A sweeping historical novel to read with your book club.
Black Sheep follows James Wakefield who was determined to be a shearer like his father. Now, he’s killed twice, changed his name and is on the run from the law. Ben McKinnon, meanwhile, is heir to the vast Glenfinnan sheep property near Goulburn, New South Wales. He too has a secret, that if ever revealed, would shatter the privileged lives of his family members.
When fate brings the two men together, a powerful friendship blossoms as they gladly become the keepers of each other’s secrets. But when Ben insists that James comes to work at the station, is he unwittingly adopting a Black Sheep into the McKinnon dynasty?
Discussion points and questions
- Is James the only black sheep in the novel? Which other characters could be seen as the ‘black sheep’ of their family? How are certain moral stains passed between generations?
- Discuss the ways ‘living a lie’ affected Ben and James in such markedly different ways.
- What does the fob watch symbolise throughout the novel?
- How do you think James’s life would have panned out had he not met Ben? Do you think he would have still been successful?
- How do the tensions between the land and the city, the agricultural and the industrial, play out throughout the novel?
- Alastair considers breeding and bloodline ‘the all-important factor’ – so how does the rise of James, ‘a mere shearer’, through the family complicate this view? Are the compromises needed to continue the family name effective?
- How do the stories of Jenna, Delia and Emily illustrate the status of and options for women in the late nineteenth/early twentieth centuries? In what ways do each of these women navigate society differently?
- Do you feel that Josh and Emily betray Ted? How are the themes of family duty and personal ambition, fate versus action, expressed in the novel?
- Why do you think Josh – an academically gifted, natural businessman and innate leader – turned to corruption and war profiteering? How does his storyline reflect or conflict with the messages in the nursery rhyme ‘Baa Baa Black Sheep’?
- Was James’s fate at the end of the book inevitable?
Interested? Start reading.
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