The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

guernsey.jpgTitle: The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society

Author: Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows

Genre: Literary Fiction/Historical Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: Movie tie-in published 21st March 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 280

Price: $22.99

Synopsis:A celebration of literature, love, and the power of the human spirit, this warm, funny, tender, and thoroughly entertaining novel is the story of an English author living in the shadow of World War II and the writing project that will dramatically change her life. An international bestseller.

‘I can’t remember the last time I discovered a novel as smart and delightful as this one. Treat yourself to this book, please–I can’t recommend it highly enough.’
Elizabeth Gilbert, author of Eat, Pray, Love

The beloved, life-affirming international bestseller–now a major film coming in April 2018, starring Lily James, Matthew Goode, Jessica Brown Findlay, Tom Courtenay and Penelope Wilton.

It’s 1946. The war is over, and Juliet Ashton has writer’s block. But when she receives a letter from Dawsey Adams of Guernsey–a total stranger living halfway across the Channel, who has come across her name written in a second-hand book–she enters into a correspondence with him, and in time with all the members of the extraordinary Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society.

Through their letters, the society tell Juliet about life on the island, their love of books–and the long shadow cast by their time living under German occupation. Drawn into their irresistible world, Juliet sets sail for the island, changing her life forever.

Gloriously honest, enchanting and funny, The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society is sure to win your heart.

~*~

This book came to me as a surprise from Allen and Unwin, and it being the shortest of the ones that arrived the other day, I decided to read it first and work my way through the others over the next week or so. And what a lovely surprise it was! Juliet Ashton is a writer who has writer’s block and is searching for her next story. Whilst searching, she is contacted by Dawsey Adams, a member of the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Society on one of the Channel Islands, who are emerging from years of occupation by German forces during World War Two. Dawsey’s letter begins the months of correspondence between the society and Juliet, and the novel is solely told in letters and telegrams. As Juliet begins to uncover a story in Guernsey and those who live there, she is courted by Markham Reynolds, and goes to the island to do research for her book, leaving Markham behind. As Juliet corresponds with the society members and her publishers, a picture of their life and what they have been through unfolds, with heart-warming results for many of the characters of the book.

The use of letters to tell the story was really quite effective because you got to know the characters and their voices, how they thought and what they enjoyed doing, and even though some questions or letters might not have had direct answers, the questions in them were given in other letters, ensuring that their stories were told. Within these stories was that of Elizabeth and her daughter Kit, and Markham Reynolds, who was keen on Juliet. I enjoyed the way these two plot points were dealt with, and that Juliet was of her own mind, and her own person – she was probably my favourite, next to Dawsey and Kit.

Key to the society is literature, and what it means to them. The literary society they created is what got them through the war, and what they survived on – potato peel pie, and what they did to try and keep the German forces at bay and survive. It is touching and at times sad when you read some of the letters, but it has the impact needed: showing what happened and how people dealt with it. A very touching testament to the power of the human spirit, and what people do in the face of adversity for themselves and each other.

The letters are peppered with literary references, and talk about books – the solace that they give, and what they meant to the society but also the Channel Island of Guernsey as a whole, as they endured things they never thought they would endure. Literature and their society pulled them through, showing the power of literature and how it can help people in hard times.

The novel is both peaceful and heartbreaking – the memories and aftershocks of the years of German occupation are not quickly forgotten, especially as someone who knew Elizabeth and knew of her fate comes into their lives, and the realities of what was happening on the European Continent hit home for the society members. There are hints of romance, but the focus is on Juliet and the society members, and their friendship and the family they have built for themselves and Kit, whose entertaining and intriguing character is revealed through the letters.

I really enjoyed this novel and read it quite quickly. It reflects on how war can affect a small community, and in this instance, bring them closer together as family, and the way they welcomed someone else into their family and society, where they could help each other heal as they emerged from an occupation during wartime and the implications of that, where their love of literature binds them together.

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Little Gods by Jenny Ackland

little gods.jpgTitle: Little Gods

Author: Jenny Ackland

Genre: Literary Fiction

Publisher: Allen and Unwin

Published: 28th March 2018

Format: Paperback

Pages: 346

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: A rare, original and stunning novel about a remarkable girl who learns the hard way that the truth doesn’t always set you free – with echoes of Jasper JonesSeven Little Australians and Cloudstreet.

As a child, trapped in the savage act of growing up, Olive had sensed she was at the middle of something, so close to the nucleus she could almost touch it with her tongue. But like looking at her own nose for too long, everything became blurry and she had to pull away. She’d reached for happiness as a child not yet knowing that the memories she was concocting would become deceptive. That memories get you where they want you not the other way around. 

The setting is the Mallee, wide flat scrubland in north-western Victoria, country where men are bred quiet, women stoic and the gothic is never far away. Olive Lovelock has just turned twelve. She is smart, fanciful and brave and on the cusp of something darker than the small world she has known her entire life.

She knows that adults aren’t very good at keeping secrets and makes it her mission to uncover as many as she can. When she learns that she once had a baby sister who died – a child unacknowledged by her close but challenging family – Olive becomes convinced it was murder. Her obsession with the mystery and relentless quest to find out what happened have seismic repercussions for the rest of her family and their community. As everything starts to change, it is Olive herself who has the most to lose as the secrets she unearths multiply and take on complicated lives of their own.

Little Gods is a novel about the mess of family, about vengeance and innocence lost. It explores resilience and girlhood and questions how families live with all of their complexities and contradictions. Resonating with echoes of great Australian novels like Seven Little AustraliansCloudstreet, and Jasper JonesLittle Gods is told with similar idiosyncrasy, insight and style. Funny and heartbreaking, this is a rare and original novel about a remarkable girl who learns the hard way that the truth doesn’t always set you free.

~*~

Olive Lovelock’s family has been touched by tragedy – tragedies that nobody in the family wants to talk about, to Olive or to each other. They are secrets that are closely guarded by those that hold them, though Olive longs to uncover them, much like the child detectives she reads about. Her mother is the middle of three sisters –  Thistle, Audra and Rue. Audra and Rue married brothers William and Bruce, and the lives of these sisters, brothers and their children weave in and out of Olive’s narrative as she goes through her final year of primary school, and the summer before she becomes a teenager. Closer to her aunts than her mother, as she participates in plays with her cousins that Thistle encourages them to put on, Olive uncovers family secrets about a dead sister, and things that Thistle went through as a young woman by listening, and from a bully at school – one of the Sands brothers, a secret child her family refuses to acknowledge.

AWW-2018-badge-roseUpon hearing about this sister, Aster, Olive becomes obsessed with finding out what happened, and goes to Aunt Thistle, whose openness with Olive is a stark contrast to that of her mother Audra, or other aunt, Rue, and hints at a sadness in Thistle, a secret that she has been dealing with for many years, and something in her past that she has never recovered from. Jenny Ackland deals with the complexities of familial relationships, and mental illness – where the unsaid amongst the many has a more profound affect upon the few who yearn to talk about it.

Olive is on the cusp of childhood and becoming a teenager –  a place where she feels she doesn’t quite fit in with anyone, and where the misery and tragedy her family has experienced seems to permeate everything they do and how they deal with it – and Jenny Ackland has dealt with this in a sensitive manner, and yet, I felt Olive’s frustration at her parents and family members who wouldn’t talk about Aster, who wouldn’t answer questions and acted as though certain things weren’t appropriate to discuss at all, or appropriate for Olive herself to be talking about, such as when Olive was helping her uncle Cleg with records. Yet, it is Olive’s spirit that encourages her to pursue the truth and find answers to the mystery of her sister. She wants to help her family heal and answer the questions that play on her mind all the time.

It is a uniquely Australian story, set in Mallee and Victoria, in the country, and with mentions of Vegemite, and hints at events of the early 1980s that have become embedded in the Australian psyche. It is very character driven, and seeing the world through Olive’s eyes illustrates how different people in the same family can see the world and their lives in vastly different ways.

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2018 NSW PREMIER’S LITERARY AWARDS

The NSW Government has a long tradition of celebrating and connecting the public with art and literature. The NSW Premier’s Literary Awards are an opportunity to highlight the importance of literacy and literature, whilst enjoying and learning from the work of our writers in NSW and Australia. Like other literary awards, this award in highlighting the spectacular Australian Literature Australian writers produce, highlights and honours the achievements of Australia’s writers, and their artistic contributions to society, but also to highlight our literary achievements to the world. The State Library administers the awards.AWW-2018-badge-rose

The NSW Premier’s Literary Awards have more categories than the Victorian awards. These categories are:

Christina Stead Prize for Fiction

2017 Winner: The Museum of Modern Love by Heather Rose

2017 Shortlist: Vancouver #3 in the series Wisdom Tree by Nick Earls

Their Brilliant Careers: The Fantastic Lives of Sixteen Extraordinary Australian Writers by Ryan O’Neill

Where the Light Falls by Gretchen Shirm

After the Carnage by Tara June Winch

The Natural Way of Things by Charlotte Wood.

UTS Glenda Adams Award for New Writing

2017 Winner: Letter to Pessoa by Michelle Cahil

2017 Shortlist:

The Memory Artist by Katherine Brabon

Dodge Rose by Jack Cox

Our Magic Hour by Jennifer Down

Portable Curiosities by Julie Koh

The Bonobo’s Dream by Rose Mulready

Douglas Stewart Prize for Non-Fiction

2017 Winner: Our Man Elsewhere: In Search of Alan Moorehead by Thornton McCamish

2017 Shortlist: Everywhere I Look by Helen Garner

Talking to My Country by Stan Grant

The Art of Time Travel: Historians and Their Craft by Tom Griffiths

Avalanche by Julia Leigh

Prince of Darkness: The Untold Story of Jeremiah G. Hamilton, Wall Street’s First Black Millionaire by Shane White

Kenneth Slessor Prize for Poetry

2017 Winner: Ghostspeaking by Peter Boyle

2017 Shortlist: Burnt Umber by Paul Hetherington

Breaking the Days by Jill Jones

Fragments by Antigone Kefala

Firebreaks: Poems by John Kinsella

Comfort Food by Ellen van Neerven

Ethel Turner Prize for Young People’s Literature

2017 Winner: One Thousand Hills by James Roy and Noël Zihabamwe

2017 Shortlist: Elegy by Jane Abbott

The Ghost by the Billabong by Jackie French 

the-ghost-by-the-billabong

The Sidekicks by Will Kostakis

The Boundless Sublime by Lili Wilkinson

One Would Think the Deep by Claire Zorn

Patricia Wrightson Prize for Children’s Literature

2017 Winner: Iris and the Tiger by Leanne Hall

2017 Shortlist: Magrit by Lee Battersby and Amy Daoud

Something Wonderful by Raewyn Caisley and Karen Blair

Desert Lake Pamela Freeman and Liz Anelli

Figgy and the President by Tamsin Janu

Welcome to Country by Aunty Joy Murphy and Lisa Kennedy

Nick Enright Prize For Playwriting

 

2017 Winner: The Drover’s Wife by Leah Purcell

2017 Shortlist:  The Hanging by Angela Betzein

You, Me and the Space Between by Finegan Kruckemeyer

Ladies Day by Alana Valentine

Betty Roland Prize for Scriptwriting

2017 Winner: The Code – Series 2, Episode 4 by Shelley Birse

2017 Shortlist: Down Under by Abe Forsythe

Sucker by Lawrence Leung and Ben Chessel

The Kettering Incident episode 1 by Victoria Madden

Afghanistan: Inside Australia’s War by Victoria Midwinter Pitt

Cleverman Episode 5 “Terra Nullius” by Michael Miller

Multicultural NSW Award

 2017 Winner: The Hate Race by Maxine Beneba Clarke

2017 Shortlist: Offshore: Behind the Wire on Manus and Nauru by Madeline Gleeson

Not Quite Australian: How Temporary Migration is Changing the Nation by Peter Mares

Of Ashes and Rivers that Run to the Sea by Marie Munkara

Promising Azra Helen Thurloe – on my To Be Read pile.

The Fighter: A True Story by Arnold Zable

NSW Premier’s Translation Prize

 2017 Winner: Royall Tyler

2017 Shortlist: J.M.Q Davies

Penny Hueston

Jennifer Lindsay

Multicultural NSW Early Career Translation Prize

 2017 Winner: Jan Owen

2017 Shortlist: Christopher Williams

Indigenous Writer’s Prize – Biennial Prize Next Awarded in 2018

Last awarded in 2016.

2016 Winners: Dark Emu by Bruce Pascoe and Heat and Light by Ellen van Neerven

2016 Shortlist: Ghost River by Tony Birch

Inside My Mother by Ali Cobby Eckermann

Dirty Words by Natalie Harkin

Not Just Black and White by Lesley Williams and Tammy Williams

Other Awards:

NSW Prize for Literature

2017 Winner: The Drover’s Wife by Leah Purcell

People’s Choice Award

 2017 Winner: Vancouver #3 in the series Wisdom Tree by Nick Earls

 Special Award

 The Special Award was last awarded to Rosie Scott AM in 2016.

Across these twelve categories and the three additional ones, there is a diverse range of authors and stories, that tell of personal experiences, imagined worlds and that draw on history and the world the authors have lived that led them to write these books. Each prize I have looked at so far has shown a different degree of diversity, with this one having a broader range, if only because it has more categories than the others I have looked at. Last year’s winners and nominees are in good company with past winners Peter Carey, David Malouf AO, Elizabeth Jolley, Thomas Keneally AO and Helen Garner.

Each prize has a different amount of money, and further details can be found in the provided links. In 2018, the total prize money, including sponsored awards is up to $305 000, and to be nominated for any of these awards, the writer and illustrator must be living Australian citizens or hold permanent resident status.

Taken from the website:

The NSW Premier’s Literary Awards are presented by the NSW Government and administered by the State Library in association with Create NSW. We are pleased to acknowledge the support of Multicultural NSW and the University of Technology Sydney (UTS).

The 2018 winners will be announced on 30 April 2018.The short-list will be announced in March.

Purchase any of the above books here:

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2018 Stella Prize Longlist

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On the 8th of February, 2018, the long-list for one of Australia’s most prestigious literary prizes was announced. The Stella Prize – a prize that recognises the contribution to literature of Australian Women Writers – announced its twelve-book long list yesterday in a year when women’s voices and diverse voices are starting to be heard more. This longlist showcases these diverse voices and shows how literature and the written word can drive political and social change, make people think and question what we think we know, what has been taught to us and what we have been told about the world. In these twelve books, women’s stories shine through fiction and non-fiction, the diversity of voices, and the fact that many were published by smaller presses, and some by larger presses illustrates the vibrancy of Australian publishing through our plethora of publishers, and the diversity and potency of women’s voices to explore issues that affect them at a personal, and social level, and that can impact the world around them and their understanding of it.

Of these books, I have read Terra Nullius by Claire G Coleman, and am deciding which of the other eleven I might want to read. One book that has caught my eye is Michelle de Krester’s The Life to Come as has The Fish Girl by Miranda Riwoe, who has also written She Be Damned under pen name M.J. Tjia, published with Pantera Press.

The long-list:

The Enlightenment of the Greengage Tree by Shokoofeh Azar

A Writing Life: Helen Garner and Her Work by Bernadette Brennan

Anaesthesia: The Gift of Oblivion and the Mystery of Consciousness by Kate Cole-Adams

Terra Nullius by Claire G. Coleman (read and reviewed)

terra nullius

The Life to Come by Michelle de Krester

The Water: Five Tales by Beverley Farmer

The Green Bell: A Memoir of Love, Madness and Poetry by Paula Keogh

An Uncertain Grace by Krissy Kneen

The Choke by Sofie Laguna

Martin Sharp: His Life and Times by Joyce Morgan

The Fish Girl by Miranda Riwoe

Tracker by Alexis Wright

History of the Stella Prize

The idea of a prize to celebrate women’s literature began in 2011, from a panel meeting at an independent bookstore in Melbourne, Readings, on International Women’s Day that year. At the time, the panel was discussing the under-representation of women in the literary pages of the major newspapers in Australia as reviewers and the authors of books reviewed. At the time of this discussion in 2011, 70% of reviewed books were written by men.

AWW-2018-badge-roseThe panel also discussed the under-representation of women as winners and nominees of literary prizes in Australia. in 2011, only ten women had ever won the Miles Franklin Award, which had been running for fifty-four years at the time. Since the inception of the Stella Prize, four women have won the Miles Franklin Award and 2013 had the first ever all-female shortlist for the prize. However, women not being nominated or winning is a trend across all major literary prizes, though in general, women are often winners of the fiction category of the state premier Literary Awards across Australia, but not often winners of non-fiction, despite women having written some brilliant and moving non-fiction that I have devoured and enjoyed. A full history can be read here on the website for the Stella Prize, but these discussions resulted in the creation of the Stella Prize, and the reclaiming of Stella Maria Sarah Miles Franklin’s first name, Stella, for the name of a prize to honour writing by Australian women and recognise these voices across a diverse spectrum of identities and stories.

Past Winners:

2013 Stella Prize was  Carrie Tiffany forMateship with Birds.(Inaugural year).

mateship with birds

2014 Stella Prize was Clare Wright for The Forgotten Rebels of Eurekarebels of eureka

2015 Stella Prize was Emily Bitto for The Strays.

the strays

2016 Stella Prize was Charlotte Wood for The Natural Way of Things.

natural way of things

2017 Stella Prize was Heather Rose for The Museum of Modern Love.

museum of modern love

This year marks the sixth year the prize has been running, and the shortlist will be announced in March 2018, and the winner in April.

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200 Years of Emily Brontë

2018 marks the two hundredth anniversary of Emily Brontë’s birth. The fifth of six children, Emily lived with her parents and siblings at Haworth, a Pennine village in Yorkshire, England. Born on the 30th of July 1818, Emily Brontë, along with her sisters Anne and Charlotte, are the most well-known of the Brontë siblings.

Growing up, Emily didn’t receive much formal schooling than her sisters. Instead, most of her education took place at Haworth from tutors, and family members, such as her sister Charlotte. Her broader education came from her father. Happiest at home, Emily didn’t last long in traditional school or working for other people.

Emily wrote from the time she could read, much like her sisters, Charlotte and Anne, and brother, Branwell, creating the imaginary world of Gondal together, a collaboration that does not seem to have lasted. However, this literary family has produced some of the most famous works in English literature that are still widely known and read even today, over a century after their publication. The Haworth website speculates that it is possible that Emily never abandoned her imaginary world, yet it is her 1847 novel she is best known for.

Emily’s only book, Wuthering Heights was first published in 1847, just over 170 years ago. Today, it is a much-loved classic read by many, and known across the literary world. However, at the time it was published, Emily wrote under a nom de plume – Ellis Bell, and her sisters wrote as Acton and Currer Bell. Not wanting to reveal her true identity upon publication, Emily refused to go to London to do so. Only a year after Wuthering Heights was published, at the age of thirty, Emily died on the 19th of December 1848.

The endurance of the Brontës and their writing for over 150 years could be due to the passion in their books, and the fact that people will mostly love them or hate them – for me, perhaps it has more to do with the spectrum of emotions that these books evoke. I’m not on either extreme, but somewhere comfortably in the middle, where I can enjoy it but don’t need to declare an extreme love or hatred for the book. Perhaps Wuthering Heights has enjoyed the endurance it has after Emily’s death because it was her only book, whereas her sisters, Anne and Charlotte, wrote a few more – the titles lesser well known than their most famous ones – The Tennant of Wildfell Hall and Jane Eyre respectively. Whatever the reason, the fact that it is still readily available in bookstores and libraries, and still read and studied, indicates that it has indeed made a mark on literary culture – and that it has endured over the decades to be one of the best known stories ever.

Wuthering Heights

Synopsis taken from the Penguin Random House website:

Wuthering Heights has achieved an almost mythical status as a love story, yet it is also a unique masterpiece of the imagination: an unsettling, transgressive novel about obsession, violence and death.

“May you not rest, as long as I am living. You said I killed you – haunt me, then

Lockwood, the new tenant of Thrushcross Grange on the bleak Yorkshire moors, is forced to seek shelter one night at Wuthering Heights, the home of his landlord. There he discovers the history of the tempestuous events that took place years before: of the intense passion between the foundling Heathcliff and Catherine Earnshaw, and her betrayal of him. As Heathcliff’s bitterness and vengeance is visited upon the next generation, their innocent heirs must struggle to escape the legacy of the past.

The Penguin English Library – 100 editions of the best fiction in English, from the eighteenth century and the very first novels to the beginning of the First World War.

It has been a while since I read Wuthering Heights. But with the 200th anniversary of Emily Brontë’s birth approaching, I will try to plan another read. Have any of you read it, and what did you think about it?

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The Secret Books by Marcel Theroux

the secret books.jpgTitle: The Secret Books

Author: Marcel Theroux

Genre: Literary Fiction

Publisher: Faber Fiction

Published: 27th September, 2017

Format: Hardback

Pages: 352

Price: $29.99

Synopsis: A world on the brink of catastrophe. A two-thousand-year-old mystery. A lost gospel. Both a page-turning adventure and an examination of the stories that humans are willing to kill and die for.

Seeking adventure, a young man flees the drudgery of shopkeeping in Tsarist Russia to make a new life among the bohemians and revolutionaries of 19th century Paris.
Travelling undercover in the mountains of British India, he discovers a manuscript that transforms the world’s understanding of the historical Jesus.
Decades later, in a Europe threatened by unimaginable tragedy, he makes a despairing attempt to right a historic injustice.

This breathtaking novel by the award-winning author of Far North and Strange Bodies tells the extraordinary tale of Nicolas Notovitch and his secret gospel.

It is the epic story of a young man on the make in a turbulent world of spies and double-cross, propaganda and revolutionary violence, lost love and nascent anti-semitism – a world which eerily foreshadows our own era of post-truth politics.

Based on real events, The Secret Books is at once a page-turning adventure and an examination of the stories that humans are willing to kill and die for.

~*~

With most historical fiction novels, it is easy to delineate between the history behind the story, and the fictional elements the author has employed – whether it is characters, or integration of time travel, employed in books such as the Outlander series, or an alternate history, where elements can be changed but some aspects remain historically the same to ensure a degree of authenticity. The Secret Books by Marcel Theroux takes these aspects and turns them on their head, making the reader question what is real, and what is not, and in doing so, has written a clever piece of literary fiction that captures a figure and a moment in time linked to his family, and that interrogates the Pali Gospels, looking at the lost years of Jesus in a historical context, with a touch of spirituality thrown that illuminates the doubt that the religious scholars the main character interacted with had when he presented them with his theories.

Nicolas Notovitch was a real person, the one who looked into these lost years and tried to bring them to the attention of the world, suggesting that the gospels had somehow ignored these years in favour of spreading the message they wanted. At the same time, it explores the journey Nicolas took that led him to these gospels, and down a path of love, marriage and fatherhood, beginning during the late nineteenth century and moving forward into the early decades of the twentieth century, the First World War and eventually, the beginnings of the Second World War. Nicolas’s obsession with proving the existence of these books will cost him – he does not know what until it happens, and I felt him have his heart broken and the rug ripped from beneath his feet. In following a passion for discovering something of historical importance, he had sacrificed the passion and love of family. Prior to discovering these manuscripts and investigating them, Nicolas had escaped his dreary life in Russia for a new bohemian one in Paris, where he meets a variety of characters who introduce him to new ways of thinking such was McGahan, a female journalist in a male dominated world – one aspect that had me questioning whether this was set in current times, a time travel story or whether the author was having a bit of fun with the history – and I feel it was the latter as it left me questioning whether that would have been possible in the time period and social structure of the time.

With each section book-ended by quotes, it was an unusual yet intriguing format that questions what we know about history and what is known about Biblical history, and how these books could alter our understanding of religion and history, and how it might impact religious scholars. It interrogated how people respond to the unknown with fear, something that happens in many areas and places. It was an intriguing book, but one that needs focus to be read, and fully appreciated. It may not be the best before bed book, but it is indeed one that will have an audience out there – and one that can be appreciated by anyone with an interest in history and society.

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Beyond the Wild River by Sarah Maine

beyond the wild river.jpg

Title: Beyond the Wild River

Author: Sarah Maine

Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction

Publisher: Hachette Australia

Published: 26/4/17

Format: Paperback

Pages: 400

Price: $32.99

Synopsis: A spellbinding and beautiful novel from a major new voice in fiction, perfect for fans of Kate Morton, Santa Montefiore and Rachel Hore.

From the author of THE HOUSE BETWEEN TIDES, comes an atmospheric and stunningly evocative historical novel. Perfect for fans of Eowyn Ivey’s TO THE BRIGHT EDGE OF THE WORLD, Stef Penney’s UNDER A POLE STAR, and Sarah Perry’s THE ESSEX SERPENT.

‘Maine skilfully balances a Daphne du Maurier atmosphere with a mystery… compelling’ Kirkus Reviews Scotland, 1893. Nineteen-year-old Evelyn Ballantyre, the daughter of a wealthy landowner, has rarely strayed from her family’s estate in the Scottish Borders. She was once close to her philanthropist father, but his silence over what really happened on the day a poacher was shot on estate land has come between them.

An invitation to accompany her father to Canada is a chance for Evelyn to escape her limited existence. But once there, on the wild and turbulent Nipigon river, she is shocked to discover that their guide is James Douglas, Ballantyre’s former stable hand, and once her friend. He disappeared the night of the murder, charged with the shooting.

Evelyn never believed that James was guilty – and her father’s role in the killing has always been mysterious. What does he have to hide? In the wild landscape of a new world, far from the constraints of polite society, the secrets and lies surrounding that night are finally stripped away, with dramatic consequences.

~*~

Evelyn Ballantyre has rarely left her family estate in the Scottish Borders, but a mystery from five years ago has put a strain on their relationship. In 1888 , there was a murder on the estate, and Evelyn knows the wrong man was accused, and so does her father, but he refuses to reveal the truth. They encounter the wrongly accused young man, James, on their trek in Canada as they travel across the country, taking in the wilderness and encountering the Native Americans living there at the time, faced with emerging memories of the murder, and the cover up that has led them to where they are. Through these scenes, a mystery emerges, and Evelyn is determined to prove to her father that James isn’t the killer and force him to tell the truth and reveal what he knows.

The wilderness of nineteenth century Canada is as much a character in the novel as the Ballantyres, James and their travelling companions. Evelyn and those she is travelling with are as intrigued by the mystery of the murder back in Scotland, yet they seem more fascinated by the Canadian wilderness, and the unknown culture they are faced with – though attitudes of the time and the approach they took in showing their fascination affect the actions and words of the characters. Yet Sarah Maine has managed to show these attitudes sensitively and with care, illustrating the different attitudes, but not resorting to using derogatory terms of the time, but still maintaining the fascination of the Other and the unknown prevalent at a time when contact between cultures wasn’t as instantaneous as it is today.

The character and setting of the Canadian adds another layer: it is the mystery of a new land, a physical place, contrasted against the mystery of the murder – leading to Evelyn wondering if the murderer is actually with them, given that James didn’t do it. In making the setting a character, Sarah Maine has used it to show the flaws in the other characters, as well as showing this through their interactions with each other, eventually bringing the truth out into the open.

I enjoyed the pacing – it was slow at times, but only when it needed to be, and wasn’t too quick. It fitted the genre and plot nicely, and ensured a delightful read with an unexpected ending that I wasn’t sure would happen, but was a pleasant surprise when it happened.

An enjoyable novel for fans of literary fiction, historical fiction, mystery and Kate Morton.

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