Ache by Eliza Henry-Jones

‘Annie has never been the sort of person to have nightmares.  But since the fires on the mountain, her dreams have changed.’

A bushfire twelve months ago has ripped Annie’s world apart.  Her grandmother Gladys is dead, her daughter Pippa is traumatised, and her mother Susan’s home was half destroyed.  Although Annie, her husband Tom and Pippa live in the city, she’s never really settled there.  The mountain is her home, and after her uncle Len calls her, she takes Pippa back to Quilly for an extended visit.  The pressure of work means that Tom can’t join them, and he’s frustrated that Annie hasn’t thought this through.

‘It’s too easy to forget how good it feels to have purpose.’

Back in Quilly, we meet Annie’s eccentric mother Susan, her uncle Len and his wife Rose.  Gradually, we learn more about Annie’s life on the mountain, her relationship with Gladys, and the fire that has devastated the lives of so many.  And Pippa, so traumatised by the fire, starts to open up to her grandmother and find her way gradually through her own trauma.

It took me a while to adjust to the rhythm of this novel.  Ms Henry-Jones tells the story gradually, revealing pieces of information about people and events.  There are several finely drawn characters, each dealing with the consequences of the bushfire the best they can.  Some within the community see Annie as an interloper, and this undermines her sense of belonging.  Can individuals within the community move on?  Can Tom and Annie’s marriage survive this separation?

For me, this novel captures some of the trauma of catastrophe, as well as some of the issues individuals and communities need to deal with as a consequence.  The devastation is clear, the grief understandable.  There’s hope, as well, for the future – for the land and for at least some of the characters.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith

#AWW2017

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