Home Fires by Fiona Lowe

‘A day no one wanted to remember.  A day no one could forget.’

Eighteen months ago, the town of Myrtle in Victoria’s Otway ranges was devastated by bushfire.  Lives were lost. Buildings and livelihoods destroyed.  As the story opens in the present, the town is gathering for the opening of a sixth new building.  On the surface, the town is recovering.  But is it really? Behind the new public buildings, many are struggling to rebuild their homes.  Some are spending their second winter living in caravans or containers while they await permission to rebuild. Others have left.

One community member, Julie, invites several women to join a craft group she establishes.  The group includes Claire, the local nurse practitioner, Bec (whose husband Adam Petrovic is regarded as a hero because of his actions during the fire), Sophie who moved to Otway with her family just weeks before the fire, and Erica and Layla who have moved to Myrtle since the fire.

The main characters are Bec, Claire and Sophie and through them we learn of the impact of the fire on each of them and their families. All have experienced trauma because of the fire and each of them handles it differently.  We gain some insight into each of the women through chapters touching on their lives before the fire, we learn of their fears and secrets.  We also learn that all is not as it seems in Myrtle.  Some secrets are toxic.  Can the town of Myrtle recover?  Can Bec, Claire and Sophie overcome the challenges ahead of them?

I picked this novel up and was swept into the community of Myrtle and the people portrayed.  I could feel their frustration: six new public buildings (but no pub) people living in temporary accommodation because bureaucracy moved too slowly or because they could not afford to rebuild. There are other aspects to the story as well, the manifestation of post traumatic stress and different coping mechanisms employed, and there are several secrets to be uncovered.  This is a novel which invites you to think about how you might react in a similar horrific situation.

This is the first of Ms Lowe’s novels I’ve read: I doubt that it will be the last.

Note: My thanks to NetGalley and HQ Fiction for providing me with a free electronic copy of this book for review purposes.

Jennifer Cameron-Smith