Title: Beyond the Orchard
Author: Anna Romer
Published: November 1st 2016
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
Genres: Fiction, Australian, Historical, Romance
Rating: 5 stars
A haunting story of yearning, love and betrayal from the bestselling author of Thornwood House
Lucy Briar has arrived home in turmoil after years overseas. She’s met her fiancé in London and has her life mapped out, but something is holding her back.
Hoping to ground herself and find answers, Lucy settles into once familiar routines. But old tortured feelings flood Lucy’s existence when her beloved father, Ron, is hospitalised and Morgan – the man who drove her away all those years ago – seeks her out.
Worse, Ron implores Lucy to visit Bitterwood Estate, the crumbling historic family guesthouse now left to him. He needs Lucy to find something– an old photograph album, the very thing that drove Ron and his father apart.
Lucy has her own painful memories of Bitterwood, darkness that has plagued her dreams since she was young. But as Lucy searches for the album, the house begins to give up its ghosts and she is driven to put them to rest.
And there, held tightly between the house, the orchard and the soaring cliffs, Lucy uncovers a long-hidden secret that shattered a family’s bond and kept a frightened young girl in its thrall … and Lucy discovers just how fierce the lonely heart can be.
Australian gothic fiction is author Anna Romer’s speciality and in her third book, Beyond the Orchard, Romer refines her craft in this genre. Beyond the Orchard is not just an example of superb Australian gothic fiction, it is a tale of romance, family mysteries and the gentle revelation of long held secrets. Romer’s talent in successfully intertwining different historical eras in her novels, extends to her latest book.
In her third novel, Romer focuses in on a story involving a young woman named Lucy Briar, in the year 1993. Lucy has been living in London for the last five years, after escaping a lost opportunity in love. A letter to Lucy from her distant grandfather Edwin Briar, stating he has a big secret to reveal, lures Lucy back to Melbourne. Leaving her life and fiancé back in London, Lucy returns to Melbourne but not in enough time. Lucy’s grandfather passes away, before he could tell Lucy about this hidden secret. Lucy is encouraged to visit her Grandfather’s country estate called ‘Bitterwood’ by her father Ron, to retrieve an important family photo album. It is hoped that this album will help unlock the secrets to Edwin Briar’s past, a past he wished to unburden himself from prior to his death. In conjunction with Lucy’s journey, is that of Orah, a young woman who miraculously survives a shipwreck in the 1930’s. Saved by two indigenous children, Warra and Nala, Orah is given refuge at Edwin Briar’s home. Beyond the Orchard explores Lucy’s connection to the secrets of Bitterwood and the significance of Orah, culminating in a spectacular conclusion, once the dark mystery of Edwin’s past is eventually uncovered by Lucy.
Anna Romer has dazzled me once again with her beautiful new novel, Beyond the Orchard. I quickly became a devoted fan to Romer’s writing, after falling in love with her debut novel back in 2013, Thornwood House. It is safe to say I have fallen in love all over again with everything this talented writer has to offer. From the stunning gothic location, the intriguing mystery surrounding Lucy’s grandfather Edwin’s secret, Lucy’s contemporary romance that veers from the norm, the two very brave indigenous characters – Nala and Warra, to the shadowy yet poignant presence of shipwreck survivor Orah. Beyond the Orchard succeeds in successfully offering the reader the perfect blend of a stunning setting, compelling characters and a well written narrative.
Readers old and new to Romer’s work will find it hard pressed not to feel bewitched by Romer’s writing. Romer’s prose is highly lyrical, offering a window into the heart and soul of both her characters and setting. Romer’s delicate choice of words, are rich in imagery and tantalise the reader. There are also plenty of subtle hints events in the past that informs the present day lives of Lucy and her father Ron. Romer’s writing also offers a direct glimpse into the soul of the characters that populate Beyond the Orchard.
Beyond the Orchard is a book that has so much to offer the reader. The narrative gently shifts in time frames and I experienced no issues at all in following the alternating time periods. Contained within the narrative are some subtle themes and messages to be taken away, from the historical treatment of the indigenous, to an exploration of post natal depression in the past. In addition, there is an enthralling fairytale retelling contained within the narrative, giving Beyond the Orchard a book within a book feel. I loved this part of the book, as it also linked to the mystery side of the novel. The central mystery, focussed on the presence of a young shipwreck survivor Orah and her significance to Edwin and Lucy Briar, was the primary reason I couldn’t not put this novel down. Finally, I have to mention the hidden icebox as well as the abandoned orchard – they just blew me away!
There is no question that Beyond the Orchard is a novel I will happily endorse over and over again. This exquisite tale of loneliness, romance and dark family secrets, receives a full five star rating from this reader.