Author: Eliza Henry-Jones
Published: June 1st 2017
Publisher: Harper Collins Books Australia
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary, Australian, Literary
Rating: 5 stars
A year ago, a devastating bushfire ripped Annie’s world apart – killing her grandmother, traumatising her young daughter and leaving her mother’s home in the mountains half destroyed. Annie fled back to the city, but the mountain continues to haunt her. Now, drawn by a call for help from her uncle, she’s going back to the place she loves most in the world, to try to heal herself, her marriage, her daughter and her mother.
A heart-wrenching, tender and lovely novel about loss, grief and regeneration, Ache is not only a story of how we can be broken, but how we can put ourselves back together.
Last year, I was introduced to bright new voice in Australian literature, Eliza Henry-Jones, through the unforgettable experience of reading her debut novel, In the Quiet. Not only did In the Quiet sit firmly on my list of top reads for 2016, it also hit me with such understated force, that I still reflect back on this novel many books later. It is safe to say I have been eagerly anticipating the release of Ache since I first heard rumblings about the release of a second novel from Henry-Jones. When an opportunity presented itself through Beauty and Lace Book Club to review this book, I was quick off the mark to request a copy to read.
Ache is a beautiful, poignant and jarring study into the aftermath of a very common natural disaster in this country, bushfire. Henry-Jones chooses to zone her story on four generations of women from the same family, directly impacted by a severe fire that rips through their home town of Quilly. The principle character of the novel and the main source of narration in this book comes from Annie, a young mother and vet, who has flown her childhood home in Quilly to live in the city. Annie is a woman who really is in a quandary in her personal life. She feels disconnected from her childhood home, but in the same instance, she is yet to develop an attachment to her city home. When her beloved Uncle Len calls her out the blue to request her help back home, Annie feels the emotional tug of home and leaves her fractured marriage in the city for the solace of the familiar. Gently, Henry-Jones unravels the events of a year prior, when a fierce bushfire ripped through Quilly. Annie was home when this tragic event occurred and her miraculous escape with her young daughter Pip on horseback from the top of the mountain is captured and beamed off to the world via the media. As a result, Annie becomes the face of the fire. This earns her the scrutiny of those inside and outside the town. As painful as it is for Annie to return to the place of so much devastation, the regeneration of Quilly becomes an important part in the healing process for Annie, her daughter, her mother and her marriage.
If you haven’t already discovered the writing of Eliza Henry-Jones you need to make a conscious effort to rectify it through reading this novel, Ache, or her first novel, In the Quiet. Henry-Jones received much acclaim for her first novel and it is obvious why the accolades have come her way, her writing is nothing short of sublime.
With her background in psychology, grief and loss counselling, Henry-Jones utilises this specialisation to ground her novel in a strong dose of realism, as well as understanding. Choosing to focus Ache on the after effects, including PTSD, from a bushfire disaster was tough. Nonetheless I feel it is an essential topic to tackle. Unfortunately, our climate and landscape here in Australia makes us vulnerable to bushfires, such as the devastating one experience by the town of Quilly, featured in this novel. I was so very impressed by the treatment of this topic within the book. The reader is given a balanced picture of the true impact of this event. I felt like Henry-Jones covered all bases in the who, what, when, where, why and how questions surrounding the circumstances of the fire. The fashion in which these questions were answered were not immediate, rather gradually revealed as the book progressed. This served to draw me into Ache even further.
The characterisation in Ache is spot on. Annie is the ideal lead, she is immediately likeable, and relatable, but she also comes with flaws. Her inner torment is obvious and through the third person narration employed by Henry-Jones, Annie becomes the focus of the novel. The reader is privy to the varied emotions Annie wrestles with throughout the novel. Pip, Annie’s six year old daughter, traumatised by fallout from her first hand experience of the dreadful fire, is the most well drawn young voice I have had the privilege of reading for some time. It takes measured skill to be able deliver a narrative and portray an array of characters in the vivid way Henry Jones does, she just seems to take it in her stride. The side characters, such as Annie’s alternative living mother Susan, the loveable Uncle Len and the Annie’s husband Tom, are as well drawn as their lead counterparts. I felt I came to know all these characters by the time my journey with Ache ended (regretfully).
I must make mention of the landscape in Ache, as it is just wonderful, defined clearly by some stunning imagery and lyrical prose. I am unfamiliar with mountain based rural locations like the town of Quilly in Ache. Living in a well populated coastal location on the other side of Australia, means I have to rely significantly on the descriptors given by an author to portray their setting. This is where Henry-Jones truly excels. Her landscape passages are so beautifully drawn, the surrounding flora and fauna feature heavily and are easily imagined by the reader as a result. Henry-Jones also captures the desolation of the effects of bushfire to a region, in contrast to the positive regeneration of the same area that we witness during the progression of the book. These were my favoured passages of the novel.
Ache is a tender novel, concerning itself with matters such as family, loss, survival, reinvention and courage, meticulously written by an accomplished Australian author. I was impressed, but not at all surprised, by the way in which this absorbing character focussed novel lingered with me and will continue to resonate with me, long after closing the last page. Ache is a deeply impressive second novel from Ms Henry-Jones.
Ache by Eliza Henry-Jones was published in June 2017 by Harper Collins Books Australia. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
Learn more about the author of Ache, Eliza Henry-Jones here.
*Please note that a free copy of this book was provided to me for review purposes through Beauty and Lace. To read the original review on the Beauty and Lace website please visit here.