Mrsgaskell's Reviews > Everyman's Rules for Scientific Living

Everyman's Rules for Scientific Living by Carrie Tiffany
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's review
Jun 18, 11

bookshelves: 7-star, bookcrossing
Read in July, 2008

From Publishers Weekly:
“The dusty farms of 1930s Australia are the backdrop for this rich and knowing debut novel about science, love and the limits of progress. The "Better-Farming Train," commissioned by the Agricultural Department of the Province of Victoria, travels throughout the country educating agricultural communities. Behind "[f]ourteen cars of stock and science and produce" is the women's car, home to Sister Crock, stern infant welfare teacher; Mary Maloney, cooking lecturer; and Jean Cunningham, the curious, headstrong narrator and sewing instructor. Jean avoids the men in the sitting car, where everyone gathers during long train rides. About love, she says: "I am not looking for it." Nonetheless, love finds her in the form of Robert Pettergree, who has the unusual ability to identify the origin of any handful of soil by its taste. Robert's belief in scientific progress—exhibited in his eight maxims, the Rules for Scientific Living—is unshakable. Determined to prove his theories, Robert buys a farm for Jean and himself in the vast, impoverished wheat district called the Mallee. Despite drought, mice, economic depression and war, Jean and Robert struggle to fulfill the promises of science and love.”

This is a slow-paced, rather sad story, and I didn’t warm to the characters very much. In spite of that, I actually liked the book a lot and read it in just over a day. It’s well written and the author successfully evokes another time and place. I felt I was in Australia, in the thirties, feeling Jean’s disappointment each time the wheat crop was poor and the test loaves didn’t turn out well. Maybe I could relate to it because I have a science background and I’m also from a major wheat-growing area of the world. I’ve often heard stories of crop failure on the Canadian prairies during the depression. The Better Farming Train, travelling to the isolated farming communities, seemed like the kind of thing the Canadian government might have undertaken, too. I loved the black and white photos which added to the realism of the story.
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