Book Review: The Rat Catcher by Kim Kelly

About the Book:

In the sweltering summer of 1900, young wharf labourer Patrick O’Reilly is down on his luck in the slums of Sydney and homesick for Tralee. When a deadly outbreak of plague descends on the city, O’Reilly’s daydreaming mind is miles away – in the golden hair and kindly, confident air of a girl called Rosie Hughes.

Just as he’s wondering why any girl would want a no-hoper like him, opportunity knocks with the offer of a job as a rat catcher working for the city’s Plague Department, containing the spread of disease. But the job will bring him a lot more than a pay rise and a swift education on traps and poisons.

In the Public Lending Library, on the top floor of the Queen Victoria Building, above the bustling centre of Sydney, he comes face-to-face with a legendary rat called Old Scratch who will change the way he understands himself and the world forever.

Published by Brio Books

Released 5th April 2022

My Thoughts:

‘Never underestimate the ingenuity of an Irishman in love.’

Just as the above quote is the opening line of this novel, so it is that it will be the opening line of this review because that line sets the stage for everything that is to come within this marvellous little gem of a story.

Unless you are new to following my reviews, you will be familiar with my adoration for Kim Kelly’s novels. There is no other writer like her for blending social and political Australian history with grand love. And I don’t mean romance, I mean grand, sweeping, heart shuddering love. There’s an enormous difference, trust me on this.

‘Faith. Maybe that’s the most powerful word in the dictionary.

Faith, n., 1. belief, trust; 2. set of religious or spiritual convictions; 3. fidelity, loyalty.

I would learn, day after day for the rest of my life, the value of maintaining a little faith in myself. Sometimes it’s still a battle, I won’t deny it, but a fight against despair and hopelessness is always worth the effort.’

What a marvel Kim Kelly is. From a kernel of history about rat catching during the bubonic plague times in Sydney of 1900 to this magnificent novel. I am endlessly in awe of her talent and vision. Her commentary on who suffers the most during a plague rings eerily true when regarded within the context of our current pandemic.

The Rat Catcher is a luminous novel that you will devour in one sitting. It’s written so beautifully, with a cadence owing to the era combined with a wry Irish migrant insight that is both humorous and heartbreaking in equal measure. If you have never yet read a novel by Kim Kelly, please immediately rush out and do so. Her words will leave an imprint upon your heart and change the way you think about Australian history.


Thanks to the publisher for the review copy.

6 thoughts on “Book Review: The Rat Catcher by Kim Kelly


  2. Pingback: 2022 Historical Novel Prize longlist | ANZ LitLovers LitBlog

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