THE INFINITE AIR by Fiona Kidman

New Zealand has produced some truly amazing women over the decades. My all time favourite is Nancy Wake, the Whtie Mouse who was on Hitler's most wanted list. Jean Batten would have to be my second favourite, a marvellous woman who did spectacular feats of flying and survival in the 1930s. If she was a cat, she would have used up a number of those nine lives: her courage and determination were extraordinary, and she became a legend in her own lifetime.

Extraordinary things happen to ordinary people from very ordinary beginnings. Jean's father was a dentist in Rotorua, and she had two older brothers. It was her mother, Ellen, however who became the driver in Jean's early life, the unstoppable force behind Jean's achievements, the two inextricably entwined for the whole of Ellen's life. Much in the same way that Andre Agassi's father exposed his son to tennis glory from birth, so too did Ellen. She put a picture of the first person to fly across the English Channel above Jean's cot, captivating the child from an early age. Unsurprisingly she did become obsessed with flight, eventually becoming the Garbo of the Skies as she was known.

Jean Batten's life story is well known, and very accessible via excellent biographies, as well as Jean's own accounts of her journeys, all of which the author has used in her research for this novel. She has also spoken with descendants of Jean to help provide a fuller picture of this enigmatic and reclusive woman. This novel covers much of the ground in previously published material, but being a novel, has allowed the author to give a very human face to Jean Batten. Because she was so private and gave very little of herself away, hiding behind the very glamorous image she created of herself, very little is actually known of the person herself. Which is a dream scenario for a novelist.

The result is this very readable and enjoyable account of Jean Batten's life, with all the well known milestones and achievements, as well as what happened to Jean once WWII came along, putting an immediate stop to her gallivanting around the world making and breaking flying records. Her life purpose seemed to stop at this point, and the resulting years till her death in 1982 are really rather sad. It shows perhaps that Jean was human, just like all of us, and that sometimes the extraordinary life is not quite what it is cracked up to be. 

No comments:

Post a Comment