#aww2018 · 2018 Reviews · a-z author challenge 2018 · Australian · contemporary fiction · rural fiction

Book Review: The Prodigal Daughter by Jane Carter

Title: The Prodigal Daughterprodigal daughter small

Author: Jane Carter

Published: August 21st 2017

Publisher: Harlequin Books Australia

Pages: 416

Genres:  Fiction, Contemporary, Australian, Rural

RRP: $29.99

Rating: 4 stars

Twenty years ago, in a hot-headed rage, Diana Crawford left the family farm to build a new life in London. Now, following her husband’s fatal accident and unable to find respite from the barrage of guilt-inducing and heartrending memories at every turn, she runs to the one place she feels Charlie’s ghost can’t follow her, Mog’s Hill, the Crawford family farm in New South Wales. There, among the smell of lanolin, the dust of the sheep yards and the beauty of the land, Diana hopes she can regain her strength and put her life, as well as those of her three shell-shocked kids, back on track. But home isn’t as she remembers, and her return cracks open old family wounds.

Stella has longed for her prodigal daughter’s return for years. Now if she can convince Diana to open up and let them back into her heart, she might just be able to keep her grandchildren close by and find the family peace she craves. But Stella already has her hands full trying to hold everything together, and now the Crawford family is a hair’s breadth from shattering forever. Can Stella keep the peace? Can she make Diana see the strength in relying on family, or will Diana leave them behind once again?

My review:

With such a striking front cover that emanates the heart of the Australian outback, The Prodigal Daughter by Jane Carter first caught my eye by the cover image alone. Inside this stunning front cover lies a story that was deeply enthralling, my housework was put aside while I remained positively glued to my reading chair!

Australian author Jane Carter uses her latest novel, The Prodigal Daughter, to examine the importance of home. Using the powerful story of her lead protagonist Diana Crawford, Carter presents her readers with a heartfelt novel that pulls apart both the process of grief and one woman’s search to find a true home. Diana’s story begins over twenty years ago, when she made the move from her family’s farm, to a new life in London. A family estrangement resulted in Diana’s big move. Now, after the shock death of her husband Charlie, Diana feels the only place that can heal her is home, at Mog’s Hill. The family farm provides a place of escape, away from the hustle and bustle of London life and the painful memories of Charlie. With her three children in tow, Diana hopes they can all move past this overwhelming feeling of grief by experiencing a life far removed from their busy London one. Diana quickly realises the return home is not as simple as she first thought. With her family’s farm falling on hard times due to drought, everyone is on edge. The reason why Diana moved away from the farm all those years ago also resurfaces. It soon becomes clear Diana must face some unresolved family issues that she ran away from over twenty years ago. As the Crawford family struggle to keep hold of their land and relations, Diana must decide where home is and if she is ready to return for good.

I have read a couple of rural fiction novels this year that focus on a grieving widow and her immediate family, using the healing power of the land to overcome loss. It is a powerful theme, leaving plenty of narrative breadth for an author to cover. Australian author Jane Carter’s book, The Prodigal Daughter is a book that I feel explores this theme very well.

Diana Crawford, who is at the heart of this moving rural tale, is a character that the reader is readily able to sympathise with. She is a busy artist, making a name for herself in London, while balancing her work with the care of her three children. I felt an instant sense of empathy for Diana, though at times, I felt myself questioned her reasoning and decision making processes. The very sad and unexpected loss of Diana’s husband Charlie, is the turning point in this novel. This awful and deep felt loss sets in motion the events of the novel. It encourages Diana to turn to her home, her family’s farm in rural NSW, as a place to convalesce.  What follows is heartfelt and confrontational experience for all the Crawford family, with some interesting results.

Diana’s return home to Mog’s Hill in rural NSW is the catalyst for a number of issues. Firstly, it allows Diana to reconnect with her family. Jane Carter works in some contentious unresolved family business to the fold. Diana’s home coming also allows her to mend old bridges, catch up with old family and friends and make new acquaintances. While Diana lends a hand at home on the farm, her children are working through their own grief. Along the way, the Crawford’s family deal with a major health crisis, continued drought and another hard hitting loss to their clan. Life wasn’t meant to be easy!

The quality of Jane carter’s writing impressed me greatly. When I read up on the background of the author of The Prodigal Daughter, Jane Carter, I discovered that the woman behind this story has her own rural property. Suffice to say, I’m sure Jane Carter knows a things or two about living and working on the land. I was taken aback by her beautiful prose, describing the picturesque countryside of the surrounds of Mog’s Hill. Many of these sequences remind us of the natural beauty of the land and the creatures that inhabit our countryside. Other scenes in the book remind us of the rural side of life, these include the weekly trip into the only cafe in town, local races and campfire cooking.

Grief is a major theme of this novel and is presented with a strong dose of realism. It is clear Carter knows and understands the patterns of grief. The experiences her characters undergo through the novel are sensitively handled and insightful. Heart pounding moments were filtered through this novel, aided by the many flashbacks to noteworthy moments in the past.

Not only is grief a big theme in this novel, but the very real problems faced by those dependent on the land to survive are brought to our attention. The Crawford family experience of the devastating effects of drought and this is a prime example of what many rural families across Australia are going through. Carter presents this very real and ongoing problem with a focus on the emotions and financial ramifications of being placed in this dire situation.

There is a cross country feel to this novel, as it crosses both Australia and London. Having lived in both the UK and Australia, I completely understand this contrast in dwelling. I also fully understand the confusion over what constitutes as ‘home’. I believe Jane Carter explores this common dilemma extremely well in her latest novel. The conclusion of the novel wraps itself around this dilemma and the final result was pleasing.

If you can’t get enough of rural stories, The Prodigal Daughter is a book you must check out. It is a novel touched with intricate family dynamics, plenty of drama, a fine study on loss and new beginnings. More importantly, The Prodigal Daughter is a novel that serves to draw our attention to the difficulties experienced by our nation’s hardworking rural families. An essential read that I am more than happy to recommend.

The Prodigal Daughter by Jane Carter was published on 21st August 2017 by Harlequin  Books Australia. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.

To learn more about the author of The Prodigal Daughter, Jane Carter, visit here.

The Prodigal Daughter is book #13 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge

*Book ‘c’ of the a-z author challenge 2018


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