Based in the 1940s in Sydney, the story focuses on and Irish family, Hugh and Margaret Darcy, trying to raise their family amid the brothels, grog shops and run-down boarding houses of Surry Hills, where money is scarce and life is not easy.
It was endearing that the narrator called Margaret 'Mumma', and Hugh was just 'Hughie' - it gave respect to the mother figure, and initially made me think that Hugh wasn't the girls' father, but then created a distance in the relationship between them.
As well as the extreme poverty that they deal with, they have their grief of having had their middle son stolen off the street and never knowing what became of him.
The story shines a flashlight on a period of time in their lives - they don't particularly achieve much, but seem to settle and accept the love they have for each other, and find a kind of happiness.
The characters in this novel are all so real that you fall in love with them and feel their pain, and your heart wrenches for them.
I think this novel also challenged a lot of concepts that people had on Sydney, at the time. I think it spurred authorities to clean up Surry Hills and make it the expensive, desirable (and trendy) suburb that it is today.