freedom of flight, the whoop of joy heard over the roar of cantankerous engines, the sheer miracle of breaking the bounds of gravity.”
Elizabeth Heritage, Booksellers New Zealand's blog
“Without any doubt, Fiona Kidman has written a riveting book about one of the world's greatest aviators, the glamorous and mysterious Jean Batten.”
Jacquie Webby, Oamaru Mail
“What a character arc Jean Batten's life offers. Her progress and regress, from literally soaring achievement to huddled isolation, from heroine to recluse, is the stuff of which novels should be made. So Fiona Kidman has made one. Batten's achievements remain astonishing. . . . It's a given that Kidman couldn't produce a poor paragraph if she tried to and this is a narrative that - I have to say it - takes wing. . . . Descriptions of the flights are utterly compelling. Batten skims alone over oceans and continents; engine exhausts spit fire in the night; desert tribesmen surround her downed aircraft; crowds throng Sydney rooftops and sing For She's A Jolly Good Fellow as she triumphantly reaches New Zealand. There are startling, memorable moments on and above the ground: a ruined sibling and a cave iridescent with glow-worms; a slavering dog in Majorca; days of hiding at Franz Josef; a bawling creditor in an Auckland hotel lobby. Batten's character drives the story, and Kidman takes us into and through her complex, often agonised but unstoppable psyche. She's fierce and fragile. She's shockingly brave. . . . At the novel's end, the re-invented, faintly grotesque Batten is back in 1980s' Auckland for a book-signing session. On a previous visit, she'd hired a white, chauffeur-driven limousine for her celebrity visit to one brother. Now the crowds are smaller, the world has altered and the other brother only has time for a brief glance at her. It's a moment of great pathos, and it encapsulates Kidman's understanding of this damaged, dauntless woman.”
David Hill, New Zealand Herald
“In Dame Fiona Kidman's capable hands, the Batten story takes a fresh edge, explores new possibilities and intrigues for the woman we know so much about. And so little. Kidman seamlessly weaves fact and fiction, offers an interpretation of Batten's life. The power of her writing creeps up on you slowly, the narrative building into a gripping read. You know how it's going to end but there are rich pickings in this rendition. . . . Kidman writes sparely, with perfect pitch, and never an attempt to over -gild the elegant lily. Her research is prodigious, she takes you up in the sky with Batten, through terrifying and triumphant moments. She skilfully blurs the lines between what actually happened, and what may have happened. This is always Kidman's interpretation of Batten. But in the end, you don't actually need to separate fact from fiction. It just doesn't matter. This is a damn good book, an intelligent insight into an enigmatic and amazing woman.”
Denise Irvine, Waikato Times
“Jean Batten should be one of our national heroes with the same status as Sir Edmund Hillary - that was my conclusion from Fiona Kidman's new novel.”
Carole Beu, Herald on Sunday
“This is a gripping tale of derring-do and flapper glamour. A brilliant and surprising read.”
Peta Stavelli, New Zealand Motorhomes Caravans & Destinations
“The historical novel-biography must be a very tricky book to write . . . Kidman has succeeded magnificently. . . . By the end of the book I felt I truly knew Jean Batten. Now how did that speck of dust get into my eye?”
David Reed, Northern Advocate
“Kidman's exquisite way with words paints a glorious picture of a complicated and ambitious, but ultimately rather sad, woman . . . The combination of a great New Zealand adventure story re-examined by an author with the ability to speak volumes in a few well-chosen words makes the book difficult to put down.”
Sonya Rowell, Weekend Press, Christchurch
“Batten seems a natural fit for Kidman, in much the same way that Elizabeth Guard, the main character in her previous historical novel, The Captive Wife, proved to be. Her long-standing preoccupation is with the place of women within society, the struggle that it is for women to realise their individuality in the midst of social expectations . . . In Kidman's sympathetic hands, Batten is more naive and less calculating and egotistical than history has regarded her. . . She is particularly good on Batten's relationships, which have the ring of truth . . . And the only truly enduring relationship of Batten's life, that with her indomitable mother Nellie, is beautifully drawn, and the scene of her death, aged 89, in Jean's arms, is very moving . . . Kidman contextualises Batten's feats nicely: while she and her ilk were gadding about the globe in their expensive toys, the world economy was crashing, rendering the plight of the poor desperate.”
John McCrystal, NZ Books
“Kidman's book is a lively, very well-researched but fictive account of the life of the New Zealand aviatrix Jane Gardner Batten, better known as Jean Batten. . . . She deserves high praise for giving us these fascinating rounded portraits of two inspiring women and their extraordinary achievements.”
Simone Oettli, Landfall