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Critical Reviews


Marion’s story is engrossing – because of both its universality and its uniqueness. She grows up in the East End, the seventh of 13 children. At 17, she joins the Women’s Land Army, and, after the Great War, turns to nursing, becoming a live-in probationer at a mental hospital. Her induction into each institution included “morals” lectures. She would have been well aware of the dangers surrounding young women.

Eventually, Marion goes to work as matron at the alternative school of Major Theodore Faithfull, a man his granddaughter Marianne will later describe as “the most horrible dirty old man you could imagine”. And Farrell sketches in the intriguing alternative education scene, whose players included such celebrities as A S Neill and Bertrand Russell. A few weeks after Marion, new teacher Morris Horovitch arrives. He is 25, attractive and humorous.

A year later, Marion takes a similar live-in position at another alternative school, Red Hill, and soon becomes a much-loved figure there. And again, Morris Horovitch is taken on as a teacher at the same school.

Evidence of their affair – beside, that is, their “illegitimate” offspring – remains in poems written by Marion, and quoted here – amateurish but touching. When she finds she is pregnant, the principal offers to keep her on, giving her a bigger room for herself and the baby. Horovitch goes away, and Marion and her mother cook up the story of Farrell’s father, which will in time be fed to him. Red Hill will be young Peter’s home for many years.

This is a deeply humane account. At the same time as it’s a loving, respectful portrait of his mother (to whom it is dedicated), it refuses to condemn his father. What drives Farrell is the longing to connect. He astutely avoids sentimentality and judgement. 

  Jane Westaway NZ Books December 2013

His first job is in a prison farm in the North Island. He speaks frankly of the culture shock of moving to a new country where he doesn't know a soul and how he and his wife try their best to keep clear of the moaning Pom tag by complaining only to each other. He also tells of his search for his father which, I feel, ends in a bittersweet way. Great Read. Linda Hall APN Newspapers Nov 2013 Book of the Week

What he has accomplished is not easy, says life writing lecturer and memorist, Ingrid Horrocks. "Writing a good piece of life writing is only partly about the story, although a good story does help. It is about giving shape to the real chaos which makes up the experience of most of our lives". Farrell's memoir is a captivating story, a lesson in hope and a personal history written with empathy, skill and honesty. Maree Hoare Massey University defining NZ December 2013

When I heard Peter was publishing a memoir I said that I would be happy to write a review; well it would be easy, I write myself and have no difficulty in sitting down and running off a few hundred words so it was going to be a breeze.

Or so I thought, now this is the easy bit. Peter has written a lucid and absorbing memoir. It is clear and to the point; free of the valedictory tone, the self justification that marks so many autobiographical works. It is honest and pulls no punches and the writing carries you along with the narrative.

Now the bit that I found not at all easy; I have to declare an interest here, I am an old Red Hillian, a former pupil of the school where Peter grew up and where his mother was matron. I knew MOF and saw Peter several times in the early 1960s although I doubt he remembers me, he was working and living away from RHS, I was barely into my teens.

It hadn’t occurred to me that having been there for a brief moment in Peter’s tale and having known some of the people involved would make writing about it so difficult. It did, it has, and I can only hope that these few words do the book some justice. The temptation was to write a memoir of my own but this is Peter’s tale not mine.

When the book arrived I read it through in one sitting and I'm not ashamed to admit that in places it moved me to tears. It brought back many memories; it made people I thought I had known live again and in the case of MOF showed me what a truly remarkable woman she was. We were a strange community and I have come to realise that we were in many ways boys and staff (the ones who lasted) kindred spirits.

I owe a great debt to MOF and the others, a debt that can never be paid. I am indebted to Peter for making the past live again and for shining a light on things that we were unaware of at the time. This book is more than a memoir; it is a tribute to a remarkable woman, Marion O’Farrell; it is a contribution to the history of a great school and a contribution to the social history of the times both MOFs and Peter. Stuart Wilshaw Beatties Book Blog December 2013

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