Sue Williams’ Elizabeth & Elizabeth: Story of determination

Elizabeth & Elizabeth by Sue Williams offers readers a fictional tale of friendship between two of the most influential women in the early days of the British settlement of Australia. Read on for my review.

Elizabeth & Elizabeth Synopsis

Elizabeth & Elizabeth by Sue Williams

The story of how two women, who should have been bitter foes, combined their courage and wisdom to wield extraordinary power and influence behind the scenes of the fledgling colony.

‘I’ve waited for this moment so long, dreamed of it, prepared for it, I can barely believe it’s finally here. But it is. And it is nothing like I expected.’

There was a short time in Australia’s European history when two women wielded extraordinary power and influence behind the scenes of the fledgling colony.

One was Elizabeth Macquarie, the wife of the new governor Lachlan Macquarie, nudging him towards social reform and magnificent buildings and town planning. The other was Elizabeth Macarthur, credited with creating Australia’s wool industry and married to John Macarthur, a dangerous enemy of the establishment.

These women came from strikingly different backgrounds with husbands who held sharply conflicting views. They should have been bitter foes. Elizabeth & Elizabeth is about two courageous women thrown together in impossible times.

Borne out of an overriding admiration for the women of early colonial Australian history, Sue Williams has written a novel of enduring fascination.

(Allen & Unwin, January 2021)

Genre: Historical, Drama

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My Elizabeth & Elizabeth Review

All too often history books are either silent on the contributions made by women or these contributions are incorrectly attributed to the men in their lives. All too often the real stories of women as individuals, their ideas and opinions, their drive, determination and personal sacrifice, are lost to history. It is in this context that I deeply admired and connected with Elizabeth & Elizabeth, Sue Williams’ ambition to fill this void fictionally.

Alternating chapter narratives draw out the likely differences in the two Elizabeth’s outlook and perspectives, while the women themselves seek out similarities upon which to base a friendship. I felt the way Williams contrasted the womens’ innermost thoughts with their judicious words and actions (particularly in the early, tentative stages of their relationship) imbued authenticity and aided characterisation.

In this video, Sue Williams reads an abridged passage from Elizabeth Macquarie’s point of view, telling of the time she first visited Elizabeth Macarthur on her farm:


As much as I was enthralled by the vibrant and courageous lives these influential women led, and captivated by this story of conflicted loyalties and the political tumult, deprivations and atrocities that stained the early settlement of New South Wales, I did note some weaknesses. On occasion, awkward or information-laden sentences broke my reading spell, and passages of text lacked the finesse and polish I have come to expect from fictional narratives (as compared to non-fiction).

That said, writing fiction inspired by historical record obviously comes with its own set of challenges, and there is more to like in Elizabeth & Elizabeth than not. In fact, I am now keen to read some of Sue Williams’ bestselling non-fiction titles. For more on those, see author bio below.

BOOK RATING: The Story 3.5 / 5 ; The Writing 3 / 5 – Overall 3.25

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More Elizabeth & Elizabeth reviews

‘An extraordinary story of female leadership at a time when such a quality was frowned on, and female friendship forged against the odds. Sue Williams’ Elizabeth & Elizabeth brings us a nuanced and vivid portrait of the early days of colonisation. More importantly, it delivers a fascinating look into the relationship between two remarkable women.’ – Meg Keneally, bestselling author of The Wreck 

‘A fascinating and evocative story of an enduring friendship between two women who played such an important role in colonial Australia’s history.’ – Caroline Beecham, author of Finding Eadie

‘Well-written, rich in historical detail and engaging, Elizabeth & Elizabeth is a lovely novel and recommended reading especially for those interested in Australia’s past.’ – Book’d Out

About the Author, Sue Williams

Sue Williams is a bestselling author and award-winning journalist, working in newspapers, magazines and TV in Australia, the UK and New Zealand. Born in England, but settling in Australia in 1989, she’s also a travel writer and university lecturer. She lives in Sydney’s Kings Cross with her partner, writer Jimmy Thomson. 

Her books include Getting There: Journeys of an accidental adventurer; the story of her travels around isolated Australia, Welcome to the Outback; and a series of other books about the outback, Women in the Outback, Outback Spirit and Outback Heroines. She’s also written biographies of Father Chris Riley, Mean Streets, Kind Hearts; Father Bob Maguire, Father Bob: The larrikin priest; navy diver Paul de Gelder, No Time For Fear; Fred Brophy, The Last Showman; and Australia’s youngest Everest climber Alyssa Azar, The Girl Who Climbed Everest

Sue’s true-crime book And Then The Darkness: The disappearance of Peter Falconio and the trials of Joanne Lees was shortlisted for the international 2006 Gold Dagger Award for the world’s best crime non-fiction. Her first children’s book was Everest Dreaming.

Elizabeth & Elizabeth is her first novel, borne out of a love of early colonial Australian history – pivotal in the development of the country – and an overriding admiration for women of that era making their own way in life.

This review counts toward my participation in the Aussie Author Challenge 2021 and the 2021 Australian Women Writers Challenge.

* Receiving an advanced review copy from the publisher did not impact the expression of my honest opinions above.