Author: Di Morrissey
Published: October 16th 2018
Publisher: Pan Macmillan
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary
Rating: 4 .5 stars
A breathtaking Tasmanian tale of ancient forests; of art and science; of love and, above all, of friendship.
In the 1930s, in an isolated and beautiful corner of southern Tasmania, a new young wife arrives at her husband’s secluded property – Arcadia. Stella, an artist, falls in love with Arcadia’s wild, ancient forest. And when an unknown predator strikes, she is saved by an unusual protector…
Two generations later, Stella’s granddaughter, Sally, and her best friend, Jessica, stumble over Stella’s secret life in the forest and find themselves threatened in turn.
What starts as a girls’ adventurous road trip becomes a hunt for the story of the past, to solve the present, and save their future…
A modern mystery born in a timeless Tasmanian forest, from Australia’s favourite storyteller.
Finally it is Tasmania’s turn in the spotlight, thanks to director Di Morrissey! One of my favourite Australian storytellers makes her annual return with Arcadia, a book that is a deep evocation of Tasmania and it is also one locale I have dying for Morrissey to tackle. Arcadia is a novel full of finesse and a deep sense of place. I enjoyed it very much.
Arcadia sees intrepid Australian storyteller Di Morrissey travel to Tasmania, revealing a contemporary story of friendship and a fateful road trip that unlocks secrets of the past. Arcadia also travels back in time to the 1930s, where we meet Stella, a young wife and talented artist, who discovers the true beauty of the forest and inhabitants that surround her property. When Stella finds herself deep in the forest one day, seeking ideas for her artwork, she is confronted with a dangerous situation and an unlikely hero comes to her rescue. Decades later, Stella’s granddaughter Sally, along with her childhood friend, work to uncover Stella’s secret life, but this is a dark path, unleashing a threat to the two friend’s lives. Arcadia is a book that sees a convergence of the past, present and the future, all through the work of two determined and fearless women on a life changing road trip.
I have a long standing reading relationship with Di Morrissey, I have read the bulk of her novels, save for four from her extensive backlist. I always look forward to her end of the year release with a sense of excitement. My anticipation stepped up a notch this year when I discovered that Morrissey was basing her latest and twenty sixth novel in twenty seven years in Tasmania, my most favourite part of Australia (save for my own birthplace and home of Perth, Western Australia). I know after listening to a number of media interviews with Di Morrissey, that Arcadia is another labour of love and it is a wonderful rendition to Tasmania. I know Tasmanians or those like myself who hold this part of Australia in high regard will be impressed by what Arcadia has to offer.
Firstly, I must praise Di Morrissey for her depiction of Tasmania. Morrissey always strives to provide a rich sense of place in her novels and Arcadia is no exception. I know Morrissey completed a thorough research trip around Tasmania to inform her latest novel and these travel vignettes shine through Arcadia. Through Morrissey’s descriptive prose we feel the mist, cold, brooding atmosphere, isolation and the tranquil, but almost prehistoric beauty of this locale. I feel like more than any other state in Australia, that there is unspoilt beauty to Tasmania that we must work to preserve. I think Morrissey does a good job of not only representing Tasmania, but also drawing our attention to the need to protect Tasmania’s pristine natural beauty.
Essentially, I feel at the heart of Arcadia is the road trip between the two contemporary female leads, Sally and Jessica. Arcadia is not only a story about Tasmania, it is the tale of a homecoming and two close childhood friends, their reconnection and their relationship. Morrissey explores this friendship dynamic well, looking at how distance, family and career directions can put strains on a relationship. Arcadia is also story of hope, as we learn that we often have that one special friend, who is a friend for life, no matter what through Sally and Jessica. This was a touching side step to Arcadia.
The best aspect about Arcadia, apart for the magical setting, was the past narrative, which is Stella’s story set in the 1930s and beyond. I soon found myself wrapped up in Stella’s life and plight. I loved the references made to Stella’s career as an artist. Morrissey highlights Stella’s difficulties in having her work taken seriously, especially as she is a wife of a highly regarded doctor. Linked to Stella’s story is a wonderful ecological narrative thread involving the plight of the masked owl. This was a beautiful touch to the novel and I adored the protection this creature offered to Stella, it was so rewarding.
Another aspect Arcadia explores and this is centered on the mystery side of the novel is the environment and a discovery that is made. This allows Morrissey to show us what she has gleaned in the way of knowledge on Tasmania’s old growth forests, their growth and the hidden gems that exists flora wise in these majestic regions. This area was fascinating and I really appreciated learning about the medicinal properties of fungi. There is plenty to take away as reader from these sequences of the novel and a look at the suggested reading list at the end was certainly very inspiring.
There are many other appealing elements to Arcadia; from a timeless love story, to personal sacrifice, a family mystery, the art links, the foodie tourism aspects and the environmental issues at stake due to land clearing that are seriously threatening Tasmania. On a side note, as a fan of owls, I adored the masked owl images embossed on the opening and closing pages of my print edition of Arcadia, it was a great touch.
Di Morrissey never fails to sink the reader into a fascinating reading journey through each and every one of her novels. My reading love affair with Di Morrissey continues, Arcadia is both entertaining and thought provoking, it also comes high recommended.
Arcadia by Di Morrissey was published on 16th October 2018 by Pan Macmillan. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of Arcadia, Di Morrissey visit here.
*Thanks extended to Pan Macmillan for providing a free copy of this book for review purposes.
Arcadia is book #132 of the Australian Women Writers Challenge