Posted by: Lisa Hill | July 1, 2019

Fortune (2019), by Lenny Bartulin

According to the press release that came with this book, Lenny Bartulin wanted to show with this novel Fortune that

The historical impact of war, money and technology is seismic, yet the ramifications on the individual are uniquely personal and can have myriad influences on our relationships.

And in broad terms, that is what Fortune is concerned with: the broad tsunami of history vs. the individual, the unpredictable chain of moments that come together to map a life, and with the forces and energies that meet and clash with that competition.

I thought immediately of Louis de Bernieres when I read these ambitions.  He is one of many authors to write about little people caught up in and buffeted by earth-shattering historical events.  He’s not always wholly successful as you can see in Birds without Wings and in Captain Corelli’s Mandolin, but he does succeed in making his readers care about the individuals caught up in the maelstrom.

Unfortunately, the reader barely gets to know the characters in Fortune, much less care about their fates.  Indeed, because so many characters just slip off the map the hapless reader struggles a bit to identify who the central characters are, and how (if ever) their trajectories intersect.

This is the blurb:

In 1806 Napoleon Bonaparte conquered Prussia. Beginning on the very day he leads his triumphant Grande Armée into Berlin through the Brandenburg Gate, Fortune traces the fates of a handful of souls whose lives briefly touch on that momentous day and then diverge across the globe.

Spanning more than a century, the novel moves from the Napoleonic Wars to South America, and from the early penal settlement of Van Diemen’s Land to the cannons of the First World War, mapping the reverberations of history on ordinary people. Some lives are willed into action and others are merely endured, but all are subject to the unpredictable whims of chance. Fortune is a historical novel like no other, a perfect jewel of epic and intense brilliance.

High profile blurbers on the cover—Georgie Williamson and Chris Womersley—praise the book too, but I don’t share their enthusiasm.  The profusion of characters and the scattergun approach to telling their stories in a multiplicity of settings makes Fortune confusing to read.  People and events flash past, often featuring in brutish cruelty or representations of other cultures which are reminiscent of the way Europeans used to write about the savagery of cultures they were disrupting.  (The ironies in the episode depicting the Ngāti Kuri trade in human skulls didn’t escape me but it was still offensive).  Convicts and gaolers in Tasmania are scripted from The Fatal Shore; nature wreaks havoc; the gods look on indifferently as Napoleon has his rise and fall.

Some people may find the novel witty and entertaining, but it has, IMO a cruel undertone that feels like watching someone pull the wings off a beetle.  Fate can be like that, of course, and history has often been heartless.  Whether or not that makes satisfying reading depends on the author’s intent: if all it achieves is sardonic laughter from the sidelines, or some other failure to care, I don’t think there’s much point to it.

Ultimately Fortune is nihilistic, and it doesn’t live up to its lofty aims.

Melanie Kembrey at the SMH thought better of it than I did.  See also the enthusiastic review at Where the Books Go.

Update 28/9/19 Janine at The Resident Judge of Port Phillip enjoyed Fortune for its romp and vitality, with the caveat that it might be better to read it all in one go. (Which I didn’t do).

Author: Lenny Bartulin
Title: Fortune
Publisher: Allen and Unwin, 2019, 292 pages
ISBN: 9781760529307
Review copy courtesy of Allen and Unwin


  1. I think I will give this a miss. I still have another thousand books to read that sound better. Lol


    • LOL don’t we all! Bill from The Australian Legend was at my place the other night, and left me riddled with guilt about a whole lot of books I haven’t read!

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I’ve tried to comment on this a few times but I can’t see where my comment is going! Never had this problem before! Anyway, just in case the others have been cyber eaten, I was just letting you know that I had been sent this one as well. Our reading tastes are fairly aligned though so your review doesn’t have me rushing it to the top of my tbr! Vibrant cover though, it did catch my eye when I received it.


    • 23/12/19 I’ve deleted the repeated comments, Theresa. I’m not sure how I missed this comment at the time…


  3. No guilt Lisa. You are a legend in bibliographical matters.


    • LOL If they had an Olympics for reading, maybe I could pick up a medal in the Veterans class?


  4. You have me intrigued Lisa. It sounds like a book where the tone is the thing. Is the title itself ironic? Perhaps you’d better not answer as it might give away the ending.

    Anyhow, I probably won’t read this, which is why I’ve read your review, given my priorities, but from the SMH review the author sounds interesting.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Well, that’s good, because if I’m not keen, I like to balance what I think with a more positive opinion from elsewhere.

      Liked by 1 person

  5. […] reviews: Lisa at ANZLitLovers didn’t like it: Melanie Kembrey of the SMH […]


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